In the world of modern boxing, the idea of using your face and chin as shields against punches is anathema; unless, of course, your name is Rocky Balboa. However, rewind to the 18th and 19th centuries, and you’d find a vastly different approach to pugilism. Fighters of that era didn’t bother with the art of slipping or dodging punches; instead, they would stand toe-to-toe, trading blows until one of them was half-dead. This all changed when Bill Richmond, an American-born boxer, introduced an incredible technique known as the dodge, revolutionizing the sport. Join me in exploring the remarkable life of “The Black Terror,” a former American slave who ascended to boxing stardom.
Bill Richmond was born into slavery in 1763 in a small village on what is now Staten Island, New York. His early years were marked by a unique twist of fate when he came under the care of Reverend Richard Charlton. While there are urban legends suggesting that Richmond may have been Charlton’s son, little concrete information exists about his childhood or family background. Some accounts note that Richmond had lighter skin than many of his Black peers, hinting at the possibility of biracial heritage. Richmond’s physical appearance often made him the target of cruel insults, including claims of being “half-human.” To combat these taunts, Richmond learned to defend himself through physical confrontations.
Richmond’s Noteworthy Adolescence
As we delve further into Richmond’s early life, it becomes evident that he enjoyed a relatively normal childhood. Described as an active and charismatic young boy, he managed to shield himself from some of the racial prejudices of his time. This intriguing detail supports the theory that he might have been Reverend Charlton’s son. During his teenage years, Richmond’s charming personality helped him forge friendships with the houseguests at Charlton’s home. He delighted in engaging them in endless conversations and entertained them with amusing impersonations. It was during this period that Richmond’s path intersected with an English nobleman, Hugh Percy, who would go on to play a pivotal role in shaping Richmond’s future.
Hugh Percy, an English nobleman who would later become the Duke of Northumberland, encountered Richmond during his time in Staten Island. Their initial interactions left a lasting impression on Percy. The first noteworthy encounter occurred during a lunch with Charlton and Percy, where Richmond was asked to deliver the Royal Toast, a task he performed with a flawless English accent, earning amusement from Percy. The second encounter took place when Richmond, now a stablehand in the British army, faced harassment from three fellow soldiers at a local pub. Despite his young age of thirteen or fourteen, Richmond’s response was swift and brutal. After being tripped by a soldier carrying a bucket of water, he unleashed his fury on the three grown men, sending two fleeing and leaving the third with a bleeding nose, begging for mercy. Richmond’s actions left a lasting impression on Percy, who took decisive action by persuading Reverend Charlton to release the young slave into his care. Richmond became Percy’s personal valet, and his life trajectory was forever altered.
A New Beginning in England
Percy brought Richmond to his home in the North of England, providing financial support for his education. Once Richmond reached legal adulthood, Percy arranged an apprenticeship for him in York as a cabinet builder. It was during his time in York that Richmond’s life took another significant turn. He fell in love with a white woman known only as Mary. Richmond’s proposal was met with a positive response, and the couple married, setting up their life together in York. As they started a family, Richmond’s penchant for confrontations remained intact.
Rise of “The Black Terror”
Richmond and his mixed-race family often became targets for racist insults during their walks in York. Not one to shy away from a fight, Richmond swiftly dispatched anyone who dared to confront him or his family with racial slurs. It was during this period that Richmond’s innate talent for boxing began to emerge. He decided to pursue a career in the sport and participated in numerous prizefights across Yorkshire, reportedly winning most of them.
Fans and opponents alike soon began to refer to Richmond as “The Black Terror,” a testament to his extraordinary boxing skills. While he begrudgingly accepted this moniker, he was known to physically confront anyone who used it near his family or in a hostile manner.
The Unconventional Champion
What set Richmond apart from his contemporaries was not just his smaller stature but also his lack of formal training, which would prove to be an asset in his boxing career. At a height of barely over 5 feet 9 inches and weighing approximately 147 pounds, Richmond was significantly smaller than most of his opponents. Yet, he regularly defeated opponents who were both larger and heavier than him, a remarkable feat in the era when boxing lacked weight classifications.
Richmond’s secret weapon lay in his incredible quickness, allowing him to dodge the slow, telegraphed haymakers of his opponents. He countered with a flurry of precise blows to their jaw and torso, leaving them bewildered and exhausted. Richmond’s distinctive fighting style, foreign to his opponents, often caused them to tire themselves out trying to land a punch. In an era where there were no limits on the number of rounds in a match, Richmond’s strategy was a game-changer. Pugilists would fight until one of them could no longer continue, and Richmond’s speed and endurance allowed him to outlast many opponents.
It’s worth noting that the longest professional boxing bout in history took place in New Orleans on April 6, 1893, between Andy Bowen and Jack Burke. This legendary match occurred under the “no limit to rounds” rule. The two fighters engaged in an astounding 111-round bout for the lightweight world championship. As the 111th round bell rang after seven hours of grueling combat, the referee declared the fight a no contest. Both fighters were dazed and fatigued, refusing to come out of their corners. This epic battle serves as a constant reminder that life can be relentless, our bodies fleeting, and our existence ultimately fleeting.