Toe The Line: The Story of Tom Molineaux

Toe The Line: The Story of Tom Molineaux

By Simon Graham

During the 1800s the American south was the capital of slavery; its main purpose was the enormous cotton plantations which would be harvested by African American’s.

Plantation owners to amuse themselves would often order their employees to take part in bare knuckle fights against each other, this would soon become an honoured tradition as each plantation would pit their champion against another champion from a neighbouring plantation, the most formidable of these was the champion of plantation champions Tom Molineaux.

Very little is known about Molineaux but it is said he was very powerful man standing at 5 feet 8 inches, he would consistently take on all comers and win handsomely.

It was during one of the plantation fights that Molineaux won his freedom and $500 ($10,000) after the plantation owner wagered a hefty bet on his man and won.

With his freedom granted Molineaux headed off to New York where he would take part in several bouts winning them all thus declaring himself the champion of America it was at this point that he decided to head off to Great Britain in search of stiffer opposition and the allure of prize fighting riches.

By 1809, the former slave found himself in London and quickly became involved in bare knuckle competitions, although banned in Britain, pugilism had a huge following and more importantly, rules!

Fighters had to “Toe the Line” after a knockdown the fallen fighter had 30 seconds to make it back to the scratch line, failure to do this would determine the winner of the bout.

Molineaux now with a fellow American trainer whom he met in London adopted the new style with ease quickly building his reputation as a class above the rest, handing out brutal beatings to anyone who challenged him.

In 1810 a match was set up against Tom Cribb the British champion who himself was an unbeaten fighter.

Cribb the overwhelming favourite was battered by Molineaux for 16 rounds picking himself up off the floor on numerous occasions.

However, during the 17th round and finding himself on the floor once more seemingly out for the count. Followers of Cribb invaded the ring, this gave the champion extra time to recover and make it back to the scratch line but also during the melee Molineaux was beaten about the head and his fingers broken.

After the near riot had calmed down the fight continued for a further 18 rounds the challenger finally giving up in the 35th round.

Both men had beaten each other into a bloody pulp, many who witnessed the fight demanded a rematch citing that Cribb had taken too much time to recover from his 17th round knockdown, the rematch took place in 1811, Cribb winning in round 11 by knockout.

Molineaux continued to fight in and around London for a few years before touring Scotland and finally settling in Ireland in 1815 taking part in exhibition matches.

But by now he was penniless and would consistently find himself in debtors’ prisons while all the time becoming more reliant on alcohol.

Molineaux lived out the remainder of his life at the 77th Regiment barracks in Galway, Ireland, he died on 4 August 1818, He was just 34. In 1997 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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