A very agile, quick-hitting fighter, Jem Belcher held the English prize ring title for five years at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Born in Bristol, the home of many of boxing’s early champions, Belcher first fought professionally in his hometown in 1798 when he defeated Jack Britton. A year later, Belcher fought Jack Bartholomew to a 51-round draw. At the time, Bartholomew was considered the champion in many quarters because he had beaten title-claimant Tom Owen. When Belcher triumphed over Bartholomew in a seventeen-round rematch in 1800, he was hailed as the new champion.

In 1803, Belcher lost sight in one eye when he was struck by the ball in a game of racquets. Half blind, Belcher avoided defending his title for two years, fighting exhibition bouts only. In 1805, Belcher’s former protégé, Henry Pearce, made a claim to the championship because of Belcher’s inactivity. The weakened Belcher agreed to fight but, hurt by the loss of the eye and his intemperate lifestyle, he could not stand up to the aggressive, slugging Pearce. Belcher submitted after eighteen rounds.

Perhaps Belcher should have retired to his pub, The Jolly Brewer, after the Pearce defeat. Instead, he agreed in 1807 to fight Hall of Famer Tom Cribb, a champion in the making. The fight attracted a large crowd. For the first twenty rounds, Belcher dominated. Then Cribb hit Belcher over his good eye, nearly closing it. Belcher’s hands were seriously injured and his punches were weak. Finally, after 41 rounds, the incapacitated Belcher could not go on. In a rematch two years later, Cribb outclassed Belcher again and won in 31 rounds. The defeat was particularly painful for Belcher because he had wagered his entire fortune on his own victory. He served four weeks in prison for starting a fracas after the fight, and while there, became seriously ill. A ruined man, Belcher died in 1811 and was honored at a well-attended funeral.

* * *
Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.
Born: April 15, 1781
Died: July 30, 1811
Induction: 1992
Jem Belcher