One of the first fighters to actually train for bouts, Tom Cribb is remembered as the master of milling on the retreat, or attacking and then stepping away. He held the championship for thirteen years and defeated the first fighters to arrive from America. Cribb worked for a time on the wharves of London, where he survived a couple of near-fatal accidents. Once he was crushed between two coal barges. Another time a five hundred-pound load of oranges fell on his chest.
Cribb’s first recorded fight was a victory over George Maddox. He then defeated the black American fighter, Bill Richmond, in a 90-minute bout before facing former champion Jem Belcher in 1807. Belcher came close to winning at one point, but Cribb’s second initiated a discussion concerning bets which lasted long enough to allow Cribb to get back on his feet. Cribb was able to close Belcher’s one good eye to gain the victory. In a rematch in 1809, Cribb won easily and was generally considered to be the champion
In 1810, Cribb fought Tom Molineaux, a former American slave and the first black to fight for a championship. On an extremely cold day in December, the fighters battered each other mercilessly. In the nineteenth round, Molineaux held Cribb so that Cribb could not either hit him or fall down. A crowd of spectators rushed the ring, and Molineaux suffered a broken finger in the unruly scene. When the fight resumed, Molineaux seized control for the next several rounds, but eventually Cribb managed to close both of the challenger’s eyes. Molineaux also began shivering from the weather and, after 33 rounds, could not continue.
Before a rematch with Molineaux, Cribb went to Scotland to train. Using runs and long walks, Cribb reduced his weight and improved his stamina. He also stayed away from alcohol, reportedly no small sacrifice. The fight was short for those days, and brutal. Molineaux dominated the early rounds until Cribb—with nose and mouth bleeding and both eyes swollen—turned to body punching. In the ninth round, Cribb knocked his opponent down with a left to the jaw. Molineaux did not get up in time, but Cribb, wanting to prove his worth, allowed the fight to continue. In the eleventh, he knocked Molineaux unconscious.
Cribb then retired except for one comeback bout, a victory over Jack Carter in 1820. Careers as the owner of a public house and as a coal merchant did not bring lasting success to Cribb, who died at age 68.
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Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.