Born on England’s seacoast, Tom King became a sailor at an early age and traveled to Africa, among other ports. He learned to box in the British Royal Navy where he fought both bare fisted and with gloves. King later worked as a foreman on the London docks. After King defeated a bully known as Brighton Bill, Hall of Famer Jem Ward took an interest in King and began to train him. King scored a one-round victory over a top dockyard fighter, Bill Clamp, in his first professional bout.
King defeated Tom Truckle and Young Broome before taking a shot at the championship, held by Hall of Famer Jem Mace, in 1862. For the first half of the 43-round match, King dominated Mace, nearly closing both of his eyes. Mace recovered, however, and took control from the 30th round until the end of the fight. A knockdown blow to the throat put King out of commission.
In a rematch less than a year later, Mace again appeared to be getting the better of King, whose face was badly battered. In the nineteenth round, Mace went in for the kill, but left himself open for a right cross to the face from King. Mace was knocked down, and only frantic efforts by his seconds enabled him to start the next round. Mace struggled into the 21st round when King simply pushed him down. Mace’s seconds then threw in the sponge, and King was the champion.
Although King refused to fight Mace again, he did agree to a match with John Heenan, the American known as "The Benicia Boy," who had earlier fought Tom Sayers to a draw. Heenan relied on his superior strength and wrestling tactics, foolishly ignoring defensive fighting. The more accomplished King easily took the measure of Heenan and won a 24-round fight, absorbing very little punishment himself.
After successfully defending the English boxing crown against Heenan, King retired. Unlike many professional fighters of his time—and many since—King did not live out his remaining days in poverty. He became an accomplished oarsman and a very successful bookmaker. He married the daughter of a ship owner and amassed considerable wealth before his death.
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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.