Jem Mace brought a more scientific style of fighting to the ring than did most of his predecessors. Before making fighting his career, Mace worked as an apprentice cabinetmaker and as a fiddler. He defeated Slasher Slack in his first professional fight in 1855.
Mace’s success brought him the attention of Nat Langham, who hired him to man his touring boxing booth, taking on all comers. In 1861, Mace agreed to fight Sam Hurst, considered the champion by virtue of his victory over title-claimant Tom Paddock. Hurst, a noted wrestler, outweighed Mace by about one hundred pounds. Mace eluded Hurst’s rushes and in the eighth round, knocked him unconscious.
As champion, Mace toured the country in a circus before facing Tom King in 1862. Mace had taken notes on King’s style, an unusual practice in those days. On a cold, rainy January day, Mace struggled for 22 rounds with the larger King, who outweighed him by about 25 pounds. King’s punches closed Mace’s left eye and almost closed his right. In the 30th round, Mace backheeled King, who fell on his head. In the 43rd, a left to the throat and a throw to the ground ended it for King.
In the rematch, King upset Mace to win the championship. When King refused to fight Mace again, Mace picked a fight with him on the street. When King retired, Mace was again considered the champion. With boxing in a decline in England, Mace traveled to the United States. In 1870 and 1871, he fought the American champion Joe Coburn. Police stopped the first bout, held in Port Ryeson, Canada, before a winner was determined. In the second fight, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the two fought to a draw. Mace continued to fight sporadically until he was in his sixties.
Mace also helped foster the growth of boxing in Australia when he toured there. He taught Australia’s top trainer, Larry Foley, many fine points of the sport which Foley later imparted to such notables as Bob Fitzsimmons, Peter Jackson, and Young Griffo. Mace spent the last years of his life back in England, where he died at the age of 79.
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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.