Tom Molineaux was born a slave but fought his way to freedom and ultimately a shot at the heavyweight title.
He began boxing other slaves while plantation owners wagered on the bouts. Finally after defeating a slave from a rival plantation, he was given his freedom and $500. He traveled to New York and then, in 1809, he left for England and began boxing.
Molineaux was trained by Bill Richmond, another freed American slave who became a notable prize fighter in England. Molineaux won two bouts in England and the ease with which he won quickly lined him up for a title shot against British heavyweight champion Tom Crib.
In December of 1810, Molineaux challenged Crib in a classic encounter. After some 39 rounds of give and take, Molineaux finally collapsed from exhaustion. The great Pierce Egan, who described the American as "The Tremendous Man of Colour," wrote of the contest: "Molineaux proved himself as courageous a man as ever an adversary contended with ... [Molineaux] astonished everyone, not only by his extraordinary power of hitting and his gigantic strength, but also by his acquaintance with the science, which was far greater than any had given him credit for."
The rematch, on September 28, 1811, was equally as exciting. But this time Crib had an easier time retaining his title with an 11th-round knockout.
In 1814, he defeated William Fuller in a two-round fight that lasted over an hour. Egan was so impressed by the intense action and stamina of the combatants, that he wrote the fight was, "without parallel."
The two Crib fights made Molineaux a celebrity in England. But he fought only sporadically, opting to engage in numerous sparring exhibitions. In 1818, he died in Dublin, Ireland.
Born: Mar. 23, 1784
Died: Aug. 4, 1818