Although he did not possess the boxing skill of his immediate predecessor, Jem Belcher, Henry Pearce used his great strength and slugging ability to take the championship. Like Belcher, Pearce hailed from Bristol, England. Pearce started fighting in and around Bristol, although his first recorded bout is listed as having taken place in London in 1803 when he beat Jack Firley.
In 1805, he fought a memorable battle with his friend John Gully, an inmate of debtors’ prison. The two staged a bout on the prison grounds with Gully getting the best of Pearce by a small margin. Impressed with his opponent’s showing, Pearce arranged for a sponsor to pay Gully’s debts so that he could be released from prison. The two then met in Hailsham for a public battle. Pearce dominated Gully early in the fight, knocking him down in each of the first seven rounds. In the eighteenth round, Gully came back to bloody Pearce badly. Two rounds later, one of Pearce’s eyes was almost swollen shut. The two fighters battled on, both bruised and bleeding. From the 33rd round until the end of the fight, Pearce controlled the action. After an hour and ten minutes, Pearce’s persistent attack sufficiently weakened Gully so that he could not continue.
Pearce laid full claim to the title in his next fight, when he battled Jem Belcher. Although blind in one eye from an accident, Belcher agreed to the challenge. The slugging Pearce outfought Belcher for eighteen rounds to win the undisputed championship. Pearce never fought again. He toured the country after the Belcher victory, celebrating in high fashion. According to contemporary accounts, Pearce was drunk more often than sober. He contracted tuberculosis and other ailments and died in 1809, only four years after winning the championship.
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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.
Died: April 30, 1809