One of the most scientific of the early fighters, Tom Spring possessed a style that distinguished him from most of his contemporaries. Not known for his punching power and troubled by bad hands, Spring had good defense, fine footwork and a solid left. Spring first fought at the age of seventeen while working as a butcher in Hereford. His first recorded professional bout was a win over the towering John Hollands.
In 1818, Spring twice faced Ned Painter, a more experienced fighter, for a win and a loss. As the first bout began, Spring hit Painter on the side of the throat, sending him down. When Painter toppled to the ground, his head and shoulder struck a stake holding the ring together. Badly injured, Painter nevertheless fought through the 31st round before succumbing. In the rematch, Painter opened a gash over Spring’s right eye with a hard right. Spring continued to bleed but hung on for 42 rounds before quitting.
After defeating Jack Carter in 1819, Spring went on an exhibition tour of England, sparring with the champion Tom Cribb. When Cribb retired in 1821, he handed the title to Spring. Challengers were slow to take Spring up on his offer to fight anyone in England until Spring signed to fight Bill Neat in 1823. Though denigrated as a “lady’s maid fighter” for his lack of punching power, Spring scored a knockdown in the first round and cut Neat in the next. The fight ended in 37 minutes with Spring the winner.
Spring next fought two tough battles with the Irish fighter Jack Langan. The fights presented a great contrast in styles—Spring was quick and athletic and Langan was big, slow and ponderous. Spring won both marathon battles against Langan. He was forced to retire largely because of his ruined hands, a common hazard for bare knuckle fighters. Except for one fight with Painter, Spring’s ability to avoid punishment and hit often, though without much power, enabled him to triumph over his opponents. His “Spring’s Harlequin Step,” in which he feinted briefly into his opponent’s range, evaded the reactive punch and then scored a hit himself, was an especially effective move.
Well-respected for his kindness and gentlemanly demeanor outside of the ring, Spring became a prosperous innkeeper upon his retirement.
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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.