The name of William (Bendigo) Thompson is inextricably linked with that of Ben Caunt by their three epic battles. Thompson, one of a set of triplets, was called Abednego, later shortened to Bendigo. As a boxer, he was often known by his nickname alone.
Thompson started fighting professionally in 1832 with a victory over Joe Hanley, and in 1835, he faced Caunt for the first time. According to contemporary reports, Caunt was incensed by Thompson’s tactic of falling to the ground when in difficulty. In the 22nd round, Caunt hit the kneeling Thompson and lost the fight on a foul.
Thompson won his next three fights before facing Caunt again. Caunt came into the ring in less than the best fighting condition. A great athlete, Thompson easily eluded Caunt’s clumsy attacks. However, in the fifth round Caunt caught Bendigo against the ropes and nearly strangled him. Thompson continuously peppered Caunt with shots to the body. In the thirteenth, Caunt again nearly strangled Thompson. In the 50th round, Caunt alleged that Thompson had illegally kicked him, but the claim was disallowed. In the 75th round, Thompson lost on a foul when he slipped to the ground without having been hit. Some observers believed that Thompson intentionally fell to avoid further punishment, while others believed that Thompson had the fight well in hand and would have won.
In his next battle, Thompson faced the champion James (“Deaf”) Burke. Fighting under the new London Prize Ring Rules, Thompson dominated the fight. In the tenth, a badly beaten Burke head-butted Thompson and was disqualified. In 1840, the new champion, after watching some steeplechase races, exuberantly tried to turn a somersault and fell, seriously injuring his leg. He did not fight for six years until he faced Caunt for the third time. Thompson entered this bout crouching to make himself less of a target and eluded many of Caunt’s thrusts. Thompson dominated the fight and earned the victory when Caunt sat down in the 93rd round without getting hit.
Thompson then retired only to return for one fight in 1850, a victory over Tom Paddock. A hard drinker and an innkeeper, Thompson turned to preaching in his later years, especially concerning himself with temperance issues. Although some questioned his sincerity, he continued his ministry for many years.
* * *
Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.