Although an excellent fighter, Jem Ward—English champion for most of the period from 1825 to 1831—was the first boxer to be disciplined by a governing body for throwing a fight. Ward turned professional at the age of fifteen with a victory over George Robinson. He remained unbeaten until 1822 when he lost to Bill Abbott, a fighter most observers considered to be far inferior to Ward. After many rounds, Ward shouted to Abbott loud enough that those at ringside could hear, “Now, Bill, look sharp, hit me and I’ll go down.” When Abbott then hit Ward, he collapsed. The Pugilistic Society conducted an inquiry into the match. Ward confessed that he had been paid one hundred pounds to lose. The Pugilistic Society expelled Ward and barred him from fighting in any ring under its control.
The next year Ward was attending a bout and, when the main event ended quickly, he was called upon to enter the ring against Ned Baldwin, whom he easily defeated. Still unable to clear his name, Ward toured England with other boxers. He defeated Joe Rickens while pretending to be an unschooled farm boy named Sawney Wilson, so as to get better betting odds.
In 1823, the Pugilistic Society reinstated Ward. He lost his next bout to Josh Hudson. In 1825, he challenged the champion Tom Cannon, who was seconded by Hall of Famers Tom Spring and Tom Cribb. On an intensely hot day, Ward won easily. Ward very briefly lost the title when Peter Crawley defeated him in 1827. Crawley retired within days, and Ward reclaimed the championship. He held it until 1831 when he retired.
A fine fighter and powerfully built man, Ward received criticism for refusing to face the younger challenger, James Burke. Ward had some success as an artist, and his paintings were displayed in London and Liverpool. He also enjoyed playing the violin and flute. Among his retirement ventures, he sang in concerts and operated a tavern.
* * *
Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.
Born: Dec. 26, 1800
Died: April 3, 1884