Benjamin Brain

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Benjamin Brain
Real name Benjamin Brain
Nickname(s) Big Ben
Nationality British
Born 1753
Died April 8, 1794

Benjamin ("Big Ben") Brain (1753 – April 8, 1794) was a bareknuckle prizefighter. A collier by trade,[1] he was a valiant fighter whose career spanned twenty years.[citation needed] Brain was born in Bristol, England, at which point his surname was "Bryan" or "Brian": later in life this was sometimes corrupted into "Bryant" and also "Brain".[1][2]

Prior to moving to London in 1774 in order to work as a coal porter at a wharf he had already defeated Jack Clayton, the champion of Kingswood, Bristol.[citation needed] and also a fighter called Harris.[1]

His career as a prizefighter started properly in 1786, when he fought John Boone, who was known as “The Fighting Grenadier”. Toughs broke into the ring and ganged up on Brain.[citation needed] In the resulting melée, Brain suffered a beating that almost closed one of his eyes. When order was restored and a surgeon had lanced the swelling around the eye, he resumed fighting and within ten minutes[citation needed] had forced Boone to quit in defeat.[1]

He fought a man called Corbally at the end of 1788 in Navestock and then, in 1789, Brain was scheduled to fight the English champion,[citation needed] Tom Johnson for a prize of £500. When Brain fell ill and cancelled the bout, he forfeited the £100 he had put up for the fight. Later in that year he was well enough to fight Jacombs at Banbury.[1]

In 1790 his 100 guinea fight against Bill Hooper at Newbury turned into a farce. Hooper became fearful after Brain's first successful hit on him and resorted to tactics such as falling over and spitting water in his face in order to distract him. The fight lasted over three hours before being declared a draw due to the darkness of evening setting in. Hooper had fallen 133 times during the fight.[1]

Brain then got another opportunity to fight Johnson on 17 January 1791, the fight being arranged to take place at Wrotham in Kent. He was supported financially to the tune of 500 guineas by the Duke of Hamilton, It was a brutal but short-lived affair: despite being 7-4 favourite, Johnson was incapacitated after 21 minutes when he broke a finger by hitting a rail that surrounded the ring.[1]

Soon after winning the championship in 1791, and with no challengers coming forward, Brain retired from boxing and the title of English Champion became vacant.[citation needed] There were attempts to arrange a fight against Isaac Perrins but these came to nothing[2] and until 1794 Brain made his living by sparring and acting as a second to other fighters.[1] In that February of that year he agreed to fight William Wood but then died, of a "scirrhous liver", on 8 April, at his house on Grey's Inn Road, London before the bout had taken place.[1]

He was buried at St. Sepulchre's church, London, his funeral being attended by four fighters: Wood, Johnson, Bill Warr and John Symonds.[1] The epitaph on his headstone read:

Farewell, ye honors of my brow,
Victorious wreaths, farewell!
One blow from Death has laid me low
By whom such brave ones fell.

Yet bravely, I'll dispute the prize,
Nor yield, though out of breath;
'Tis not a fall - I yet shall rise,
And conquer even Death.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harvey, Adrian N. (2004). "Bryan, Benjamin (1753–1794)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60191. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  2. ^ a b Gee, Tony (2004). "Perrins, Isaac". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60190. Retrieved 2011-03-28. 
  3. ^ O'Hara, Barratt (1909). From Figg to Johnson; a complete history of the heavyweight championship. Chicago: The Blossom Book Bourse. p. 48. hdl:2027/njp.32101019477932.