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Tom Molineaux by Robert Dighton.
|Height||5 ft 8 in (173 cm)|
Virginia, United States
|Died||4 August 1818 (aged 34)
Born into slavery in Virginia, Molineaux was trained by his father, also a fighter, as was Molineaux's twin brother. He boxed with other slaves to entertain plantation owners. Molineaux earned his owner a large sum of money in winnings on bets, was granted his freedom, and moved to England where he expected to be able to earn money as a professional boxer.
Career in Europe
Molineaux's first fight in England was on 24 July 1810, beating Jack Burrows in 65 minutes. On 3 December 1810, having been trained by Bill Richmond, another ex-slave turned boxer, Molineaux fought Tom Cribb at Shenington Hollow in Oxfordshire for the English title. According to the writer Pierce Egan, who was present, Molineaux stood five foot eight and a quarter inches tall, and for this fight weighed "fourteen stone two" (198 pounds (90 kg)). Egan wrote that few people, including Cribb, expected the fight to last very long; there was betting that Cribb would win in the first ten rounds. However, Molineaux proved a powerful and intelligent fighter and the two battered each other heavily. There was a disturbance in the 19th round as Molineaux and Cribb were locked in a wrestler's hold (legal under the rules of the time) so that neither could hit the other nor escape. The referee stood by, uncertain as to whether he should break the two apart, and the dissatisfied crowd pushed into the ring. In the confusion Molineaux hurt his left hand; Egan could not tell if it had been broken. There was also dispute over whether Cribb had managed to return to the line before the allowed 30 seconds had passed. If he had not, Molineaux would have won, but in the confusion the referee could not tell and the fight went on. After the 34th round Molineaux said he could not continue but his second persuaded him to return to the ring, where he was defeated in the 35th round.
The return fight on 28 September 1811 at Thistleton Gap in Rutland was watched by 15,000 people. Egan, who was present, said that both fighters "weighed less by more than a stone", which means Molineaux weighed at most 185 pounds (84 kg) for this fight. Molineaux, though still hitting Cribb with great power, was out-fought; Cribb broke his jaw and finally knocked him out in the 11th round. After the fight Richmond and Molineaux parted.
Molineaux's boxing career ended in 1815. After a stint in a debtors' prison he became increasingly dependent on alcohol.
A hand-coloured etching of Molineaux by Robert Dighton is held in the National Portrait Gallery in London. A fictionalised account of Molineaux's boxing career appears in Black Ajax, by George MacDonald Fraser.
Thomas Molineaux is featured in the short animation The Prize Fighter, directed by Jason Young.
Tom Molyneaux is featured, as a ghost, in the short story "Apparition in the Prize Ring" by Robert E. Howard, who was a boxing fan.
Molineaux's fight with Cribb was turned into a 2014 play called Prize Fighters, by Ed Viney.
- "Molyneux, the pugilist, died at Galway, Ireland, on the 4th inst., in a room occupied by the band of the 77th regiment, where he had been maintained the last two months, and very humanely attended by three people of his colour": The Times, (London, England), 18 August 1818, p. 3.
- Egan, Boxiana, Volume I, 1813.
- Lobel & Crosley, 1969, pages 171-188
- The Prize Fighter
- Pamela Parkes (22 June 2014). "Boxing: When a freed slave fought a sporting star". BBC News. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
- Egan, Pierce (1813), Boxiana; or, Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism, from the Days of the Renowned Broughton and Slack, to the Championship of Cribb: Volume 1
- Lobel, Mary D.; Crossley, Alan, eds. (1969), Victoria County History: A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 9, pp. 171–188
- Fraser, George MacDonald (1997), Black Ajax, London: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-225585-5
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