Jem Belcher was born to be king. He was the grandson of Jack Slack, who was allegedly the grandson of James Figg. The man who was to become famous as ‘The Napoleon of the Ring’ was born at St James Back, Bristol, on 15 April 1781, the son of a butcher who married Slack’s daughter Mary.
His first known, official prize-fight was as a 17-year-old at Lansdown Fair near Bath, and at 18 was fast and graceful enough to hold Jack Bartholomew to a draw in London. He was still only a month past his 19th birthday when he beat Bartholomew in the rematch. One of the most naturally gifted fighters of them all, he was mature beyond his years, and because of his youth could afford to walk the wild side more than most.
After his second victory over Bob Britton of Bath he toasted himself by drinking a yard of ale. His brother Tom was also a respected pugilist, and so was his brother-in-law Pardo Wilson. There is also a record of a sister engaging in a prize-fight against another woman which lasted 50 minutes. But at 22 Jem was blind, and at 30 he was dead.
So much was packed into such a short time, its convenient and not altogether inappropriate for historians to see in him, and his greatest contemporary Henry Pearce, lives that parallelled those of the great Romantic poets, Percy Shelley and John Keats, both of whom died young and yet left behind them a magnificent legacy.
The first challenge to Belcher was from an Irish stonemason Andrew Gamble, who himself had on 1 July, 1800, broken the collar bone and jaw of Noah James on Wimbledon Common ‘within sight of the gibbet upon which dangled the ghastly skeleton of Jerry Abershaw, the notorious highwayman’. Abershaw had been hanged for murder in August 1795, going merrily to his death with a flower in his teeth and chatting with anyone who had the time of day. As a macabre warning, the authorities refused to allow the body to be cut down, instead hanging it in chains and gibbeting it afresh to rot in its own time.
Four days before he fought Gamble, Belcher survived an attack by four men in Chelsea, all of whom he saw off, without coming to harm. With an estimated 20,000 guineas laid in bets, it was perhaps understandable that this was seen as a deliberate attempt to nobble the young star. No proof was ever at hand, however, and the incident was virtually forgotten once Belcher had dispensed with the game but outclassed Gamble in five rounds and nine minutes at Wimbledon on 22 December 1800 in front of a huge Jem Belcher crowd, whose roar was reported to have been heard ten miles away.
When pigeons carrying the news of his victory arrived in Bristol, the bells of several churches were rung in celebration. With the proceeds Belcher bought a London house and one of the finest coaches and pairs in the city. Some say it was this fight that convinced the Fancy of his right to be called champion. Beforehand, Belcher was only a narrow 7-5 favourite, but made nonsense of the odds. At the end of round four; Gamble was flat on his face and out to the world, and although he was pushed back by his seconds, who included Daniel Mendoza, it took only one right hand to put him away.
Three times (once unofficially) he dealt with Joe Berks, sometimes written Bourke, who was a truculent, tough, sometimes drunken butcher from Shropshire. Berks struck Belcher at a prizefight at Wimbledon in 1801, to which the champion had been specially invited. The outraged Belcher demanded honour be served there and then in the available ring. When he took almost 20 minutes to overcome ~he butcher, the watching Lord Camelford considered it a worthy proposition to set them at each other again, in formal conditions, with Berks sober and well-prepared.
He put down a stake of 100 guineas and called in Mendoza to train the Midlander. The return was delayed when Belcher was arrested, but they eventually met again at Hurley Bottom, a valley four and a half miles from Maidenhead between the Henley and Reading roads, on 25 November 1801. In another part of the field as the Fancy gathered, a man raced a sow ... hardly heroic stuff, but it must have been chaotic fun.
This time Belcher won in 25 bloody minutes, wearing down the raw but game challenger with careful body attacks. At the end Belcher offered a winner-take-all purse of 300 guineas to Mendoza. Quite properly, Mendoza, who had been a retired and much respected old champion for the past five years and who kept a good house at the Admiral Nelson in Whitechapel, turned it down. Mendoza, however, was never a man to lose an opportunity for publicity and said he would only meet Gentleman Jackson, who had been retired seven years.
The inference was plain — and insulting to the young champion. The bad feeling graduated into a public slanging match. The third match between Belcher and Berks was delayed twice before it was successfully carried out in a large field behind St George’s Chapel, Joe Berks facing Hyde Park, at Tyburn Turnpike, on 20 August 1802.
The previous day the two men had argued and scuffled at Camberwell Fair. Berks had a front tooth knocked out! For some reason, possibly because the result was considered predictable, Belcher earned only 30 guineas for a victory that turned out to be unexpectedly savage.
Maybe he underestimated Berks, who didn’t even make an attempt to box with the champion, preferring to wrestle. His tactics worked so well that after one round it was feared Belcher’s neck was broken. Slowly, Belcher picked his defences apart with precise punches and his mouth and face bled. At one point they fell down — and as they got up, the ever-defiant Berks spat a mouthful of blood into Belcher’s face. After 14 rounds Berks’ features were horribly distorted and he could barely see. Defeat was conceded, but ‘butcher’ Berks would remain one of the most resilient, and probably one of the craziest of championship contenders.
After the fight he was left in a post-chaise until the result of the succeeding contest was known, but the neglect caused him no obvious ill-effect. Two days later he won 20 guineas by beating Jack Warr, son of the prize-fighter Bill, in a 100-yard sprint after they had argued about who was the faster in the One Tim in Jermyn Street.
Some time after their second fight Berks and Belcher, along with their chief seconds, were forced to appear before Newbury Magistrates to face charges of unlawful assembly and public fighting. Berks had been unable to raise bail and so had spent three months in Reading jail. They were given what amounted to conditional discharges — and within a month the announcement of their third fight was made! The authorities wouldn’t let it drop and in May 1803 all four were charged again ‘that being persons of evil and malicious disposition and fighters, duellers, rioters, etc. had staged a duel’. Again, they were found guilty. Again, they were warned to keep the peace.
Belcher clashed with the authorities once more when he hired Sadlers Wells Theatre for a pugilistic exhibition. The magistrates reacted by closing the building for the summer. In 1806 Berks was charged with two accomplices, including an Irish prizefighter named Jack O’Donnell, with stealing a £5 note and a guinea from a man named William Gee. They were found guilty and sentenced to be transported. Only the intervention of Gentleman Jackson saved Berks from a new life in Botany Bay or some even worse place, and he was last heard of as a non-commissioned officer in the Grenadiers serving under Wellington in Spain.
Belcher’s last fight as champion was at Linton, near Newmarket, on 12 April 1803 when he outclassed the declining Jack ‘Young Ruffian’ Fearby for a prize of 100 guineas. The action was interrupted briefly and with riotous consequences by a, local clergyman and a constable, who made what must have been hilarious attempts to curtail the proceedings. They were both hauled away by the jeering mob and slung into a ditch. By round five Fearby was vomiting blood. In the 11th and after a 20-minute battering, he conceded.
Belcher was 22 years old and lord of the sporting world, comparable in history only with Mendoza and the great Jack Broughton. He owned property, ran with the finest of London society and acted pretty much as he pleased. And then one day after training at Gentleman Jackson’s he travelled over to Little St. Martins for a game of rackets with a friend.
He was hit in the left eye by the ball and blinded. Surgeons had no choice but to remove the eye and in that one terrible moment, his life was thrown into disarray. Benefits were held for him around the country and enabled him to take over the Jolly Brewer in Wardour Street, Soho. And he stuck it for a while, enjoying the deceit of bringing his old Bristol acquaintance, Henry Pearce, to London as a ‘dark horse’ and watching him become champion.
But gradually, as Pearce’s reputation grew to rival his own, Belcher became jealous and frustrated. He began to spar with his brother Tom and slowly became obsessed with beating Pearce and regaining his former glories. A one-eyed man should not have been fighting, of course, but these were hard times, when men were responsible for themselves and not each other. Eventually, he pressed so hard that the match was made. At Blyth, south of Doncaster, or more exactly half a mile outside town on a small piece of common land, on 6 December 1805, the two great fighters met in front of a crowd of 25,000. Pearce was a reluctant 4-S favourite, but began like a rank outsider as the still boastful and bitter Belcher gave him a boxing lesson and opened a cut on his right eyebrow.
The blood streamed down on to the chest of the ‘Game Chicken’. In round seven Pearce was rocked by a right hand, but kept slinging wide, arcing punches at the body and arms and inside used his greater size and strength. He headlocked Belcher and hammered him with one hand until the former champion’s blood spurted on to the ground.By then Belcher was tired and his arms were dropping. By the 12th Pearce was in complete, if reluctant command. Pearce went about his grim business unhappily, refusing to apply the finish with what might have been a kindly ruthlessness. According to Egan he even called out:
‘I’ll take no advantage of thee, Jem. I’ll not strike thee, lest I hurt thy other eye.’
Belcher made a last, defiant rebellion against his fading senses in the 17th but as they came up for the 18th, he admitted: ‘Hen Pearce, I can’t fight thee no more.’ One of the saddest encounters in the history of pugilism was done. Pearce recovered at the Blue Bell Inn at Barnby Moor, three miles away, and then moved on to Grantham for a victory party the same night.
As ridiculous as it may seem to us, Belcher fought twice more, losing both times to a later champion, Tom Cribb, firstly at Moulsey Hurst, Surrey, in April 1807, and a second time at Epsom Downs in February 1809. Just as he had done with Pearce, he gave Cribb a boxing lesson. Cribb was an inferior fighter to both Belcher and Pearce, but he had a huge heart and immense durability and strength.
Pearce, now himself in a steep decline thanks to his inclination towards London’s hellish gin-palaces and women of both polite and rough society, was ringside to see his old friend fight Cribb. Belcher’s performance was a magnificent piece of defiance. After 18 rounds, it looked as if the old champion was on the brink of regaining the title when he put the bleeding Cribb down heavily. But in round 19, he elected to stand and wrestle and the fight turned against him. In the 20th he broke his left hand and from then on he faded, round by round, until at the end of 41, he had no more to give. And as Belcher satin his corner weeping tears of frustration and misery, Cribb danced a hornpipe in mid-ring to the cheers of the gathered multitude.
When they fought again, Belcher was a pitiful figure. His health was failing as rapidly as his business, he was sour and morose and no longer filled with the inspiration to train properly. Cribb was a 1-2 betting favourite — and frankly, that was generous to Belcher. Cribb was at his peak and although Belcher outboxed him at times during the first 10 rounds, his end was hastened when he broke an arm on a ringpost. His hands were no longer able to stand up to hitting a man in a long fight and they were cut and battered when he gave m after 31 rounds.
Belcher was simply unable to cope with his ever declining fortunes. He moved to a smaller pub, but that also failed, and some have said he would sit there brooding in silence for hours as custom passed him by. He gambled away most of his possessions, including his £30 gold watch, and was eventually jailed for 28 days after his part in a drunken fracas in Horsemonger Lane. In prison, he caught cold, which turned into pneumonia. His liver, ulcerated by an excess of gin, caused him intense pain.
A benefit was held at the Fives Court on 2 July 1811 and he was described by William Oxherry, the writer of Pancratia, as a ‘decrepit invalid’. Four weeks later, on Tuesday, 30 July 1811 he died at his last pub, the Coach and Horses in Frith Street, Soho. He was still only 30 years old.They buried him at Marylebone after a funeral procession that did full justice to one of the greatest popular heroes of the century. On the Oxford Road so many thronged around that the procession could not move for some time, and as the coffin was lowered into the grave, the distraught prize-fighter William Wood jumped in after it, weeping uncontrollably.
How "Jem" Belcher was Whipped But Not Defeated
Champion Fought His Last Battle with Pearce When He Had Only One Good Eye
And battered To A Standstill, Did Not Know He was Beaten
John Jackson did not appear again in the ring after his defeat of Mendoza and his accession to the championship. but held the title for five years through lack of a claimant to it. He became the most famous of the contemporary "Professors" of the science and his rooms in Old Bond street formed the rendezvous for the athletically inclined among men of rank and Health. Byron was among hit pupils, a list of whom would have included one third of the peerage of the time, and for more than twenty years he upheld the standing and reputation of the sport. In 18OO the remarkable victories of "Jem" Belcher, "the Bristol Youth," made him the logical successor to the championship. His several fights with "Joe" Berks left him without a competitor until "Hen" Pearce. "the Game Chicken," came to the front through his terrific Battle with John Gully. In 1805 Belcher received an injury to one eye while playing at rackets and announced his retirement. Pearce had also defeated Berks.was thus in line for the title, but Belcher reconsidered his decision to quit the ring and decided to hold his laurels.
"Dang it. put down as I say and let be with yapping about my eye!" said Belcher, angrily, Fletcher Reid regarded the champion doubtfully, pen poised above paper. Belcher was walking the floor in some agitation. The two men were the sole occupants of the public room of the Jolly Brewers, Wardour street, Soho. where the pugilist 'had been mine host for two years.
"Think again, Jem," said Mr. Reid at length. "You sent Pearce word that you would befriend him and aid him to another fight with Berks. He is your fellow townsman and the best in the field. Here is your chance to retire gracefully."
"I’ll fight him myself." said Belcher, with decision. "Since beating Gully be swaggers it and Berks could never pull him down."
"Jealousy, eh?" commented the other, smiling. "Will you back me? is it fear I'll lose keeps you holding off?" asked Belcher, coming to a stop in front of his friend.
"No," said Mr. Reid. "I thought only of you. You have earned your laurels and the right to rest on them. But if you arc determined I'll back you for 500 Guineas for well I know Pearce could never stand to you, though you have but one eye."
"Let be about my eye!" cried Belcher again, flushing. "Danged if I can pass the time of day without having it shoved at me. I'll show some of these chaps. I'm not done yet: no. not if I was to be blind. put down for your 5OO guineas, then, and the time to be within two months, pay or play."
Two days later Pearce himself came to the Jolly Brewers, accompanied by Captain Halliday. his backer. He walked up to Belcher and confronted him directly. "Is this a way to treat an old friend ?" asked Pearce. "Look now, Jem, I never thought to mill a bout with thee except by way of good feeling."
"Do you mean you won't fight, then?" asked Belcher. "No," said Pearce, stoutly. "But I mean it's unkindly like." "He moans he would never have sought to dispute the title with you," interrupted Halliday, coming to the aid of the pugilist. "And I must say the sentiment does him credit. You deliberately withdrew, Belcher, and encouraged Pearce here to come up to London and establish his claim to the championship. Now you jump out of retirement and challenge him. He has no wish to fight you. with your game eye."
Belcher went crimson. "There it is, now. My eye again!" he cried. "Always it's Poor Belcher, he's lost his eye. He'll fight no more. Be done with all that. do you fight or not?"
Pearce looked at his old comrade and patron sorrowfully, shaking his head. "It's a pity, Jem. But if needs must have it I'll fight, of course. Captain Halliday is ready to cover the 500 guineas." "Then say no more of it," returned Belcher, roughly. "now we want no interference. We'll find the place a hundred and fifty miles from Loudon. Will you toss?" They tossed a coin and Belcher won. "I'll send thee word of the time and place within two weeks," he said. And so the matter rested.
Ready to Fight.
The news of a meeting between the champion and "The game Chicken" stirred Sporting circles next day. It had been formally announced that Belcher some years before as his emblem, had given up all idea of continuing in the ring after his unfortunate accident and the turn of events came as a surprise. Opinion was divided, for there were some who believed that Jem had lost none of his prowess in loosing part of his sight. But many thought that he had made a mistake and were not backward in saying so.
Belcher himself breathed defiance when the affair was mentioned in his presence. Reference to his handicap made him furious. He was distinctly one of that type of pugilist which is constitutionally unable to feel or recognize the slightest inferiority. To him the battle was already won. and the expression Of doubt had no effect but one of irritation.
Belcher had gained the title at the age of twenty years after a rise of unprecedented Rapidity and brilliance. He was now only twenty four, logically in the height of his powers. The loss of his eye had temporarily depressed him, but had not affected The man’s moral courage and stamina in the slightest .Acting on a passing impulse he had consented to step aside from his position, but the suspicion That he could not hold it now that he wished to could find no lodgement in his mind.
Belcher was a natural fighter ,endowed with the physical and mental qualities that bring success in the ring, and had been able to master the best men of the time with little or no training. On his mothers side he was a grandson of the redoubtable "Jack" Slack, second champion Of the world conqueror of the great Broughton. It was part of his heritage to do battle and to win. Defeat was something he had never learned. The word held no meaning for him.
"Hen" or Henry Pearce, though four years older than Belcher ,had always regarded the younger man as his master and his model .Belcher had practically made him ,had brought him from obscurity in Bristol and matched him for the fights that brought him his reputation. he had earned the name of "The Game Chicken" through the resolution and agility he displayed in the ring; possibly also as play upon his nickname of "Hen".
Pearce chose a small common about three miles from Barnby Moor and nine miles from Doncaster as the place of meeting. It was the required hundred and fifty mile from London, a precaution Made necessary by recent difficulty with the authorities over the holding of Public prize fights. There were several hundred enthusiasts gathered on Friday and betting ran high, five to four being offered on Pearce.
The ring was staked out on the turf, a traditional stage for pugilism. it was twenty feet square to prevent crowding and hindering. in support of a custom Which had recently been in favor for the partisans of the rival boxers wore colours to indicate their preference .Adherents of Pearce showed blue silk handkerchiefs with white spots. Friiends of Belcher wore the little yellow striped flag which the champion had adopted some years before as his emblem.
The combatants were driven over from the Blue Bell Inn, Barnby Moor, and arrived about eleven o’clock Under a chill gray sky. at half past twelve the arrangements had been completed and they climbed through the ropes .Pearce was seconded by "Will" Ward, with "Bill" Gibbons as his bottle holder. "Joe" Ward and "Dick" Whale performed like services for Belcher.The fighters immediately stripped and advanced to the center for the salute, while the throng cheered and displayed the rival colors.
IN THE RING
The gladiators presented a magnificent picture of manly strength and grace.the champion was five feet Eleven and a half inches in height, weighing about one hundred and seventy pounds.his figure was slender And of such fine proportions and mould that he had frequently been called the Apollo of the ring.He followed Mendoza’s style closely in attitude and tactics,relying upon great swiftness of action,a clever guard and an effective right drive.
Pearce was about five feet nine inches in height,of a stocky and muscular build. In appearance he resembled "Tom" Johnson and like that hard hitting champion possessed great strength and endurance .He was capable of taking heavy punishment, never relied upon technique so much as upon his fists and was a terrific hitter ,particularly with his left.
The champion moved to battle with his customary eagerness .few fighters ever showed themselves so confident and willing in the ring as Belcher. His fighting expression was a smile and his gayety was no Affectation , for the man rejoiced in the sport and his proficiency . the sight of his adversary stung him like a tonic,and he sprang to the handclasp with a word of greeting and defiance on his lips.
Falling on guard, the boxers sparred for an opening. Belcher led off with a feint and sent in a tap with his left, but pearce was not to be tempted. They circled slowly, giving an exhibition of fast and skilful work that brought roars of applause from the spectators. Pearce seemed to be cautious and a trifle uncertain, standing rather on the defensive. The champion maneuvered in conquering style, forcing the pace and warming to his work in a way that cheered his friends mightily.If he bore himself like a master it was because he fet himself to be one.He had feared no ill results from his eye and could not find that it inconvenienced him in the least.
Noting "The Chicken’s" caution, he decided upon a spurt of aggression that should bring him an immediate and decisive advantage. Sparring lightly,he feinted thrice with his right at the body.Pearce covered easily,but after the third feint the champion drove in with a swift right hander that passed over Pearce’s guard and landed heavily above his right eye and drew crimson.The blow staggered Pearce for an instant, but he came back with good will and swung savagely with his left. Belcher warded , but was able Only to break the blow,not deflect it.Pearce followed up by rushing in and closing.
This department of the game had been the champions pet study and he welcomed the grips .they strugguled desperately ,spinning against the ropes and back to the center.here Pearce slipped his thigh over for a cross buttock. Belcher failed to see the move in time and was caught of his stand. Pearce hurled him heavily, retaining his own feet, and the packed and breathless crowd broke into a fluttering sea of blue and white as the men retired to their corners.
Belcher was surprised, but not irritated .he had been a trifle slow at working into his gait, that was all. True,it seemed that he had judged Pearce’s swing a quarter off and had not been quick enough in meeting the cross buttock. But that only meant that "Hen" was a promising student in the crushing of whom no little honour and reputation was to be gained. Sitting upon "Joe" Ward’s knee he smiled cheerfully at his supporters in the first ranks and planned a campaign of brisk and precise hitting that should bring the other down in short order.
At the lapse of the half minute he advanced as quickly as before and had no sooner fallen on guard than he launched himself into one of his trip hammer attacks that had intimidated and crushed many a formidable enemy. He was all over "The Chicken" from the start and Pearce gave ground doggedly and warily. Beating down the others guard with smashing blows the champion found an opening and swung in to the face.,cutting Pearce’s cheek open .he followed the advantage fiercely land again on the body and slashing up with a hook that took Pearce fairly on the point of the chin and all but floored him. "The Chicken" was game and met the charge but was no match for Belcher at the tricks. The champion got home a thumping drive to the ribs, duplicated it, and Pearce, to save himself the grueling punishment rushed towards the clinch.
WATCHING THE POINT
But Jem was not sure the grip was welcome at this point. He was minded to leave his mark upon the other in this round and to sap him with decisive blows. As they struggled he twisted suddenly and disengaged dancing away for renewed fist work. Pearce was equally ready and met him knee to knee, slugging blow for blow manfully. Lunging in he swept Belcher's guard aside and whirled a crashing right hander to the jaw. Belcher saw it and caught up his arm.he was quick enough but again erred in the direction and felt part of the force of the terrific blow .Pearce had put himself so heartily behind the delivery that he was a trifle exposed and the champion stepped in smartly.But Pearce was able to stop the jolt and in the rally got one ,two to the ribs with full steam behind them. This checked belcher and Pearce made dexterous use of the opportunity. he feinted for a drive, then closed and catching the champion swiftly threw him to the ground. In the interval it could be seen that Pearce was by far the worse sufferer on the surface .the cut over his eye received in the first round gave him a deal of trouble and his face had been further slashed, while his body showed raw welts where Belcher’s tough fists had found him.the champions wonderful guarding had protected him,but his wind was tried and he found the half minute respite most welcome.he was elated at the execution he had done and felt confident that he had the situation in his hands.meanwhile bets had risen to 6 to 4 on "The Chicken"
At the opening of the third round Belcher was rather surprised when Pearce took the initiative without hesitation
He forced so fiercely that the champion gave a step. where he stopped, and they rallied prettily. Pearce feinted and swung hard with his right. Jem was on time, but the blow came on his blind side and he no more than grazed the others arm before the blow crashed home under his ear. He had to foot to keep his balance, but remained hardily to the exchange, ripping in with a drive that lengthened the cut on Pearce’s forehead. "Hen" seized close quarters as an opportunity to grip, and after a brief struggle he obtained the advantage of holds, tripping his man and throwing him under the ropes with great strength.
Again on his seconds knee Belcher was still smiling and cheerful .He explained to Ward in an undertone that he must try to anchor his feet more firmly in the wrestling, but that it was a good sign when an adversary was so ready to clinch. He counted that some of his earlier blows had left there effect upon "The Chicken" and that it could not be long now before he had the fight all his own way. He added that another blow to the forehead would make them even as to sight, for Pearce would be blind of one eye.
Pearce led off the fourth round as he had the preceding. Driving in with a jolt and a ripping jolt to the body and a ripping hook that grazed Belchers chin. Jem covered himself with a notable display of science against the shower of blows with which the other forced the pace, bringing shout after shout from the crowd by his agility and speed. Pearce seemed bent upon planting a solid smash, but could not get beyond the champion’s guard.
Twice "The Chicken" seemed to have found his chance and launched a tremendous drive, but Belcher was out of distance each time. The champion showed what stuff he was made of in this round and brought all his skill to play. He jolted in with some stiff body punches and again cut Pearce about the head, taking receipts in the form of several swings that he stopped with his face. He fought away from clinches, though Pearce attempted to close several times. At length "Hen" caught him. Belcher put forth all his powers to shift the result of the struggle, but his opponents great strength told in the end and he went down without damage.
At this stage of the battle the champion adopted the policy of allowing his second and bottle holder to half carry him to his corner. he had found this of great assistance in a keenly contested and wearing fight when every ounce of energy would be needed. Although he was still strong he did not move until the two men picked him up, and in the interval Ward nursed him with great care, swabbing and refreshing him. Belchers wind was clearly bothering him, but he was not of any great distress.
When they came together for the sixth round the champion had decided to play cunning with Pearce’s evident desire for aggression. There was nothing to be gained by waste of strength in meeting the attacks which were sure to cost "The Chicken" dear. He therefore remained on the defensive. Pearce was willing and resumed his hammering. he appeared to have lost his diffidence and to be much sure of himself as a result of having won the end of each round. he forced the champion to give ground continually and it was only at the expense of continual watchfulness that Belcher was able to avoid telling blows. The Chicken drove frequently with his left and Belcher’s arms were torn and swollen with stopping the smashes.
The champions caution served him well and while Pearce’s fists were flying he found several opportunities to slip in blows. One of these shot through such an opening as he could scarcely have asked. Pearce was carried far around with a spent blow and every man on the field saw, with a sharp intake of breath, that Belcher had a magnificent chance. He was alert and planted swiftly for the neck, but his aim was bad and the blow glanced. At this point his friends began to understand what the loss of his eye meant to him. His sight lacked that marvelous quickness essential to a fighter. he lost here an opportunity such as he would never have missed in his prime though his inability to judge distance and direction accurately Belcher himself was unaware of this fact .he regarded the miss as an unfortunate accident and it gave him no warning. On Pearce’s next attack the champion stood firm and they rallied with great spirit, both Landing several good blows when "The Chicken" closed again. Belcher clung to him again and evaded dangerous holds, with the result they fell together, the champion underneath.
Having fairly outpointed his man in the last two rounds, Belcher now determined to put foreward every endeavor to win a decisive lead .he was satisfied that Pearce was greatly weakened and that a resolute attack must give him the upper hand. Pursuing this plan he came to the center for the seventh round very slowly, craftily feigning a reluctance that he was far from feeling. Once his toe had touched the mark he sprang into the fray with astonishing vigor, leaping forward with a drive that snapped Pearce’s head back and drove him across the ring. Hen covered well however and got his bearings when he slashed back with a wicked right hander. Belcher parried the threatening blow neatly and returned its double, which was well directed and caught Pearce full upon the mouth.
Belcher Is Wary, Now.
"Hen" tottered, and almost. fell under this smash, attempting to close .immediately to save himself. Belcher was wary of the clinches and followed up With a rattle of blows to the body which gave Pearce much trouble. .''The Chicken" backed away From the Belcher whirlwind and was very careful to avoid another of those drives to the face. "Belcher felt himself in the full tide of victory He had the enemy in retreat, was not injured and could land three blows to the other's one. Twice he countered on "Hen's" jaw and again with slashing body blows cut Pearce's side. Stepping in for a jolt, he gave Pearce an opportunity to feint and run into a hold He was not quick enough in judging ''the Chicken " purpose and Pearce caught him around the neck with his left arm. Holding the champion this way he battered Belcher's face with his right and Jem suffered before he could break away. They closed again and fell together. Pearce underneath.
This was one of the most desperate rounds of the fight and was plainly in Belcher's favor, though at heavy expense. Both men were exhausted and Pearce was willing enough to take his cue from the champion and allow his attendants to remove him to the corner. Belcher was perfectly satisfied and informed Ward that he expected to win, in the next round. When they came together again the champion led off with redoubled vigor. He peppered Pearce about the face almost at will, though twice, on attempting to strike a decisive blow, he misjudged distance or direction. "Hen" seemed to have fallen back to his earlier unreadiness in face of the attack and had great difficulty in keeping Belcher away. Jem now ran a remarkable series of blows, catching Pearce's drives with his right and countering with his left as regular as clockwork. Several smashes got home on "Hen's" ribs He made sure that the moment for masterful tactics had come and for the first time in the fight deliberately sought to wrestle Catching Pearce to great advantage, he whirled him off his Feet and threw him with great force. Pearce hurtled upon the ropes and fell outside-the ring.
The crowd went wild at this wonderful display of strength and skill on the part of the champion and yellow took the place of blue in the color scheme betting dropped to even money. Belcher himself felt that the end was near. His chief thought was of Satisfaction at having proved to his friends that with one eye or two eyes he was as good a man as ever he had been.
"The champion went into the ninth round to finish the fight He forced again, while holding himself together for an opening. It came and he delivered, but again he bad misjudged, and the blow was spent He tried desperately to remedy the error and repeated the drive catching Pearce on the cheek and splitting it. but with little effect. Pearce had pulled himself together, and they rallied for a moment, then closed and fell.
The tenth round was brief. In a sharp rally Pearce's friends were encouraged to see that he had Still further recovered and that Belcher gave before him Pearce was on top in the fall. "The Chicken" was now decidedly improved in strength He landed several effective blows at the beginning of the eleventh round, but overreached himself in a drive and they closed. Belcher twisted away and struck to the face .Pearce closed again and threw his man cleverly. This round though Belcher had no such idea was the turning point in the struggle. The champion’s chance had come and gone with his inability to land at a crucial moment. Pearce’s power was coming back, while Belcher under the terrific nervous strain of poor eyesight had exerted himself to the limit and now began to weaken fast.
END OF THE STRUGGLE
In the twelfth round "the chicken" resumed the offensive he went after Belcher hard and the champion suffered two smashes to the face and a body blow that we was not quick enough in warding. To the watchers his weakness was apparent, though not to himself. There now came a singular turn of events, Pearce closed and threw Belcher backward. He struck the ropes and the support was enough to keep him from falling, but not enough to send him back to his balance .he floundered there helpless, fair prey and an easy victim. Pearce stood before him. Twice "The Chicken" raised his hand and twice he dropped it, the heat of battle urging him, friendship and kindness restraining him.
"No Jem" he said finally " I won’t take advantage of thee; no, lest I hurt thy other eye". With that he turned and walked to his corner, while Belcher slipped to the ground and the throng cheered the generous act until it could cheer no more.
This incident, though he could not resent it, hurt Belcher more than anything that had happened. There it was his eye again. He determined once more, savagely, that he would yet win in spite of it. The resolution lent him new strength and after a brief rally in the next round he closed and threw Pearce a masterly cross buttock. This proved but a flash of his old form however, and in the fourteenth round Pearce battered him terribly before sending him down in grips.
In the fifteenth round the situation was clear. Belcher dragged himself to the center with difficulty, while Pearce was getting stronger every minute. "The Chicken" landed the stiffest blow of the battle after a short rally. It was a terrific drive to the lower rib and sent the champion down like a sack.To decide many bets the umpires officially credited Pearce with the first knockdown blow.
Belcher was almost paralyzed when he was helped to the center. Ward whispered to him that he had better quit. The champion turned on him in anger and amazement. "What !, give in when he had the battle won". Here was strange advice truly.He was calmly and serenely confident that the next moment would bring decisive victory. At the exchange he hit Pearce squarely in the mouth, but the blow was feeble."Hen" smiled, shook his head and whipped into a rally in the course of which Belcher stumbled against one of the posts injuring one of the same ribs which Pearce had struck. It was thought to have been broken. In the clinch the incident in the twelfth round was repeated. Belcher hanginghelpless on the ropes while Pearce refused to strike.
In the seventeenth round Pearce landed heavily, then throw his opponent. At the opening of the eighteenth round Belcher scarcely stand without assistance. Face and body were slashed to ribbons. His left arm was crippled he was doubled over by the pain in his side. His good eye was all but closed. But he was unbeaten. As firmly as when he had entered the ring he believed he was the winner. Twice he tried to raise a hand but the body would not obey the dauntless spirit. He was literally unable to make a move, he could not understand it. His muscles, his nerves were traitors to his will. The realization of this fact swept to him in a flash. First his eye now his limbs had played him false. Inwardly he had not, begun to yield, but physically he had reached the end. Once, more he tried to fall on guard, and then with a sob collapsed a victor in defeat.
While the crowd gave the yell that was a salute to the heroic fallen and to the conqueror arisen Pearce gave ample proof of his condition. he leaped over the ropes out of the ring, back in the same manner and turned a somersault. Then he went over to shake hands with the prostrate Belcher. But he said nothing about the eye.