Sometimes called the ‘Napoleon of the Ring’ because of his characteristic stance Jack McAuliffe, who fought out of Williamsburg, is immortalised in the Boxing Hall of Fame as one of the best lightweights ever. McAuliffe was born on March 24, 1866 Cork, Ireland and died on November 5, 1937 in Forest Hills, New York. He emigrated at a young age, settling with his family in Maine. He began fighting in 1884, during the bare knuckle era. Jack rarely trained and relied on natural stamina to get him through some lengthy battles. He was the lightweight superstar of his time which was during the transitional period between the bareknuckle era and the adoption of the Marquis of Queensbury rules. In 1886, he captured the American lightweight title by knocking out Billy Frazier in the 17th round. A protege of Jack “The Nonpariel” Dempsey, McAuliffe claimed the vacant world title by stopping Canadian Harry Gilmore in 1887. He beat Young Griffo in 1894, retired shortly after, made a comeback in 1896, and retired for good after his 1897 battle against Philadelphia Tommy Ryan.
His career spanned two eras of boxing. He began in bare knuckle days of London rules of boxing, which mixed in elements of wrestling and he ended his career when fights were governed by Queensbury rules in which the boxers wore gloves. In the early days of his career boxing was an illegal sport and many matches were ended with police raids.
Jack McAuliffe was only one of only three titleholders to retire undefeated as a pro – the famous Rocky Marciano in the heavyweight and bantamweight Jimmy Barry were the others. When he retired he boasted a perfect professional ring record, 49 wins with 43 by knockouts. After retiring, Jack worked for a time in vaudeville and later became a bookmaker.
The greatest challenge that McAuliffe faced in the ring was from the son of Irish immigrants living in England Jem Carney who was such a tough fighter that he killed a man in the ring. Matched with the savage Jimmy Highland in 1883 Carney had by the end of forty-three merciless rounds caved in his game opponent’s ribs. Three days later , the brave Highland died of internal injuries and Carney was charged with manslaughter. Acquitted, Carney served six months for prize-fighting.
Carney and McAuliffe represented two different styles. McAuliffe was more of a scientific fighter, while Carney was a mauler
When Carney fought American Jimmy Mitchell it was a meeting between the champion of England and the champion of America—for many, the winner could lay a claim to the world’s title. The Philadelphia man also happened to be the toughest of the American born lightweights—he reportedly had never even been off his feet. Forty-seven spectators paid $100 each to watch Carney knock him off his feet over and again. In what the Evening Bulletin called “the greatest fight ever seen in this country,” the American national champion was right there in the fight up until the ninth round when Carney’s sheer physicality cut through. Carney fought brilliantly in those first eight rounds, keeping the fight in the furnace to negate the American’s height and reach advantage, but he also fought aggressively for the knockout—and so did Mitchell. They swapped hard punches by the bucket-load wearing “only the smallest of kid gloves” (Richmond Examiner) to protect their hands. This was Carney’s world. By the middle of the eleventh Mitchell had been down a total of four times and his corner tossed up the sponge.
Carney pocketed $2,000 in prize money and headed for a steamship home but McAuliffe himself appeared in Boston to cut him off and the fight would happen. On November the sixteenth, 1887, the two best lightweights on the planet, old world and new, force and science, fighter and boxer would stand opposite one another in the ring. They had agreed to weigh in at no more than 133 lbs. eight hours before the bell, to box with skin gloves and to fight to a finish. No decision would be rendered.
The stage for the battle was a pitched barn near Westerly Beach, Rhode Island. A final delay was caused when some of the few men invited to the secret location were slow in arriving, a factor in the favor of Jack McAuliffe who “was gaining weight at every moment” according to The Brooklyn Eagle. Furthermore, and crucially, despite articles in the fight contract which stated that if either man “brought more than the stipulated number of people – to whit fourteen…[he] shall be adjudged to have forfeited,” many more McAuliffe than Carney men were in attendance. Carney glanced once, snorted and stripped for combat.
Seconding for Carney was a wall of sheet-rock as tough as the hills that birthed them, bare-knuckle fighters from the British Isles all, Nobby Clark, Patsy Sheppard and Arthur Chambers. Seconding for McAuliffe was a future boxing legend, the great Jack Dempsey, with the assistance of Con McAuliffe. Taller by an inch and younger by a decade, the American was a steady favorite at ringside. A distant church bell struck one and the fight was on.
The first round made a mockery of the old ways. Carney was dropped three times in quick succession. The first came during exchanges in the pocket, the area where Carney was supposed to excel, and although the two that followed seem to have been the result of physical pressure or slips rather than punches it was clear that the English champion was hurt. By the 3rd he had recovered and for what would be the first of a hundred times, the McAuliffe men roared deafeningly for a foul. Carney perhaps won the 5th with brutal body punches as he finally feinted and slipped his way inside the McAuliffe defense and the pattern of the fight was set, Jack moving, laughing at Jem’s demands that he stand in fight. “I’ll give you enough bye and bye,” he said, then vanished once again. The American ran, by the standards of the day, leading Carney to label him “the worst cur I ever saw” in the aftermath. “I want no more part of the Marquis of Queensberry rules,” he would say. “It is for the amateurs.” Carney was coming forward in perpetuity slinging endless punches whilst McAuliffe continually countered, two-handed punches occasionally in combination, coming after a left-hand jab.
Carney was punished severely but when he won a round, he won it by distance and in revelled brutality. In the7th, he put McAuliffe through the ropes but was fought to a standstill once more in the 8th. The McAuliffe corner claimed first blood in the 11th after what The Somerset Herald called “a terrible right-hander to the bridge of the nose” which “split the organ open”. In the Carney corner there was a shrug. Of course Carney was bleeding. Did they not see that McAuliffe was bleeding too? There would be blood like a river before this fight was done and to the bare-knuckle men this was already clear. In the other corner they waited patiently for the stoppage victory—no man could brook this punishment for long, they assured one another, Carney had to wilt.
Carney did not wilt and in the 15th some sources have him dropping McAuliffe. The fighting in the 16th and 17th was terrible, much to Carney’s joy. “Ha!” he is said to have exclaimed between those two frames, “a fighting round at last!”
“Carney,” wrote the St. Paul Daily Globe, “is undoubtedly one of the wickedest fighters in the world. As he got angrier and angrier every succeeding round that McAuliffe eluded him [in]…several times his seconds and the referee had their hands full to prevent his losing on a foul by kicking, or striking his opponent, who, from the 20th round on tried to win on a foul.” Furthermore, in the 22nd McAuliffe made a “pitiful exhibition of himself” trying to falsely claim a win on a low blow. His claim was dismissed. The fight went on. But the character of the fight had now changed.
In the 28th round, multiple sources have McAuliffe being driven to the canvas after landing an enormous and desperate bow on Carney’s head, a blow that would raise a lump which would grace the English champion’s countenance for a week. McAuliffe tried to claim a foul on a bite. Carney pointed out through a blood-filled grin that he did not have the teeth for it. The church bell rang out 3 a.m.
By the 35th, Carney’s left eye was shut and McAuliffe was starting to fall short, whether through fatigue or a foreshadowing of the trouble he would endure with both of his eyes. McAuliffe was no longer laying claim to victory by foul although his corner would occasionally below out objections based upon real or imagined transgressions. The American champion kept his wind for more pressing concerns. By the 45th Carney was for the first time outlanding his more scientific foe. His pre-fight ambition to make the fight “a long, desperate and murderous one” had borne fruit. Yes, McAuliffe was better, technically, the better boxer, the better mover, but could he make those pretty moves work in the strange underworld at the extremity of human suffering? Carney endeavored to find out. They would suffer together in the old way.
“At the forty-fifth round,” wrote The Salt Lake Herald, “it was seen that his tactics were bound to be successful, in spite of the wonderful staying powers of McAuliffe…at the end of the round, Carney seemed a sure winner.”
In fact, although Carney had become a betting favorite amongst frantic ringsiders, it was by a small margin. McAuliffe still had his backers and he still had a lion’s heart. In the 47th he came back to scratch and tried to put Carney away. Carney was taken by surprise, rallied, and the two men dug deep and brutalized each other horrifically to the bell. By 4:30 in the morning they had fought fifty rounds. Carney was sorely tested in this round by punches to his shut eye and to the ribs, but he was “undismayed” and Chased McAuliffe around the ring as though it were he, and not Jack that had land the defining blows.
Jack McAuliffe started to feel the effects of the brutal pounding he was getting from Carney. In the 50th McAuliffe was clearly suffering. He went to his knee in the 54th without being struck, so desperate was he to avoid his opponent’s terrible blows. This was a tactic remaining from the days of the London Prize Ring rules which demanded a minute’s rest in the event of a fighter taking the knee. Carney had begun the agonizing process of forcing the scientific McAuliffe back through time to a more primitive era of fighting.
The 62nd was “marked by terrific exchanges,” according to The Herald. “Both fought like demons and took their punishment like men of iron.” In the 68th, all primary reports agree that the two men fell together to the floor of the barn but disagree on the cause. At least one report claims that Carney headbutted McAuliffe in the chest as the two went down whilst another claims that he headbutted the American in the groin once they were down, having fallen due to a tangle of legs (this seems unlikely). What was clear though, was that the McAuliffe men were determined to claim a foul this time and “swarmed into” the ring and that it was “very difficult to get them out” (The St.Paul Globe). In the following round, McAuliffe himself “wanted to quit badly” after claiming a low blow after being forced through the ropes in his own corner. Livid, blood-soaked, it was Carney himself who drove the McAuliffe supporters from him this time as his foe looked on, stupefied. When Carney had cleared the ring and called him forwards he had no choice but to answer the call.
n the 71st, 72nd and 73rd,” wrote The Globe, “it was a plain case of ‘win, wrangle or tie’ on the part of the McAuliffe party. McAuliffe was a gone man, and he wanted his friends to give in for him, for Carney knocked him down repeatedly and chased him all around the ring.”
Carney showed the heart of a savage.He bore himself down upon his opponent with a terrible fury and when he drove McAuliffe through the ropes and onto the floor he hurled himself upon his fallen foe. Pandemonium ensued. The McAuliffe men, who it must be remembered outnumbered their opposition two to one, charged the ring again. Somewhere in the maelstrom a man was toppled forwards onto his own arm which snapped like a breadstick, the bone protruding grotesquely from the wound as he kicked out his agony. The owner of the barn pounced and demanded an end to the fight ; things had gone badly awry; rumors had reached his ears, rumors published later by The Evening World that the barn was to be torched in the event of a Carney victory. Someone cut the ropes. The corpse of the ring collapsed altogether—and the referee was calling a draw, all bets were off, the fight was over. And Jack McAuliffe watched dumbfounded through bloody slits from where he had collapsed onto his stool as Jem Carney called out the same challenge the past calls out to the future always, the call that trembles the foundation of every new idea that is ever conceived, called out like he knew there would never be a rematch and like he knew he would never recover from that night’s carnage, called out from ring center surrounded by enemies none of whom quite dared to touch him, called out with his hands raised high against the future:
“Fight me! Fight me! Fight me! Fight me!”