Tom Molineaux was the first American to fight for the Heavyweight title in England. Molineaux, born into slavery, was raised on a plantation in Virginia. Learning that he could eventually fight his way out of slavery, Molineaux began participating in bare knuckle fights against neighboring slaves, in events that were arranged by the slave owners. Molineaux was indeed granted his freedom after winning his last bout as a slave, but decided to travel (as a deck hand) to England after hearing about better opportunities for fighters. While in London, Molineux frequently referred to himself as the “American champion,” even though there was no such thing at the time. Molineux also professed that he could beat anyone. After name checking the retired, hall of fame legend, and ex-champion Tom Cribb, Cribb demanded Molineux defeat his protégé Bill Burrows–whom Molineux dispatched of easily. When Molineux faced Cribb, he dominated the Brit early, drawing first blood and dropping the ex-champ in the 28th round. Based on the rules at the time, Molineux should have won at that moment, but Cribb’s trainer accused Molineux of holding bullets to make his punches harder. After a quick investigation yielded no evidence, the referee allowed them to continue, but by then Molineaux, tired and dizzy from hitting his head on a ring post collapsed. Molineaux got an immediate rematch, but Cribb took no chances in training and broke Molineux’s jaw as he knocked him out in the 11th. Molineaux never fought for the title again. He became an alcoholic and died of tuberculosis at 34 years of age.
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