The other historic battle of New Orleans (which was actually fought in Kenner)
At a time when boxing was going through a difficult transition from the bare-fisted era to the gloved era, a pair of Brits — “Gypsy” Jem Mace and Tom Allen — fought at LaSalle Landing near the banks of the Mississippi River in the Rivertown area of Kenner in 1870. It was a heck of a matchup. Some called it the fight of the century. But it was more than that: It was also the first ever World Heavyweight Championship prizefight in the history of the sport.
Boxing’s presence on the New Orleans sports landscape has faded dramatically despite a long tradition of grassroots programs as well as two golden eras in the Crescent City. The first golden era began not long after the Mace-Allen fight and carried into the early 20th century. The second took place in the 1970s and 1980s, with such high-profile matchups as 1978’s Ali-Spinks bout, as well as 1980’s Leonard-Duran “no mas” fight.
- The Marquess of Queensbury rules, most notably the use of gloves, were being implemented in the latter half of the 19th century. They hadn’t reached New Orleans just yet, though, so the Mace-Allen fight was moved from New Orleans to what is now Kenner to protect the fighters from arrest in a crackdown on bare-fisted fighting in the city.
- Mace, who was nearly 40 years old, was the British champion and Allen held the American heavyweight title.
- Mace won the title — and the $2,500 purse — when Allen’s corner threw in the towel after a ninth-round knockdown, some 44 minutes into the bout. A boisterous crowd of about 1,000 people showed up to watch.
- Heavyweights weren’t quite as heavy back then as they are now. Mace weighed 165 pounds and Allen weighed 170.
- In his recap of the fight, a New York Times reporter wrote, “I doubt whether any man ever had such a thrashing as Tom had that day; but he took his gruel like a hero and proved that, so far as gameness went, he was as good a man as his friends had made him out to be, though his scientific attainments were not much more than third-rate.”
- In 1891, Louisiana legalized glove boxing, becoming the first state to do so. In a match that marked the start of the modern era of boxing, “Gentleman” Jim Corbett knocked out John Sullivan in the 21st round in the Bywater in 1892.
New Orleans is widely recognized as a first-rate host city for sporting events. That’s for good reason. It’s in our blood. The historic 1870 bout — which is commemorated by a statue at Rivertown in Kenner — is a reminder that the Crescent City and its environs were a big-event destination long before anyone heard of the Sugar Bowl, the Super Bowl, the Final Four — or the NBA All-Star weekend.