The CBZ Newswire

First American Gloved Champion: Morris Grant (1881)

by on Dec.26, 2014, under Boxing News

By Christopher James Shelton

Morris Grant

Morris Grant


Boxers have worn gloves or hand-wraps for at least 3500+ years. There were great gloved Olympia champions such as Onomastos, Euthymos, Diagorus and Filammon before Jesus from Nazareth was born. The re-establishment of official records occurred via bare-knuckle in England during the 1720’s. There were bare-fisted and perhaps gloved bouts in Italy, Russia and other regions but there aren’t records for verification. By 1880, bare-knuckle championships had shifted to the United States of America with the current champion at 5’8 and 165 pounds; Englishman, Joe Goss.

Circa 1880, the Black boxer with greatest reputation fought out of Boston, George Godfrey. He was 27 years-old from Prince Edward Island which is modern Canadian region. Gloved boxing was the rage in Boston with two boxers standing above others, the White heavyweight, John L. Sullivan and Godfrey; Godfrey stood approximately 5’10 and 175 pounds while Sullivan was 5’ll and 180 pounds. Unfortunately, for historians and both boxers’ legacy, their showdown was stopped by law enforcement. The bout was to be held near the home of future Colored Champion, Professor Hadley: “At the corner of Trement Row and Howard Street.” The fighters had stripped-down and were ready for battle when police arrived. No one knows who would have won, but Professor Hadley insisted later that Godfrey was superior in technique and would have prevailed.


APRIL 1st, 1881 – Colored Championship


Morris Grant vs. Charles Cooley


LOCATION: undisclosed New York City location on ‘West End’ – CROWD: 250 spectators paying $5 apiece – PRIZE: $500.

Morris Grant is from Saint James Island, South Carolina. He is 6’0 and 185 pounds. While Charles Cooley is an experienced pugilist teacher of minor fame and reputation, it is his first professional prize-fight. He is larger at 6’1 and 195 pounds. Both of these men were giants of their time – particularly before training – that would be gargantuan by today’s standards of physical appearance. They both exercised for months losing 75 pounds apiece during their respective training. The bout was attended by a criminal element attempting to hide from police. It appears to be a gloved bout with bare-knuckle rules. The referee is a man named Hollinwood.

ROUND 1: Cooley begins bout as the more confident boxer. Grant is openly nervous. They are cautious at first. Cooley opens up with several punches which knocks Grant backward. As Cooley steps forward Grant voluntarily backs away. Cooley aggressively steps forward while Grant remains still. The boxers exchange punches until Grant holds in clinch. They aggressively wrestle until both tumble to ground.

ROUND 2: Cooley dominates to begin the round. His superior technique is evident. Crowd cheers as Cooley lands body and head punches. Cooley lands a flurry of punches knocking Grant backward; aggressively grabs Grant and throws him to ground…. The crowd roars so loud that several spectators stand to quiet them. It is an illegal bout so there is concern excessive noise shall attract police.

ROUND 3: Cooley has been dominating but the conclusion of last round encourages Grant to be more rough-house aggressive. Cooley’s boxing is being neutralized by increasing clinches and wrestle holds by Grant. In-close fighting produce legal and illegal body punches on both sides. Grant finally lands a close, hard right to top of head which knocks Cooley down onto knees.

ROUND 4: Cooley prefers the bout’s return to legal boxing. Grant is having more success with illegal tactics. Referee Hollinwood allows the bout to edge toward chaos. Both are tiring. Cooley’s eyes have swelled and closing. Grant bleeds from nose and lips.

ROUND 5: Grant has turned the bout around which shows in his confidence. He batters Cooley until a punch knocks him to ground.

ROUND 6: Grant dominates with several punches. Cooley is in trouble. A Grant punch wobbles Cooley who staggers backward. Grant aggressively steps forward with relentless punches. Cooley finally turns back to opponent – covers his face – and lay onto ground…. After 30 seconds, “time” is called for round seven. Cooley does not rise to feet so Referee Hollinwood declares the bout over.


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On May 16, 1881, in New York City, John L. Sullivan won $750 by defeating John Flood via gloves with bare-knuckle rules. A Sullivan right-punch concluded the bout in 16 minutes. Flood received $250 in a losing effort that was approximately eight rounds.

On August 13th, 1881, at McCormick’s Hall in Cincinnati, John L. Sullivan, defeated James Dalton via gloves with bare-knuckle rules. Despite Paddy Ryan’s recognition as the bare-knuckle champion, Sullivan was billed: “Champion Heavyweight Boxer Of The World.” Dalton might have been more defensive while backing. One or more rounds must have timed at over ten minutes. It was a longer bout than usual for Sullivan that timed at approximately forty minutes. A Sullivan right-punch knocked out Dalton in four rounds.

On February 7th, 1882, John L. Sullivan officially dethroned Paddy Ryan for the bare-knuckle championship. It was an illegal Mississippi bout that concluded in approximately sixteen minutes. A Sullivan right-punch knocked out Ryan after eight rounds. Laws had been passed specifically by Governor Lowry with the legislature to intimidate Sullivan from fighting, but he ignored them. Mississippi corruption allowed him to escape justice. By April, 1882, the new bare-knuckle champion was convicted in Boston of brawling at a tavern with Charles Robbins. He was sentenced to three months at the House of Corrections, but would eventually win an appeal with charges dropped.

The John L. Sullivan phenomena exploded on July 4th, 1882, versus popular bare-knuckle fighter, James Elliot. Sullivan had announced that bare-knuckle was over and from this moment forward was a gloved champion boxing Marquis of Queensbury rules. The bout was at Washington Park in New York City with 6000 spectators. Sullivan had reached mainstream appeal with 1500 women amongst those prepared to view. Admittance was 50 cents for men and free for women. While women may have been there primarily for patriotic festivity the heavyweight championship bout was main event. The 1st round began the gloved era with wildly exciting offensive action. Sullivan scored three knockdowns leaving Elliot bleeding from face. The challenger’s back was scratched from wooden stage floor with shorts blood-soaked. The 2nd round had Elliot backing and running while purposely falling to ground. Sullivan finally landed the already legendary right-punch that knocked Elliot backward onto ropes before collapsing to ground unconscious.

On July 17th, 1882, Champion Sullivan disappointed a crowd of 10,000-15,000 spectators by his inability to knock-out Englishman, Tug Wilson, within the four rounds specified. Whether Wilson was a coward or strategic depends on perspective. Wilson won the money and medal by backing, running and purposely falling down. Spectators would have preferred the Englishman stand in front of Sullivan beaten to a pulp for free. The heavyweight champion, “Batters (Tough Tug) about like a rubber ball,” but his lack of conditioning was apparent as he appeared exhausted toward the final round. Sullivan’s post-bout disappointment bordered on depression with the media showing another side with mixed-reviews, but he remained the most popular boxing champion in American history.


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December 7th, 1882 – Colored Championship


Champion Morris Grant vs. Professor Charles Hadley


LOCATION: Harry Hill’s Theatre in New York City – PRIZE: Richard K. Fox medal – ATTIRE: Sleeveless shirt with knee shorts. It is a gloved bout by Marquis of Queensbury rules. A throwback to bare-knuckle provides each pugilist an umpire with an overriding referee outside the stage.

Morris Grant lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Professor Charles Hadley, 5’9 and 170 pounds, is from Bridgeport, Connecticut. Since Grant’s destruction of Charles Cooley, he has won two bouts sanctioned by Fox for medals. In the same span, Hadley has won two bouts sanctioned by Fox for medals. It leads to an anticipated showdown for the true champion. Both pugilists receive enthusiastic applause.

ROUND 1: Pugilists step forward and shake hands. “Time” is called to begin the bout. Grant steps forward with head in front. Hadley awaits his arrival. Hadley steps forward with punch that lands clean to head which knocks Grant to ground. Morris arises concerned with lost confidence. Hadley pounces with lefts, rights which knock Morris backward onto ropes. Hadley aggressively continues battering Morris who falls to ground. Spectators roar their approval. Grant groggily rises to feet. Hadley pounces and quickly scores his 3rd knockdown. Spectators are in delirium. Grant rises to feet. Hadley pounces with lefts, right which land and knock Grant backward. Hadley charges forward until Grant backs through the ropes until off the stage. Hadley stands alone on the stage puzzled…. The round and bout is perhaps over. It is shockingly one-sided. Spectators and Harry Hill desire the bout to continue. Grant’s corner men finally convince their fighter to continue.

ROUND 2: A confident Hadley aggressively steps forward throwing punches. A fearful Grant backs and attempts to cover-up while protecting his face. Hadley chases while landing punches. Grant continues non-stop backing until “time” is mercifully called…. A bruised Grant sits onto a stool between rounds. Hadley is confident knowing victory is only a matter of patience. Grant falls off the stool exhausted; unable to rise. “Time” is called to begin the next round. Grant remains on the ground until the bout is officially declared over. Professor Charles Hadley is the colored champion of America.

POST-BOUT: The boisterous crowd continues its cheer as Hadley is presented his medal. Charles Cooley displays poor sportsmanship by verbally abusing Hadley while the medal presentation continues. Hadley finally loses his patience and rushes Cooley throwing punches. The referee, both umpires and law enforcement all attempt to intervene as havoc breaks loose. A spectator hands Cooley a gun. The gun discharges which sets off panic amongst spectators. A non-uniformed police officer confronts Cooley. The officer snatches gun from the corner man/pugilist. Both Cooley and Grant are evicted from the premises.

Peace is restored with Harry Hill taking the stage. Hill apologizes to spectators for the unexpected mayhem. Hill concludes the night by announcing that John L. Sullivan will fight an exhibition the following week (tickets at $1 or $2) against anyone who can survive four rounds. Professor Hadley shall remain the Colored Champion for the next fourteen months. In February, 1883, Hadley lost his Colored Championship when he was knocked out in the 6th round by George Godfrey. John L. Sullivan was referee for the bout.

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