By Tracy Callis

When one describes Charlie Mitchell, particular thoughts and words come to mind - insolent, arrogant, and abusive in his insulting remarks about an opponent. True enough. But, the description should also include such words as shifty, scrappy, crafty, and loaded with boxing savvy. Henning (1902 p 517) called Mitchell, “… one of the quickest, cleverest, and smartest men of his time …”

Charlie engaged in fights from the time he was a lightweight until he was of light-heavyweight poundage. Regardless of his own weight, he would enter the ring against anyone at any time - and win. He was probably at his best when he was a middleweight yet he was quite comfortable fighting larger men.

Further, Charlie was never bothered by the rules for a fight. He was equally as good with bare-knuckles under the London Prize Ring Rules as he was with gloves under the Marquis of Queensberry Rules. The number of rounds didn’t faze him either. The more, the merrier.

Lardner (1972 p 173) called Mitchell’s tongue vitriolic. Charlie may have had a big mouth but he could back up his words. For his size, he could deliver very hard blows. His hitting ability was accompanied by excellent timing and quickness that added to the power of his blows. Gordon (2007 pp 330 364) described Mitchell, “Inside the ring, he was destructive, with a fierce punch in either fist and a willingness to taunt, humiliate and cut down whoever stood in his way. Outside, he was quick-witted, articulate and impudent.” Later, he speaks of Charlie’s “… undoubted brilliance as a boxer-puncher …”

Mitchell encountered the weight disadvantage from the beginning of his career as he often took on men who were 20-40 pounds heavier than he was. For example, Bailey Gray had a forty pound weight advantage, Caradoff had a nearly seventy pound weight advantage and Patsy Cardiff had a thirty pound weight advantage, to name three. Needless to say, he cleaned up the middleweights he faced. So, he decided to go to America and challenge its best. He cleaned them up too. Add to the middies, the number of heavier men he beat. His quickness and savvy easily offset their muscles and brawn.

Johnston (1936 pp 61 102) stated, “Mitchell was a skillful boxer. He was one of the smartest exponents of bare knuckle fighting that ever lived and later became an extremely good man with the gloves. He knew every subterfuge of the London Prize Ring Rules. He could hit hard, for a man so light in actual fighting trim, and his courage was undoubted.” That writer later called Mitchell, “…one of the most talented ‘goat-getters’ who ever pulled on a glove.”

Klein (2013 p 63) wrote of Mitchell, “His pluck allowed him to take on heavyweights, and he once easily defeated an opponent with a ninety-pound advantage. The tart-tongued Englishman matched John L. in self-confidence, and he was a clever boxer. He may have lacked Sullivan’s power, but he was fast with his fists, quicker with his feet. Plus, Mitchell was shifty, which served him well in the ring and annoyed his opponents.

When Mitchell came to America in 1883, he tangled with Mike Cleary, himself a very dangerous hitter. Charlie outgunned Cleary and battered him until police jumped into the ring and stopped the slaughter.

According to Dibble (1925 p 40), “The cutest boxer who ever faced Sullivan was doubtless Charlie Mitchell, the slippery Englishman who first fought the champion in Madison Square Garden on May 14, 1883. In the first round an unbelievable event occurred - John was knocked down - a catastrophe that had never happened before.” (Sullivan claimed his legs got crossed.)

In this contest, Sullivan outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. Lardner (1972 p 49) wrote, “To everyone’s surprise, especially Sullivan’s, the lighter Mitchell knocked the champion down in the first round with a short right to the face.” Historian and writer Adam Pollack (2006 p 61) discusses this bout and reports that newspaper versions of the knockdown vary, but most say it was a straight right to the chin that did it. Henning (1902 p 518) stated, “Although Mitchell succeeded in knocking the great American down, Sullivan proved too powerful for him …”

Charlie boxed Jake Kilrain on March 26, 1884 in Boston. According to The Boston (Ma) Daily Globe the next day, “The honors, to say the least, were easy, and if Kilrain didn't get the best of the fight neither did Mitchell. No blood was spilled on either side, and, although Kilrain went down once, it certainly didn't appear like a knock-down, since Kilrain came up smiling and not the least bit groggy. Indeed, both men at the end of the so-called assault-at-arms were perfectly fresh and uninjured. It was a very pretty exhibition of sparring, and both men showed themselves to be clever fighters, although Mitchell displayed none of that dash and hard hitting that was to be expected from his previous record.” In June of 1886, he fought the unbeaten Patsy Cardiff to a draw in Minneapolis.

Perhaps Mitchell’s most impressive fight came against John L. Sullivan on March 10, 1888 at Chantilly, France. On a cold, rainy, and snowy day, fighting under the old London rules, Charlie teased, boxed and outmaneuvered the great champion. The encounter lasted 39 rounds that required three hours and eleven minutes.

Harding (1881 pp 48-49) contended, “… Mitchell having the advantage at the finish, and would undoubtedly have won had the battle been finished.”

Henning (1902 p 520) asserted, “… Mitchell would certainly have beaten the great American, for at the expiration of three hours he had it all his own way.”

Mitchell was trainer and second for Jake Kilrain when Jake fought Sullivan for the heavyweight championship in July of 1889 in Mississippi. Throughout the fight, Charlie heckled Sullivan with defiant remarks. When the contest ended, Charlie offered to slug it out with John.

In February of 1890, Charlie defeated old Jem Mace, who had been critical of the preent day English fighters. Some sources report this as a championsip bout.

Prior to the heavyweight title fight with Jim Corbett, The New York (NY) Clipper newspaper stated that Mitchell was “as clever and shifty as Corbett, more tricky than the latter.” He was also called a “better puncher and more determined fighter.” John L. Sullivan was quoted as saying, “I think Corbett has undertaken a bigger contract than he realizes. Mitchell is fully as shifty a boxer as Corbett, and he can strike twice as hard a blow …” Peter Jackson said about Charlie, “I believe no gamer man ever stepped into a ring. He has grit and science also, and Corbett will find him a hard man to defeat” (see Pollack 2007 pp 303-304).

Of course, they were wrong. Mitchell had nowhere near the quickness and ring savvy of Corbett. In fact, few boxers, if any, at that time or ever in the overall history of boxing have had the quickness and ring savvy of Jim Corbett.

On January 25, 1894 in Florida, Mitchell faced Corbett. The two men had many unpleasant words to say about each other prior to the fight. Each was riled up. Mitchell made Corbett wait in the ring that cold day for a long period before he appeared. However, afterwards, Charlie called Corbett, “… the greatest fighter that ever stood in the ring” (see Lardner 1972 pp 96-99).

When heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries toured Europe in 1899, Mitchell insulted him by calling him a bloody cheese champion and challenged him to a fight. Lardner (1972 p 130) wrote, “Luckily for Mitchell, who was by that time a middleweight grown too fat, Jeffries paid no serious attention to the challenge, then or ever.”

For Mitchell, weight was no factor in choosing an opponent. A look at the legendary ring names that appear on Charlie’s list of foes includes John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, Frank “Paddy” Slavin, Jake Kilrian, Patsy Cardiff, Jem Mace, Jack Burke (many times), Dominick McCaffrey, Mike Cleary (two times), Bill Springall, William Sherriff, Patrick “Reddy” Gallagher, Billy Edwards and Tug Wilson (Joe Collins).

Charlie boxed as a lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight before there were numerous other divisions. He tangled with larger opponents frequently and held his own, coming out on top most of the time. He was quick and clever and carried a solid punch. He even floored the great John L. Sullivan. It is quite clear that he could fight with most men of middleweight poundage in history and come out victorious!

Sometime, during the 1878-1880 years, Mitchell became the boxing instructor for a club in London, and then started a boxing school in Belgium. He toured the United States and Canada with Jake Kilrain (1887-1889) and Frank “Paddy” Slavin (1891-1892), giving exhibitions, sometimes on the same day he had a scheduled fight. In July of 1889, Charlie was in Kilrain's corner against John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight title. As usual, he was an agitator to the great John L.

Writer and historian Fred Henning (1902 p 520) wrote that while “… most of his engagements were with the gloves, he was undoubtedly a rough customer with the “raw ’uns,” and, had he been born in the palmy days of the prize ring, would have undoubtedly held a high position amongst the old pugilists as a punishing hitter and scientific sparrer.”

In the view of W.W. Naughton (1902 p 148), “Mitchell was, without doubt, the best pugilist developed in England in a score or more of years. When in his prime as a ringster he was a neat boxer, with great punishing power. He was a plucky fellow, and in his most important engagements was compelled to concede advantages in weight to his opponents.”

DeWitt Van Court (1926 pp 105 108) wrote, “Mitchell was one of the greatest English fighters. He met John L. Sullivan twice, once in four rounds and the second time in a finish fight with bare knuckles. Mitchell was a fine boxer, great hitter and very game. Mitchell was a noted goat getter and one of the coolest fighters in a contest.” He ranked Mitchell as the #3 all-time light-heavyweight.

In the opinion of this writer, Mitchell ranks as the #5 All-Time "Pound-For-Pound" fighter and among all-time best middleweights. Mitchell was elected to The Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1957 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002


Dibble, R. 1925. John L. Sullivan. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company

Gordon, G. 2007. Master of The Ring. Wrea Green, England: Milo Books

Harding, W. 1881.
The Champions of the American Prize Ring. New York: Richard K. Fox, Publisher

Henning, F. 1902.
Fights for the Championship: The Men and Their Times, Volume II. London: Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette Office

Johnston, A. 1936. Ten-And Out! New York: Ives Washburn, Publisher

Klein, C. 2013.
Strong Boy. Guilford, Ct.: Lyons Press

Lardner, R. 1972.
The Legendary Champions. New York: American Heritage Press

Naughton, W. 1902.
Kings of the Quensberry Realm. Chicago: The continental Publishing Company

Pollack, A. 2006.
In the Ring With John L. Sullivan. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Pollack, A. 2007. In the Ring With James J. Corbett. Iowa City, Ia: Win By KO Publications, Inc.

Van Court, D. 1926.
The Making of Champions in California. Los Angeles: Premier Printing Company

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