SI Vault
George A. Gipe
November 15, 1976
The typical 19th century bareknuckle fighter is commonly regarded as a durable brawler who thought nothing of battling and bleeding for 60, 70 or 80 rounds, until either he or his opponent dropped from sheer exhaustion. The resulting bouts, we have come to believe, may not have been artistic, but they invariably pleased the crowds.
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November 15, 1976

Hopes Were High For Mace-coburn Until They Put Their Dukes Down

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Relieved, most fight fans settled back to await the newspaper accounts of the bout. Others made their way north to watch it, on the farm of Daniel Wooley near Fort Dover, Ontario. Just before midnight on May 11, two steam launches left Buffalo and Erie with the fighters and their parties. At 11 the next morning, 1,500 spectators were at ringside as Referee Dick Hollywood flipped a coin to determine which fighter would be allowed the choice of corners. Mace won and selected the corner that would enable him to have his back to the sun. At 11:53 the fighters shook hands and began to fight. More than an hour later Round I was still in progress, and neither fighter had laid a solid hand on the other.

The Mace-Coburn match was a classic example of how the prevailing format could be abused so that a fight became little more than a stalling match. The problem was that Coburn wanted to box against the ropes in his corner while Mace preferred to mix it up at the center of the ring. Neither would give in. Coburn retreating to his corner immediately after every scratch, Mace following for a step or two, then refusing to budge. "At times the men stood contemplating one another for as much as five minutes without raising their arms," wrote one reporter.

No one knows how long this dullest round in boxing history might have lasted, because at 1:02 p.m. someone yelled, "Police!" and 50 Canadian troops from the 39th Regiment materialized along with Chief Magistrate William Wilson and Sheriff Edmund Deeds. Totally oblivious to the lack of action, Wilson ordered the fight stopped. Perhaps stupefied by the apathetic bout, the spectators did not even bother to panic and run as Wilson read his official pronouncement. (However, a dexterous pickpocket bestirred himself enough to lift the magistrate's $175 watch and chain.) "It is questionable if ever a proposed fight, either of much or little significance, ever terminated in such a fiasco," said a ringside observer as all bets were canceled and the crowd dispersed.

Subjected to much scorn in the ensuing months, Mace and Coburn agreed to a return meeting at the end of November in Bay St. Louis, Miss., about 40 miles northeast of New Orleans. As soon as the rematch began, it was clear that the participants were no more interested in hitting each other than they had been in May. The boxers plodded through 12 rounds in four hours; the fourth round lasted nearly an hour and ended only when Mace fell rather suspiciously in front of Referee Rufus Hunt. Hunt finally stopped the fight, later describing the boxers as "one afraid and the other afraider."

No one disputed that, and a third Mace-Coburn match was never held. By popular demand, no doubt.

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