Obscure History Mini-Lesson of the Moment Vol. 1
Simon “The Emerald Gem” Byrne: Bare-Knuckle Boxing in 19th Century England
This is the story of the Irish bare-knuckle prize fighter Simon “The Emerald Gem” Bryne, who lived and fought in the 1820s-30s.
While illegal at the time in England, bareknuckle boxing was supported by many powerful and corrupt individuals who got off on watching people beat each other to bloody pulps with their bare hands. While not much is known about Simon Bryne’s life before England, he had been lured from Ireland to England by the lucrative prize-money - and probably a bit by the glory from the cheering crowds of thousands of spectators.
His career spanned only eight fights, but these fights were brutal, often lasting hundreds of rounds and numerous hours – in fact, his first fight at the age of nineteen lasted 138 rounds over the course of two and a half hours. Police raids, after-fight rioting, and drunken bouts of stupidity were rampant during these fights. Rules were vague and fights often fell to the ground, becoming ragtag wrestling matches, where biting, gouging, and shots to the testicles were frequent. Byrne himself killed a man in a fight - itself leading to a riot resulting in 3 deaths and 20 injuries. Byrne continued fighting and continued winning, before ultimately being defeated at the hand of an opponent at the age of 27 after a three-hour, out of control and bloody fight. The next two days he was in and out of consciousness, reported saying shortly before he died:
“If I should die, it will not be from the beating I received but from mortification. I would rather have died than been beaten in that fight.”
Then indeed, Byrne died, but the gambling sport of bare-knuckle boxing lived on.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4