INTRO: I was seriously ill in 2018 with 7 nights in the Emergency Room tied to tubes – post operative infection – twice within days of death. I wrote a Peter Maher history story while ill and depressed for the sake of publishing SOMETHING: chief historian for Dennis Taylor of Ringside Boxing Show; a popular Grueling Truth boxing history podcast (5,000 ‘hits’ per show) with Mike Goodpaster; 4 boxing history books published on Amazon while sinking, sinking, sinking physically and emotionally. 15 months later I’m in terrific health and met the love of my life: blue-haired, blue-eyed, freckled Coleen (“Hell yeah motherfucker – this lass’ shit is legit; shamrock and green 4-leaf clovers are slick. I’s comin’ up money-money-MON-EYS these days because this sexy Gaelic bitch be on point”) so wanted to revisit/re-write Peter Maher.
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “Out of Ireland here we come, great hatred, little room, maimed us at the start. I carry from my mother’s womb a fanatic heart.”
It was a foregone conclusion in May 1898 that 29 years-old Peter Maher would easily prevail over 40 years-old former Australian Champion Joe Goddard for their rematch. Goddard was considered ‘old’ and had announced his retirement following the bout. It was a shock to most boxing fans – who thought a mistake had been made – when they received news that Goddard had won via 1st round knockout.
San Francisco Examiner (5/14/1898 – Philadelphia, May 13th): “Pugilistic history was made very rapidly at the Arena tonight, when in (111) seconds of combined sparring and fighting Joe Goddard, the ‘Barrio Champion,’ retired Peter Maher with a sort of must punch which was delivered so suddenly that hardly a spectator realized what had come off…. Goddard landed the punch which proved so disastrous to Peter while trying to escape from one of the latter’s vigorous onslaughts near the ropes… Maher rushed Goddard to the ropes, there was a slight mix-up. Suddenly Goddard, who appeared to be breaking away brought the right arm around in a backward movement, the heel of his glove caught Maher on the face… As Maher received the punch he was partly tripped by Goddard, whose right foot was covering one of Maher’s. Peter fell face forward, striking the floor with a great deal of force… I have held the Irishman (Maher) at the outside not more than a year of fighting left in him.”
The demise of the popular former heavyweight champion, Peter Maher saddened many in Ireland and New York City but others sense opportunity; such as President of the Brooklyn Jockey Club and sportsman, P.J. Dwyer. He produced $2,500 – a good sum for 1899 – so challenges undefeated heavyweight champion, James Jeffries to a title bout with a mostly unknown heavyweight from Ireland, Mike Morrissey. Dwyer’s fighter, Morrissey, has only the formality of defeating Peter Maher to be officially Ireland’s #1 heavyweight. Jeffries camp is interested in Morrissey as an opponent – perhaps bypassing a bout with loud-mouthed bully cheater, Tom Sharkey along with his ridiculous public insistence that he is the true heavyweight champion; if Dwyer’s money is deposited as guaranteed and boost the overall gate by Morrissey defeating Maher.
Tipperary, Ireland – home of Mike Morrissey – is sparsely populated (approximately 5,000 people; 1890 or 2019) inland soil rich for farming; breathtaking mountain ranges including Galtee Mountains, Silvermine mountains and Arra Hills. A Tipperary border includes the River Suir with its abundance of brown trout. Tipperary County was the earliest of Irish counties, 1328. O’ Briens and McCarthy’s are some of the oldest Irish names from the region. Within Mike Morrissey’s youthful prime was Australia and United States assistance for Tipperary local Irish attempting to build homes outside control of English landlord/slumlord, Arthur Smith Barry.
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.”
By the end of 1888, while still a teenager in Dublin, 19 years-old Peter Maher was a popular pugilist fighting mostly as a middleweight. Peter Maher, from Tuam, Ireland – greenish land with mild bordering on cooler weather — population 3,600 – would be familiar with the High Cross of Tuam, erected in 1152: “A prayer for (Archbishop) O’hOisin.” Temple Jarlash and St. Mary’s Cathedral were prominent Tuam structures. Maher might have read the local newspaper, Tuam Herald, or viewed the local sports team (soccer/futbol), Tuam Stars. Another landmark nearby for Maher to visit was the castle, Caislean Fhearta Ghearr.
Peter Maher’s 5th round August 1888 knockout of Belfast’s John Sheenan in Dublin propelled him as Ireland’s middleweight champion. Maher’s government leader was Queen Victoria – who as of 1891 – held the English royal throne-ship 44 years. Queen Victoria had 9 kids – which meant she fucked a lot when she wasn’t fucking over Ireland. There was Lord Salisbury and/or Lord Roseberry – prominent men of Peter Maher’s Ireland – but ‘Dames’ and ‘Dukes’ and ‘Lords’ are weird European aristocratic terms to American sensibility. Ireland was officially controlled by Brits: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Pope Leo XIII was not viewed as especially pro-Catholic Ireland – opposing the “Plan of Campaign” meant to ease Irish working-class farmer’s debts to English landlords with overly high rent during agriculture crisis. Maher’s European fame increased, 1891, with a 1st round knockout of Gus Lambers in London. While Pope Leo XIII sipped his cocaine-laced booze: “Vin Mariani” – and Queen Victoria refusing to drop dead – Peter Maher immigrated to USA in 1891.
Scoundrels worth more dead than alive
With leprechaun luck
O’Farrell like pluck
We’ll make our new home or we’ll die.
Maher would choose Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as his home. He made an immediate impression in Philadelphia with a 1st round knockout of Jim Daly. Daly was punched so hard that he was sent through the ropes. Daly became entangled with the ropes attempting to climb under so there was controversy regarding the ‘10’ count.
Pittsburgh was – then as now – a steel town that was consistently Republican. This was a Benjamin Harrison region in a Grover Cleveland Democratic America. Pittsburgh was a leader of pro-union sentiment along with horrible monopolists no concerned with how many American families suffered dangerous work conditions with minimal hope of a better life. Shortly after Maher’s arrival was the Homestead Strike which placed Pittsburgh in the national conscience when Pinkerton men fired upon strikers to thwart any union ambition. Multi-millionaire Andrew Carnegie began philanthropic commitment opening Carnegie Library shortly before Maher’s arrival and Carnegie Institute Museum in 1895.
Maher’s American reputation as an early round knockout artist was enhanced – along with suspicion that hype was manipulated – with same day 1st round knockouts of Jack Smith and Sailor Brown in New York City, December 1891.
In February 1892, American/Irish James Corbett dethroned the legendary undefeated heavyweight champion, American/Irish John L. Sullivan via 21st round knockout. It would be difficult convincing Corbett (more interested in his theatrical career) to defend his title – one bout and three rounds over five years (1892-96). Maher would need that time to improve his boxing skills. He was known as an aggressive slugger but not the currently sports trendy Corbett prototype as a “thinking-scientific” (relentless left jab, patience non-aggressive) defensive pugilist.
Maher had fought well since his American arrival: 7-0-0, 6 KO’S. Maher had become relatively soon a ‘name’ in contention for the heavyweight title. Following a 1st round knockout of Joe Godfrey in Philadelphia Maher faced former middleweight Champion Bob Fitzsimmons, March 2nd, 1892, New Orleans. Behind only Colored heavyweight champion, Peter Jackson, Fitzsimmons was viewed despite his smaller stature as the most legitimate opponent for James Corbett’s title. Maher found himself outmatched.
New York Herald (3/3/1892): “Peter Maher was not in it. Long Bob Fitzsimmons, from Australia, made him quit at the end of 12 rounds of red-hot fighting…. MAHER BADLY PUNISHED – Fitzsimmons bore hardly a mark to show that he had been fighting, while Maher’s face and body was bruised, battered and bloody.”
Following Maher’s 1st round knockout of Mike Monahan in Philadelphia, December 8th; Maher challenged Australia’s heavyweight champion, Joe Goddard. Maher was facing a far more experienced pugilist who had a Draw with Peter Jackson and twice knocked out the 5’11, 175 pounds defensive genius, Joe Choynski. Maher appears to have been the fan favorite in Coney Island who built an early advantage with his aggressive, pressing style; but it ended with a 3rd round knockout loss.
Purse: $7,500 – winner’s share; $6,500 – loser’s share: $1,000; crowd: 7,000+ — Maher 175 pounds – Goddard 187 pounds.
The Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York – 12/9/1892): “Goddard won. Peter Maher counted out in the 3rd round…. Peter Maher’s claim to being a heavyweight champion, or, for that matter, a champion in any class, was burned so deep by his ‘quitting’ display last night in his contest with Joe Goddard before the Coney Island Athletic club, that all the miners that over dug in the bowels of the earth could not resurrect that claim. And Goddard’s statement that he can stand punishment from the best of the heavyweights was strewn to the four winds, for he gave no evidence of it last night, as he was groggy almost from the time that Maher landed his first punch until the contest was over. Either one of the two would be a mere play-toy in the hands of a man like (James) Corbett or (Joe) Choynski.”
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking.”
Peter Maher had an undefeated 1893 (4-0-1, 4 KO’s) including three 1st round knockouts when he faced the legendary former Colored Heavyweight champion, George Godfrey, May 28th, 1894, in Boston, Massachusetts. It should have been Godfrey’s home turf since he had created his pugilism fame in Boston and remained a popular ex-champion defeating White heavyweight contenders. But the crowd was White with Irish sentiment firmly on Maher’s side.
(5/28/1894) George Godfrey vs. Peter Maher
Location: Boston, Massachusetts – The Casino. Crowd: 3,000 – ticket prices: $1-$5. John L. Sullivan is in attendance and openly roots for Ireland’s Champion.
ROUND 6: Pugilists briefly spar – Maher aggressively throws left to jaw – misses as Godfrey backs. Maher follows as he steps forward and lands left to face – follows with right that lands to jaw – Godfrey falls to ground – crowd cheers.
Referee counts: ‘1, 2, 3’ – Godfrey lay motionless – ‘4, 5, 6’ – Sullivan leaps into ring to congratulate Maher. Others rush into the ring to congratulate Irishman. Godfrey lay still. The referee had paused with illegal commotion then concludes count – ‘7, 8, 9, 10’ – waves hands, bout over – KNOCKOUT!
Boston Globe: “Even John L. Sullivan joined in the cheers which greeted Maher as he walked to his corner, while the Darky lay motionless in the center of the ring, his eye and nose cut and blood pouring from his mouth.” …. Some of the audience unhappy Godfrey did not receive proper ‘10’ count. Sullivan and others counter complain that the referee was counting too slowly.
“Up to mighty London came
An Irish man one day,
All the streets were paved in gold
So everyone was gay!”
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
Peter Maher followed the high-profile Godfrey knockout with a continuing string of victories: 9-0-1, 8 KO’s. This included five 1st round knockouts. Putting it mildly, this was not the greatest caliber competition. Maher received a tremendous break when Champion James Corbett announced his retirement along with hand-picked pugilists for his title; one of whom was Maher. The other pugilist fighting for the heavyweight title was long-time sparring partner of John L. Sullivan and Corbett: Australian Steve O’Donnell. Neither Maher nor O’Donnell would have been viewed amongst the top 3 heavyweight contenders following Corbett. This would have been Bob Fitzsimmons, Joe Choynski and Peter Jackson. Maher’s advantage was Corbett’s personal dislike of Fitzsimmons and his unfair prejudice favoring Maher’s Irish heritage. Nonetheless, Peter Maher, aged 26 was fighting for the heavyweight championship.
Peter Maher vs. Steve O’Donnell
Location: New York City. Crowd: 4,000. Maher is 5’11 ½; 185 pounds. O’Donnell is 6’0 ½; 185 pounds. Maher is a 2-1 favorite against larger opponent. The bout is scheduled for 25 rounds.
ROUND 1: Pugilists stand toe to toe – sort of push – then briefly clinch. An aggressive Maher pushes foe back to ropes – O’ Donnell sort of pinned and trapped – Maher lands left to jaw – O’ Donnell drops to ground.
‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’ – fallen fighter appears alert and settles on one knee; the reality is that O’Donnell will not retain memory of anything from this point to bout’s conclusion. He knows he must stand before the bell rings although it is more than two minutes away. ‘6, 7, 8, 9’ – O’ Donnell rises and steps forward – Maher lands right to jaw – O’ Donnell falls flat to ground.
‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7’ – O’ Donnell does not consciously feel pain but no longer intellectually aware of his name or participation in a championship boxing bout. The conditioned training automatically tells himself to wait for extra time while clearing head. ‘8, 9’ – O’ Donnell rises and charges Maher – does not throw a punch – Maher feints right and lands left to jaw – O’ Donnell is down for 3rd time.
‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10’ – referee waves bout over – KNOCKOUT!
Crowd erupts in frenzied joy – many of Irish descent present; loudly erupt as James Corbett enters ring to congratulate new Irish heavyweight Champion. O’Donnell regains consciousnesses while viewing Maher triumphantly strut around ring. Corbett and Maher hug – mouth to mouth as Corbett expresses joy: “So close it seemed as if they were kissing each other.”
Former champion Corbett complies with demand for speech – after insulting Fitzsimmons: “On this spot, I give you the championship, because I know you can protect it. I shall never fight again.”
“So everyone was gay!
Singing songs of Piccadilly,
Strand and Leicester Square.
‘Til Paddy got excited and,
He shouted to them there.
It’s a long way to Tipperary,
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way to Tipperary,
To the sweetest girl I know.”
Peter Maher had become heavyweight champion. He became the first, and as of 2019, Ireland’s only gloved heavyweight champion. He held the title 102 days. To Maher’s credit, his first defense of title was against the boxer most people felt was #1 contender, Bob Fitzsimmons – who had defeated Maher easily in their previous encounter. Cincinnati Enquirer (12/7/1895): “(Philadelphia, 12/6) Peter Maher tonight signed articles to meet Bob Fitzsimmons for the world’s heavyweight championship on February 14 next in Mexico. Maher is playing an engagement at a theater in this city this week.”
Peter Maher was doing what heavyweight champions had done previous; recognize that sports were entertainment so his increased fame could be utilized for economic opportunities. These theater engagements often paired the heavyweight champion with singers, actors, musicians or ‘freak show’ accompanists. Maher would be expected to speak with an audience – tell a few horrible jokes written for him – possibly sing off key – then mainly ‘spar’ with boxer. It was an opportunity to view the heavyweight champion live which thrilled the sporting public.
There was tabloid interest in the man possessing America’s most coveted sports title: HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION!! The public was interested more-so of his personal life: Why wasn’t this 26 years old, handsome, successful pugilist who had broken from American obsession with boxing “science” in the manly art of defense: James Corbett, Joe Choynski and Bob Fitzsimmons with old-fashioned “hits as hard as an ox” slugging power – a man who won the heavyweight championship in a mere, shocking 97 seconds – married? Maher disliked the intrusion and pressure his newfound fame brought upon. But the money was steadier without having to be punched to jaw; and he was engaged to a pretty theater actress, Miss Winnie Mitchel.
American and international fame as heavyweight champion brought upon cynical sports journalism who accepted Peter Maher previously as a 2nd tier heavyweight – maybe 3rd to 6th best heavyweight; but this guy was undeserving to be viewed as an equal to previous champions John L. Sullivan (one loss to Corbett) and undefeated James Corbett.
Los Angeles Herald (12/8/1895): “A new champion of the world has dawned upon the pugilistic arena, and scarcely a ripple of excitement resulted…. Peter Maher, the new champion, will not be the champion for long if the knowledge of experts counts for anything, and sometimes it doesn’t…. It is certain that no champion ever earned the title as easy as Maher did. All the others had to fight their way up from the bottom of the ladder and knockout the real champion before the title was theirs. But Maher, by the force of favorable circumstances, stepped in at a time when there was no champion and by beating a second-rate man vaulted into the much-envied position…. Two months ago championship honors were far from Maher’s mind. He was content to get on a match with some good second-rater and fight for all he was good for, for a moderate purse. Maher has never been a talking machine, simply because no one would listen to him or print what he said…. Leaving all sentiment aside (the general public/American-Irish community/ Sullivan and Corbett all LIKED Maher the person) and looking at the matter purely from a logical standpoint, Maher is justly entitled to his claim. Corbett had retired from the ring and had officially announced the fact…. Had Bob Fitzsimmons (middleweight champion whom the public highly anticipated would fight Corbett for his heavyweight title) been the opponent of Steve O’Donnell in that November 11th fight, and had knocked the latter out, no one would have questioned the claim of Fitzsimmons to the championship. Now Fitzsimmons must meet and beat Maher before he can claim the title. That Fitzsimmons can do this there is little doubt. Maher belongs to the John L. Sullivan school of fighters and against an adept of the new school like Fitzsimmons, he stands little chance of winning.
It must be nice to awaken Christmas morning, 1895 as heavyweight champion; particularly when that previous X-mas it would have been at best an unlikely dream. There was no public pressure or interest in a James Corbett/Peter Maher heavyweight showdown. It would have been laughable to consider Maher remotely an equal or legitimate threat to Corbett’s title. The heavyweight title bout – delayed by Corbett and law enforcement – promised repeatedly was Corbett/Fitzsimmons. As 1896 neared it appeared “the fight of the century” would never occur with unlikely Peter Maher as heavyweight champion.
Peter Maher continued with his theatrical career touring New York City. On December 30th, Maher’s daily matinee gig celebrated “Happy New Year” with among others: Bland Sisters, Binns & Binns, Sisters Coulson, Albert Schock, Ella Herring and Sam Lockhart’s Performing Elephants.
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
The short-lived 1895-96 heavyweight title reign of Peter Maher:
(1) 1st patent of the automobile
(2) Discovery of radiation (aka/ x-rays)
(3) 1st American automobile race
(4) 1st gloved Irish heavyweight champion
The President of the United States was Grover Cleveland: “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote…. These are days of special perplexity and depression, and the path of public duty is unusually rugged.”
There was less public interest in Maher/Fitzsimons than Corbett/Fitzsimons showdown but nonetheless any heavyweight title bout arouses attention and excitement. Maher had ‘quit’ in many eyes during his 12th round knockout loss to Fitzsimmons prior so knew training would be essential to redeem himself to doubters. Colorado Weekly Chieftain (1/16/1896): “Peter Maher, the pugilist, his manager, J.J. Quinn, Peter Burns, John Quinn, Phil Corey, Jerry Marshall and N.K. Wheeler, arrived at El Paso (Texas) from Pittsburgh. Maher is looking for training quarters.” It was wisely decided to acclimate Maher for Northern Mexico’s weather conditions.
Location: Mexico, near Texas border – crowd: 200 wealthy patrons who pay $20 apiece. The pugilists are protected by 30-man Texas military unit; 200 Mexican troops guard their border. Champion Maher weighs 180 pounds – challenger Fitzsimmons weighs 165 pounds.
ROUND 1: Bell sounds – pugilists step out. Fitzsimmons throws hard right to head – misses bad – slightly stumbles. Pugilists bob and stalk – Fitzsimmons aggressive as he steps forward with right to head – misses – slips then regains balance. Fitzsimmons turns around and throws right to head – misses bad – aim off with slight stumble. Champion Maher charges and clinches – pugilists wrestle hard – referee steps in and orders them to separate. Fitzsimmons releases opponent – Maher lands hard right to face – Fitzsimmons charges as referee jumps in to intervene. Ref pushes challenger backward. Champion Maher tries to ignore referee and attack; referee intercepts and grabs Maher and pulls him back. Ref warns Champion Maher regarding possible disqualification if he hits after clinch again. Maher nods that he understands – referee steps out of way – pugilists approach one another – brief furious exchange – both land blows as they stand toe to toe. Fitzsimmons lands close upper right hook to jaw – Champion drops to ground.
‘1, 2, 3, 4’ – Champion Maher groggy and disoriented from knockdown punch along with head trauma due to an awkward landing. Maher’s seconds yelled at their Irish heavyweight champion to stand. Maher rolls off back to sitting position. Fitzsimmons stands poised to punch his dazed foe and finish bout. ‘5, 6’ – Maher unsuccessfully attempts to stand losing his balance – ‘7, 8’ – Maher slips backward flat onto canvas – ‘9’ – Maher’s head rests on canvas conceding defeat as Fitzsimmons drops his gloves and mental intensity with anticipated triumph – ‘10’ – referee waves bout over – KNOCKOUT!
New York Sun (2/22/1896): “Langtry, Texas; February 21st): It took Robert Fitzsimmons just 95 seconds this afternoon to defeat Peter Maher and become the heavyweight champion of the world…. Even to his friends it was evident that the Irish lad was not in it from the start. Before the round had progressed 30 seconds Maher attempted a foul and was warned by the referee…. Fitzsimmons seemed a bit bothered and broke ground on Maher’s leads. Maher followed him up and led with his left, when Fitz side-stepped, and swinging his right, landed full to the point of Maher’s left chin…. Maher measured his length on the floor, his head striking the canvas with great force.”
There was little post physical damage to suggest any bout – let alone a heavyweight championship – had occurred. Fitzsimmons showed no signs of injury while Maher only had a small cut from the knockout punch. There was no blood nor further wounds to either pugilist. There was little time for new heavyweight champion, Fitzsimmons to relish his long-sought goal as shouts of warning by those present that the Mexican pontoon bridge was in danger of being washed away by the strong current. Maher had quickly gathered his senses as his support team – Fitzsimmons’ support team – referee and spectators gathered whatever stuff they possessed and rushed for United States border. The bridge held long enough for all involved to reach Texas safely.
Supposedly, Bob Fitzsimmons is the new heavyweight Champion. James Corbett – furious that his hated rival possesses title – telegrams that he is ready to battle; slyly hints that maybe he didn’t retire earlier and Fitzsimmons better fight him. A furious Champion Fitzsimmons immediately responds: “I shall use about the same argument once employed by Charlie Mitchell – tell Corbett to get a reputation. Let him go and whip Peter Maher and Joe Choynski before he gets his head to me. This much I shall insist upon. He must first win from Maher and Choynski before he gets into a ring with me.”
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “Talent perceives differences, genius, unity.”
Peter Maher would continue to fight as “an ex-heavyweight Champion.” The label implies greatness – or former greatness. Maher would have liked another title opportunity but denied would continue with his prize-fight career. Boxing was Peter Maher’s JOB; and his family needed the money.
Location: New York City – Broadway Athletic Club. Crowd: diverse 5000 patrons. Former Champion Maher hopeful of rematch with Champion Fitzsimmons. Choynski has excellent chance of Championship bout opportunity with victory. Manager of club is excited with prospect to host Fitzsimmons/Choynski heavyweight Championship bout – which would clearly draw huge crowd at top ticket prices.
NOTE: In 1910, both unified heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson and former undefeated heavyweight champion, James Jeffries, publicly acknowledged that the hardest punch they had received in their professional careers was the ‘ambush’ right punch by Joe Choynski. The natural light-heavyweight jabbed heavyweights relentlessly; jab, jab, jab body and face from all angles with unusual curve. In 1896, Jeffries was hit so hard from the unexpected Choynski right in the 16th round of their wild 20 rounds Draw that his teeth were imbedded into his lip with a pocketknife produced between rounds to cut the tooth out of mouth; squirting blood airborne onto spectators. In 1901, Johnson was so hard from the unexpected right in the 3rd round that he was knocked down and out; unable to make the count of ’10. Pater Maher is about to be set up with left jabs before feeling the force of the ‘ambush’ Choynski right punch to jaw.
ROUND 2: Maher shoots out straight left to head – misses – Choynski backs. Maher steps forward – Choynski quickly backs. Maher chases forward – Choynski stops to land hard left curve jab to jaw – lands left jab to stomach – lands left jab to stomach and backs. Maher steps forward – Choynski stops to land left to stomach – follows with hard right that lands to jaw.
ROUND 3: Choynski repeats strategy of earlier rounds; pounds left jab to body – lands left jab to stomach – lands left jab to stomach and backs. Maher aggressively chases forward as he madly wishes to land right to head – Choynski sidesteps or backs and evades. Maher chases and occasionally throws right that misses – Choynski backs. Maher sprints forward and lands partial right to jaw – Choynski stays in place as pugilists’ trade punches – Choynski falls to ground.
Choynski quickly rises and backs – Maher steps forward – bell sounds.
ROUND 4: Choynski lands lefts jab to stomach and backs. Maher chases wildly but unable to land right punch. Maher fans shout and taunt Choynski to fight and quit running.
ROUND 5: Choynski backs – Maher chases – Choynski pauses and lands straight right to mouth – Maher’s head snapped back. Irishman dazed but chases – Choynski pauses to exchange punches – pugilists close and spar – referee stops boxers to intervene. Ref warns Maher to quit landing elbows with infighting. Pugilists continue – Choynski lands left jab to stomach – lands left jab to stomach – Maher appears winded but tries to step forward – Choynski lands ‘ambush’ hard right to head – an unsuspecting Maher wobbled and in trouble – bell sounds.
ROUND 6: Choynski confident as he easily lands curved left jab to jaw – lands hard left jab to stomach – Maher gasps and bends over. Choynski lands left jab to chest – lands left jab to ribs – lands left jab to body – lands hard left jab to jaw – Maher staggers, but will not fall; Choynski anxious and strangely unguarded defensively. Choynski steps forward to throw his famous ‘ambush’ right to jaw; Maher senses so flicks straight right that lands to jaw as Choynski’s head snaps back while his momentum continues forward. Surprised Choynski knocked off balance and falls to ground. It is Maher’s 2nd knockdown of bout.
Choynski quickly jumps to feet without count; still confident and unguarded as he steps forward to knock out foe. Maher dazed and winded – flicks desperate right to head – misses – Choynski slips to ground to avoid unexpected punch.
Choynski immediately springs to feet; confident of dominance. Pugilists stand toe-to-toe and exchange punches – both tired. Maher wounded and feints left – Choynski anxiously attempts to block and counter – Maher follows with right that lands clean to exposed jaw – Choynski drops dead to ground – lands face first to floor.
‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6’ – Choynski not moving – ‘7, 8, 9, 10’ – referee waves hands, bout over – KNOCKOUT!
Crowd roars its approval of outcome and effort of both pugilists…. Manager of Broadway Athletic Club bummed his dream championship bout (Fitzsimmons/Choynski) won’t occur.
New York Journal (11/17/1896): “The Irishman knocked out Choynski and regained his laurels. It was a clever battle and the climax reached when least expected. The Californian had victory well within his grasp but lost his head…. The Californian had all the best in the first 5 rounds; landing his long left hard on the jaw and wind innumerable times. Had Choynski contented himself with this method he would have been, undoubtedly returned the victor. As for Maher, he did not use any of his great rushes, for which he is famous, but fought cautiously throughout and won a legion of friends by his grand finish, when he turned what looked like a positive defeat into a most emphatic victory. Maher’s gameness, which has always been questioned will suffer no more, as he displayed the purest kind of grit at the critical moment.”
Aside from winning the 1895 heavyweight title Maher’s ’96 knockout victory over Choynski was probably his most satisfying bout. Fate has unusual design. Maher had no idea that had he lost to Choynski it might have been better for his historical legacy.
Arrested were Sharkey and Maher
Disturbing the peace they sayer
They fought to a Draw
When in stepped the law
With jail that night as their lair
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Maher prevented an anticipated Bob Fitzsimmons/Joe Choynski heavyweight title bout. In the meantime, a rough-housing, dishonest Irishman named Tom Sharkey had catapulted to #`1 popular contender. The undefeated Sharkey had a 4-round out-of-control wrestling bout more than boxing versus undefeated former champion, James Corbett, which resulted in a rowdy Draw. Twice, with San Francisco crowd roaring its approval, Sharkey picked-up Corbett and threw him to canvas. The December 1896, heavyweight title bout between Fitzsimmons/Sharkey, held in San Francisco, turned out to be blatant fraud – rigged with assistance by referee/famed gunman Wyatt Earp – with Sharkey conspiring with his manager. Fitzsimmons easily dominated Sharkey – knocking him down several times and even gentlemanly assisting him to feet – before Earp falsely disqualified Fitzsimmons with crowd turning to angry mob – even amongst Sharkey supporters with immediate suspicion the heavyweight title – the most prized sports mantel – had been rigged.
WHAT TO DO UNRAVELING SCANDAL WAS UNPRECEDENTED IN SPORTS!! Bob Fitzsimmons would lose his title but Sharkey would not be recognized as heavyweight champion. Undefeated former champion James Corbett, bitter after his title had been lost to Fitzsimmons would once again be recognized as heavyweight champion on condition his next opponent would be Fitzsimmons – a bout Corbett had been dodging for years. Because of Sharkey’s fraud – and the unusual resolution – Fitzsimmons and Maher would unfairly be erased arbitrarily by some boxing historians as former heavyweight champions.
As far as Peter Maher was concerned, and most future boxing historians, Maher would still be a former heavyweight champion – but not Fitzsimmons – which was illogical and bizarre. Justice seemed to iron-out when Fitzsimmons knocked out Corbett, March 1897, thus was reinstated as heavyweight champion. Peter Maher was left battling his fellow Irishman (cheat).
Location: New York City – Palace Athletic Club – nontitle bout. The house made $40,000 while the boxer’s purse was $15,000. Peter Maher is 2-1 favorite. Referee: Joe Choynski.
ROUNDS 1-5: For such an anticipated bout it is overly cautious bordering on dull. Neither pugilist is aggressive. The bout is fairly even except a slight perception that Maher has the advantage.
ROUND 6: Sharkey breaks the impasse with a set-up straight right which lands to Maher’s mouth. Maher is rocked backward stumbling into ropes before lost balance finds him on canvas for the bout’s 1st knockdown.
As boxing rules allowed – though some felt it wrong – Sharkey hovered over the fallen Maher intent to hit him the moment his knee leaves the ground. Referee Choynski steps into position thus established his authority as he begins count: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.” Maher is alert; slightly cautious as to offensive aggression Sharkey will deliver before he’s properly prepared. Maher rises upon hearing the count ‘6’ – Sharkey rushes ahead prepared to attack. Referee Choynski surprises everyone – especially Sharkey – ordering the sailor to back while Maher attempts to rise. Ref Choynski possessed a morality accompanying his intellect. Choynski himself was a victim of Sharkey outrageous violent behavior inside the ring. Sharkey had publicly stated that Choynski was the best boxer he ever faced with a left jab that made an eerie ‘hiss’ sound when it missed; but this didn’t stop him from repeatedly fouling the Jewish ‘thinking’ boxer. Losing to Choynski snapped something mentally within Sharkey who pushed Choynski to the ground – jumped a top his superior opponent and began choking him while slowly grinding/pushing him outside the ring. The New York Times published an editorial that boxing was already a sleazy sport properly illegal that had produced amidst its natural slime a villain with such lack of integrity that he had possibly degraded a Neanderthal activity seemingly immune that anything or anyone could morally cheapen this alleged sport further; but the heavyweight division has proved them wrong with the one-of-a-kind cheat-at-all-costs human trash who walks this earth; dirt created not from soil but Satan whose name is Tom Sharkey…
Referee Choynski later states that he was convinced Sharkey was going to foul and who knows what that entails: kicking Maher to the groin or spitting on the man as he kicks Maher’s forehead while his knee remained on canvas – or – or – who knows with Sharkey? Several seconds have passed between the bewildering order by referee Choynski and Sharkey’s initial compliance until the sailor feels no reason he should stand idle while waiting – waiting for what?? Sharkey’s instincts for winning charges forward – FUCK CHOYNSKI — who does this Jew think he is: the Morality Monitor – live in reality or get the fuck out of the way. Maher is on feet swaying a bit but ready to fight. Sharkey charges a prepared Maher – when the bell rings ending the round. Sharkey is enraged; feeling cheated of precious seconds needed to injure Maher perhaps tilting the bout’s outcome.
ROUND 7: The round is nearly over without memorable exchange. The bout remains close; perhaps a disappointing Draw or another questionable Sharkey victory. Maher’s aggression – only aggravated since the knockdown – sort of backs Sharkey as the latter plots his foe’s wild-eyed aggression without intelligence leading to defensive carelessness. Instead, Maher hyper aggressiveness lands a right to Sharkey’s jaw. The sailor is floored near the ropes for the bout’s 2nd knockdown.
Referee Choynski moves in to count but Sharkey ignores a perceived nemesis – feeling it’s 2 versus 1 inside the ring — which would include any semblance of authority – maneuvering from ground to knees to feet within seconds while dodging both Choynski and Maher – locates his target moving toward him – and steps forward aggressively grabbing opponent – holding Maher within clinch. Stalemate breaks as stronger Maher controls clinch. Maher slowly bulls Sharkey backward while landing his free hard right repeatedly to side of body. Referee Choynski cannot separate pugilists – Sharkey holding tight with vice-like clinch – Maher aimlessly pushing clinch forward or whatever direction keeps his feet pressing forward landing another hard right body shot on Sharkey – and then another hard right body shot on Sharkey – and then another hard right body shot on Sharkey – until the bell rings ending the round. Pugilists ignore or don’t hear the bell initially but are soon separated by referee Choynski.
Maher turns back to corner – Sharkey crazily charges forward and lands hard right to back of head – Maher turns half-way around – Sharkey lands hard right to side of head – Maher shocked and confused.
Sharkey psychotically lands right to head – Maher counters with some sort of punch that lands – all HELL breaking loose – police officers storm the ring and separate boxers.
Referee Choynski declares bout officially over – does not disqualify Sharkey – rules contest a Draw. Both pugilists are arrested for disorderly conduct.
Post bout: Crowd of 500 fans at the train depot enthusiastically cheers the two arrested Irish born combatants upon their arrival. Both were briefly – Sharkey for a couple seconds – Maher for a couple months – heavyweight Champion. Both have been – not just stripped of title – but have lost any official recognition of ever having won a championship bout…. I feel sorry for Maher; I don’t feel sorrow for Sharkey at all.
Court Proceedings: Inspector McLaughlin – arresting officer: “There was slugging – there was brutal pounding and knocking down. If that does not constitute a prize fight – I do not know what does.”
Magistrate’s decision: (deciding a night in jail for any sort of disorderly conduct was just and sufficient): “But you must understand that they received much encouragement. The public had apparently expressed great interest in what they were about to do. They are big, powerful men, and one presumes, high tempered men. It is not to be wondered at if they lost their heads…. I will not entertain a complaint of prize fighting against them. I think they were within the law. Maher and Sharkey, you are discharged.”
Journalists ask both pugilists for comment. Peter Maher: “I think if I had another round I would have knocked Sharkey out.” Tom Sharkey: “I may have lost my head for the moment and struck out. I did not hear the gong sound.”
While Mike Morrissey was allegedly building a name and reputation as one of Ireland’s toughest heavyweights; Peter Maher had quietly married while continuing his American publicized pugilist profession. 7-1-1, 6 KO’s. The Morrissey camp viewed Maher as a high-profile has-been who could be utilized via money and publicity to propel their fighter towards an undeserved heavyweight title bout versus undefeated champion, James Jeffries.
Irish poet, William Butler Yeats: “The light of light looks always on the motive, not the deed, the shadow of shadows on the deed alone.”
Maher finally got the best of Joe Goddard, following embarrassment over prior 3rd and 1st rounds knockout defeats, during their 3rd encounter on July 1st, 1898. Before the bout Tom Sharkey entered the ring announcing he had left $1,000 gambling money with a newspaper publisher to fight the winner – preferring it be Maher. James Corbett followed publicizing his upcoming bout with kid McCoy (that turned out to be rigged). Goddard weighed 177 pounds; Maher weighed 171.
New York Journal and Advertiser (7/9/1898): “Peter Maher has revenge at last – Hammers Goddard unmercifully at athletic club and wins in 8 rounds — Both fighters severely punished in the short time they opposed each other in the ring – Stunning blows over the heart and on the jaw.”
On June 9th, 1899, an underdog James Jeffries brutally knocked down Bob Fitzsimmons over and over – resulting in an 11th round knockout – to claim the heavyweight championship; or at least the White Heavyweight Championship since Colored Heavyweight Champion, Frank Childs was not offered opportunity to unify the title regardless of race/ethnicity.
P.J. Dwyer: “On behalf of Mike Morrissey of Tipperary, Ireland, I challenge James J. Jeffries to fight for the heavyweight Championship of the world…. I am of the belief that Mr. Morrissey’s coming fight with Peter Maher is a foregone conclusion and I think if you should be at the Lennox Athletic Club Tuesday night next you will agree that Mike Morrissey is unquestionably the most formidable of all Mr. Jeffries’ opponents… I trust that you will also recognize that Mr. Morrissey did not wait until Jeffries defeated Fitzsimmons before challenging, but on May 25, through the columns of the daily papers of this city (NYC) he issued a challenge to meet the winner of the Fitzsimmons-Jeffries battle for the Championship.”
Mike Morrissey’s youth would have been ideal for an Irish lad – or any guy who enjoyed sports. In 1884, the Gaelic Games (which remain extremely popular to this day) were introduced via Tipperary. The major sports are hurling and Gaelic football. Lesser sports include handball and rounders.
“It’s a long way to Tipperary,
To the sweetest girl I know!
Farewell Leicester Square!
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,
But my heart’s right there.”
Despite trainer and patron’s claim that his novice is ready to defeat Champion Jeffries; Mike Morrissey is visibly shaken as gloves are lased and placed over taped hands. His trembling is unusual and so out-of-place with the event which is about to unfold that journalists jot his behavior for their notes.
For Mike Morrissey, he is unsure the upcoming bout is a good idea. He is potentially a good athlete – with reputation as larger, tough street guy – amidst locals and visiting European athletes. Morrissey might enjoy hurling and football, but something about Peter Maher’s physical appearance along with methodical preparation that prizefighting might or might not be enjoyable: it’s his job. Peter Maher’s no-nonsense reputation offers fame/reputation as former heavyweight champion; an offensive slugger who has knocked out many men for money. Maher’s eyes, nose, ears and general wariness reminds that he has received terrible beatings for money – and he’s prepared for a beating today – and beatings in the immediate future. Mr. Dwyer did not quite emphasize in a comprehensible way to Morrissey that Peter Maher’s job today is to kick his ass with as much brutal force needed.
For Peter Maher, the bout is just another ‘trick’; mental chess with violence as younger men attempt to dethrone his dominance. Changing of the guard; Maher scoffs at the younger generation’s exuberant ambition along with hand-speed advantage, fresher legs, tireless energy counters his wisdom, experience and a formidable right punch that if it lands cleanly to jaw would make any young, punk braggart think twice before disrespecting their elders. Maher has bills that must be paid. The family needs money. The family always needs money. His wife demands furniture, a home; respect within their community and likely has a deadbeat relative or two that Maher’s work ethic provides financial sustenance. Training is always miserable, but as his body ages and breaks down; healing is slower along with mental willpower to prepare for every bout with thought it’ll go the distance without a knockout.
Former heavyweight Champion Maher is relieved when he realizes fellow Irishman, Mike Morrissey is afraid of him. Maher attempts to intimidate every opponent with a mean, angry, hateful look; rarely does it work so obviously well. Maher realizes the bout might be finished before it begins. There is potential for a quick knockout. He has no desire to unnecessarily punish or injure the ‘lad’ Morrissey; a hard right landing early might be in the best interest of both men. Maher’s glare and intimidation amplifies to further rattle Morrissey’s deflated confidence.
Location: New York City — Lennox Athletic Club – nontitle bout – crowd: 500 fans – scheduled for 10 rounds.
Despite manager’s claims that his novice is ready to defeat Champion Jeffries – with mass hype and paid advertisements – Morrissey noticeably shakes as gloves are placed on. 30 years-old Maher is 2-1 favorite – even odds whether Morrissey can last distance,
ROUND 1: Morrissey does not step out to center – openly frightened – his hands raised high to cover face – crowd laughs. Maher aggressively steps forward – lands hard left to body – Morrissey’s gloves drop. Maher lands light right to jaw – Morrissey falls to ground.
‘1, 2, 3’ – Morrissey sits on canvas – ‘4, 5, 6, 7’ – Morrissey makes no attempt to rise – ‘8, 9, 10’ – referee waves hands, bout over – KNOCKOUT!
Laughter turns to rage – crowd boos and hisses – “coward” and “fraud” and less kind names hurled at Morrissey. Crowd becomes louder and more venomous as it wants its money returned; police enter fray and order unruly crowd to disperse. More boos and hisses – additional police arrive – crowd curses and threaten but are ousted within 10-15 minutes.
Mike Morrissey returned to obscurity while Peter Maher nurtured a prolific although declining pugilist profession: 22-15-1, 16 KO’s. Peter Maher’s final official bout was August 1st, 1911, New York City versus Jim Doughtery. The 42 years-old veteran pugilist was victorious via 1st round knockout.
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