Heenan Loses to King in Last Bout
John Camel Heenan was known to 19th Century bare knuckle prizefighting fans as “the Benicia Boy”. Despite an 0-1-1 record as a professional fighter, Heenan claimed the World Prizefighting Championship based on a draw with Tom Sayer in an 1860 English prize-fight.
Heenan’s first professional fight had been with the reigning World Heavyweight Prizefighting Champion John Morrissey’s last professional fight in 1858. Morrissey beat Heenan in 11 rounds in approximately 21 minutes. Morrissey retired after the fight.
Promoters saw an opportunity to make money in establishing a new champion but it was difficult to stage a fight in the United States, where prizefighting was outlawed and actively prosecuted. A match to crown the new prizefighting king was setup in England between Heenan and English prizefighter Tom Sayer during April 1860.
The fight lasted 2 hours, 10 minutes over 42 rounds and ended in confusion. After a draw was declared, both camps left the field. Promoters gave both men a belt. However, it would be three and half years before the muscular Heenan defended his title.
To defend the title, Heenan again traveled to England. Promoters booked a bout between Heenan and English prizefighter Tom King. While Heenan usually showed up in fighting trim, he was out-of-shape and didn’t get into good condition for the bout.
Heenan worked as a political and gang enforcer between fights and led a fast life. Heenan entered into a bigamous marriage with Adah Isaacs Menken at one time. Whether he did not take King seriously or was living the high life, Heenan’s lack of conditioning would cost him in this bout.
On December 8, 1863, Heenan met King in a bout, which lasted 24 rounds over 39 minutes. Heenan didn’t manage to make much of a fight of it even though both sides put up $10,000.
After 11 rounds, Heenan noticeably tired and King pummeled Heenan’s face into hamburger. Heenan only threatened King with a knockdown in the 18th Round. Once King recovered, he continued the pounding. Heenan’s corner threw in the sponge at the end of the 24th Round.
To show how little regard newsmen held prizefighters, the correspondent for the Goodhue Volunteer of Red Wing, Minnesota stated, “We are not sorry he is whipped. We only wished he had been killed, and King ditto.” With such public sentiment, prizefighters weren’t going to find it easy to stage a fight.
For John C. Heenan, it was the end of his fighting career at 0-2-1. Heenan wouldn’t compete in another prize-fight. Heenan passed away in 1873 at 39 years of age from the effect of tuberculosis.
Sources: The Xenia Sentinel, December 29, 1863 edition, p.2 and The Goodhue Volunteer, December 30, 1863 edition, p.3