Thug Beats World Champ in Street Brawl

On July 26, 1854, the bare knuckle champion John Morrissey met occasional bare knuckle fighter William Poole in a no rules street brawl.  What followed would be the worst five minutes of John Morrissey’s life.

On October 23, 1853, the 22-year-old Morrissey beat Yankee Sullivan for the world bare knuckle championship in a disputed decision.  Sullivan actually knocked Morrissey out but Sullivan did not understand the knock out rules.  After knocking Morrissey out, he left the ring.  Morrissey recovered, so the referee declared him the winner.


John Morrissey Circa 1860

William “Bill the Butcher” Poole, an occasional bare knuckle boxer, cornered and backed Yankee Sullivan.  Poole and other Sullivan supporters believed they should not have to pay off their bets.  They eventually relented but it caused long-term animosity between the two camps.

All of the men were citizens of New York City.  Bill Poole was affiliated with the Know Nothing Party that wanted to purify American politics by limiting immigration and the influence of immigrants particularly the Irish.  John Morrissey was an Irish Catholic leg breaker for the Democratic political machine, Tammany Hall.  The men were heading full steam into a violent confrontation.

During July 1854, the 23 year-old Morrissey met the 33 year-old Poole on the street and had to be separated by friends.  They agreed to a fight at a local hotel on July 26, 1854.  According to the July 27, 1854 edition of the New York Daily Tribune, it was a “disgraceful fight.”

Poole and Morrissey met at the City Hotel at the corner of Howard Street and Broadway.  Morrissey bet $50 that “Bill the Butcher” would not show up.  Poole not only showed up but provided Morrissey a very painful lesson.

For some reason, Morrissey challenged Poole to a no-rules fight even though both men were bare knuckle fighters and Morrissey was world champion.  We can only surmise that Morrissey expected to make an example of Poole and strengthen his hand in local politics.


Morrissey vs Poole Paperback Cover

Morrissey took a swing at Poole, who evaded the blow.  Poole, a powerful 200 pound man like Morrissey, grabbed him in a waist hold and threw him to the ground.  Poole then administered a brutal beating.  He kicked Morrissey senseless with the heavy boots he was wearing.  He also gouged Morrissey’s eye, which was badly damaged.

Morrissey both before and after this fight was known for his toughness and ability to withstand punishment but he had to surrender after five minutes of this vicious beating.  Bill Poole walked away with a black eye but no other damage.

John Morrissey would stay off the street for a while to heal up but his battle with Bill Poole was not done.  They would meet in a New York bar, Stanwix Hall, on a cold February night in 1855 with tragic results.

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