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THE HEENAN-SAYERS FIGHT - An Eye-witness Account

         from 'Tracks of a Rolling Stone'  by Henry J.Coke 1905



Mitford and I went to some public-house where the 'Ring' had assembled, and where tickets were to be bought, and instructions received. Fights when gloves were not used, and which, especially in this case, might end fatally, were of course illegal; and every precaution had been taken by the police to prevent it. A special train was to leave London Bridge Station about 6 A.M. We sat up all night in my room, and had to wait an hour in the train before the men with their backers arrived. As soon as it was daylight, we saw mounted police galloping on the roads adjacent to the line. No one knew where the train would pull up. Ten minutes after it did so, a ring was formed in a meadow close at hand. The men stripped, and tossed for places. Heenan won the toss, and with it a considerable advantage. He was nearly a head taller than Sayers, and the ground not being quite level, he chose the higher side of the ring. But this was by no means his only 'pull.' Just as the men took their places the sun began to rise. It was in Heenan's back, and right in the other's face.


Heenan began the attack at once with scornful confidence; and in a few minutes Sayers received a blow on the forehead above his guard which sent him slithering under the ropes; his head and neck, in fact, were outside the ring. He lay perfectly still, and in my ignorance, I thought he was done for. Not a bit of it. He was merely reposing quietly till his seconds put him on his legs. He came up smiling, but not a jot the worse. But in the course of another round or two, down he went again. The fight was going all one way. The Englishman seemed to be completely at the mercy of the giant. I was so disgusted that I said to my companion: 'Come along, Bertie, the game's up. Sayers is good for nothing.'


But now the luck changed. The bull-dog tenacity and splendid condition of Sayers were proof against these violent shocks. The sun was out of his eyes, and there was not a mark of a blow either on his face or his body. His temper, his presence of mind, his defence, and the rapidity of his movements, were perfect. The opening he had watched for came at last. He sprang off his legs, and with his whole weight at close quarters, struck Heenan's cheek just under the eye. It was like the kick of a cart-horse. The shouts might have been heard half-a-mile off. Up till now, the betting called after each round had come to 'ten to one on Heenan'; it fell at once to evens.


Heenan was completely staggered. He stood for a minute as if he did not know where he was or what had happened. And then, an unprecedented thing occurred. While he thus stood, Sayers put both hands behind his back, and coolly walked up to his foe to inspect the damage he had inflicted. I had hold of the ropes in Heenan's corner, consequently could not see his face without leaning over them. When I did so, and before time was called, one eye was completely closed. What kind of generosity prevented Sayers from closing the other during the pause, is difficult to conjecture. But his forbearance did not make much difference. Heenan became more fierce, Sayers more daring. The same tactics were repeated; and now, no longer to the astonishment of the crowd, the same success rewarded them. Another sledge-hammer blow from the Englishman closed the remaining eye. The difference in the condition of the two men must have been enormous, for in five minutes Heenan was completely sightless.


Sayers, however, had not escaped scot-free. In countering the last attack, Heenan had broken one of the bones of Sayers' right arm. Still the fight went on. It was now a brutal scene. The blind man could not defend himself from the other's terrible punishment. His whole face was so swollen and distorted, that not a feature was recognisable. But he evidently had his design. Each time Sayers struck him and ducked, Heenan made a swoop with his long arms, and at last he caught his enemy. With gigantic force he got Sayers' head down, and heedless of his captive's pounding, backed step by step to the ring. When there, he forced Sayers' neck on to the rope, and, with all his weight, leant upon the Englishman's shoulders. In a few moments the face of the strangled man was black, his tongue was forced out of his mouth, and his eyes from their sockets. His arms fell powerless, and in a second or two more he would have been a corpse. With a wild yell the crowd rushed to the rescue. Warning cries of 'The police! The police!' mingled with the shouts. The ropes were cut, and a general scamper for the waiting train ended this last of the greatest prize-fights.


We two took it easily, and as the mob were scuttling away from the police, we saw Sayers with his backers, who were helping him to dress. His arm seemed to hurt him a little, but otherwise, for all the damage he had received, he might have been playing at football or lawn tennis.


We were quietly getting into a first-class carriage, when I was seized by the shoulder and roughly spun out of the way. Turning to resent the rudeness, I found myself face to face with Heenan. One of his seconds had pushed me on one side to let the gladiator get in. So completely blind was he, that the friend had to place his foot upon the step. And yet neither man had won the fight.