Sayers, Tom (DNB00)

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SAYERS, TOM (1826–1865), pugilist, was born in Pimlico, now Tichborne Street, Brighton, on 25 May 1826, both his parents being Sussex people. His father was a shoemaker by trade, but Sayers became a bricklayer. He was first employed on the Brighton and Lewes railway, and afterwards (1848) on the London and North-Western railway at Camden Town. Though but 5 ft. 8½ in. in height, with a fighting weight which varied from 10st. 2lb. to 10st. 12lb., he was under rather than over the average of middle-weight champions; but so great were his strength and courage that he became the most distinguished fighter of his day, and the unconquered champion of England. His neck and shoulders, which were large, were covered with great muscles; these, with the extraordinary quality of his hands, which never gave way, accounted for his power of hard hitting; his arms were of medium length, and displayed no special muscle. His good-humoured but determined face was so hard that after the severest punishment little trace was visible.

Sayers's pugilistic career commenced on 19 March 1849, when he beat Crouch at Greenhithe. Subsequently he beat Collins at Chapman's Marshes, Long Reach, on 29 April 1851; Jack Grant at Mildenhall on 29 June 1852; and Jack Martin at Long Reach on 26 Jan. 1853. He met, for 100l. a side, on 18 Oct. 1853, near Lakenheath, Suffolk, the most accomplished boxer of the period, Nat Langham, who, being somewhat past his best, had to oppose youth and strength with science. He did this so successfully that at the end of sixty-one rounds, which occupied two hours and two minutes, Sayers, blinded though otherwise strong, was decisively beaten. This was his only defeat, and proved of service to him, for he appreciated Langham's tactics, and utilised them when he met men heavier than himself. Sayers's next victories were over Sims at Long Reach, on 28 Feb. 1854; Harry Poulson, at Appledore, on 26 Jan. 1856; Aaron Jones, on the banks of the Medway, 19 Feb. 1857; Bill Perry (The Tipton Slasher), a much bigger man and a heavy-weight, at the Isle of Grain, on 16 June 1857. The last fight won for Sayers the champion's belt. He subsequently beat Bill Benjamin, at the Isle of Grain, on 5 Jan. 1858; Tom Paddock [q. v.], at Canary island, on 16 June 1858; Bill Benjamin, near Ashford, on 5 April 1858; and Bob Brettle, in Sussex, on 20 Sept. 1859. Sayers's last and most famous fight was with the American, John C. Heenan (the Benicia Boy), for 200l. a side and the championship. They met at Farnborough on Tuesday, 17 April 1860, and fought thirty-seven rounds in two hours and six minutes. The event excited the keenest interest in both hemispheres (Times, 19 April 1860, leading article), and was witnessed by persons in every rank of society. It was chronicled in ‘Punch,’ 28 April 1860, in ‘The Fight of Sayerius and Heenanus, a lay of ancient London.’ Heenan stood 6 ft. 1½ in. in his stockings, and was a powerful heavy-weight with an extraordinarily long reach. Time after time Sayers was knocked down by blows, each of which seemed sufficient to finish the fight; but he always returned good-humoured, though serious, and delivered blow after blow on the American's eyes, while on one occasion he actually knocked his opponent down. Heenan, apparently aware that in fighting he could gain no advantage, closed with Sayers whenever possible, and on one occasion got him in such a position on the ropes that strangulation was imminent. The ropes were cut, the crowd pressed into the ring, and the referee was forced from his place; nevertheless a few more rounds were fought, when Heenan, who had hitherto fought fair, behaved in a way which would have lost him the fight had the referee been efficient. Both men were severely punished, but those who afterwards saw the fight between Heenan and Tom King felt that, but for the damage done in the course of the struggle to Sayers's right arm, he must have won. The result was declared a draw; each man received a belt, and Sayers retired from the championship on 20 May 1860. Three thousand pounds were raised by public subscription, the interest of which was paid to him on condition that he did not fight any more. The money was afterwards divided among his children when they came of age.

Sayers died on 8 Nov. 1865, and was buried at Highgate cemetery; over his grave there is a monument with a medallion portrait, below which is a recumbent mastiff. The inscription is almost effaced. With his name was associated all that was bold, generous, manly, and honest in the practice of pugilism (Bell's Life, 11 Nov. 1865).

[Miles's Pugilistica, vol. iii. (incorrect in dates); Fistiana, by editor of Bell's Life; Fraser's Mag. lxi. 708–12; personal knowledge. An admirable description of the fight between Sayers and Heenan is given in ‘My Confidences,’ by F. Locker-Lampson, who was present.]

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