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The Fitness Factor In An Old World Challenge Match

August, 2019,

Lest we forget, mixed martial arts and challenge matches are hardly a new development.

by Mark Hatmaker

You probably know about Greek pankration and its long lineage, and you may know about the more recent but no less fearsome hybrid known as American Frontier Rough and Tumble. Both remind us that fights which encompassed more than just boxing and fights which included more than just grappling have always been of great interest to the public.
Most of us know that we should never make the mistake of thinking that a kicker knocking out a grappler means kicking holds superiority or that a grappler choking out a striker means grappling is the be-all and end-all. It merely means that in a particular instance, a specific athlete prevailed — or luck had its way.
With that preamble out of the way, we must admit that no matter what may or not be “proved” by art-versus-art matches, they hold a broad appeal. Let’s look at one such historical contest.

Heavyweight boxing champion Jim “The Boilermaker” Jeffries was coming off a victory over the canny, and smaller, Bob Fitzsimmons. Jeffries has become known to us more for his comeback-fight defeat of Jack Johnson and the racial nastiness surrounding the lead-up than for the athlete and force he was before that.
Pre-downfall, Jeffries was considered somewhat invincible. This opinion was not so much because of his boxing prowess, which many derided or found rudimentary at best, but because of his phenomenal strength and stamina. Add to that his ability to ride through a good deal of punishment and you have a formidable fighter.
Jeffries was an astonishing stamina machine for such a big, powerful man. You can get an idea of his training regimen by examining a typical day for him:

• Rise at 6 a.m.
• Work with pulley weights for 10 minutes.
• Do wind sprints for 20 minutes.
• Eat breakfast: a lamb chop and two soft-boiled eggs. No coffee, tea, milk or water. (Jeffries believed excess fluids cut down on speed.)
• Rest until 9 a.m.
• Run 14 miles.
• Get a rubdown and rest.
• Play several games of handball for speed and endurance.
• Skip rope and punch the bag for 20 minutes.
• Enter the ring to spar for 16 three-minute rounds. (His partners were instructed to slug as hard as they could while he would hold back.)
• Skip more rope, throw the medicine ball and do high-speed shadowboxing sprints.
• Eat supper: lamb chops, spinach or asparagus‚ and still no fluids.
• Take a long walk to loosen up.
• At 9 p.m., slowly drink a glass of water.
• Go to bed.
Clearly, that’s a serious workload. It’s obvious why Jeffries made it as far as he did. Not many, then or now, would be willing to endure such a Spartan lifestyle.

Let’s move the story along to the match. Jeffries picked up the title on June 9, 1899. He then did what most champions of the era did: took to the stage to travel the world and offer audiences horrible thespian skills. Jeffries traveled with a show called The Man From the West. He also did boxing exhibitions at most of the engagements, as well as some baseball umpiring.
In these exhibitions, local champs would step into the ring, and The Boilermaker would treat them nicely while they did what they could. If you recall, Jeffries was used to holding back — it was a mainstay of his sparring style.
Jeffries traveled to England with his show and boxed in many exhibitions, knocking out more than a few folks who wanted to see if they could “get some licks in on the champeen.”

Onward to continental Europe. 
In France, Jeffries was slated to face a champion — although the person’s name is not easily found in historical documents. That’s OK; it’s the circumstances and outcome that are important.
The intrepid Frenchman negotiated to retain the right to kick as well as use his fists, making it unclear whether he was a boxing champ looking for an extra advantage or a savate champ looking to capitalize on his expanded skill set. Either way, Jeffries was informed of the challenger’s wish to be allowed to use kicks, to which he simply replied, “Go ahead.”
Accounts state that Jeffries went to work with “jabs to the nose, hooks to the body and light raps to the chin.” He used a balance-upsetting strategy, and the challenger “never got a kick away.”
When his foe began to stagger around the ring, Jeffries started holding back. His corner had advised him that it was bad form to “knock out such an eminent athlete.” Unwilling to carry his opponent any longer, Jeffries ended the bout by casually pushing him through the ropes.
This style-versus-style bout certainly doesn’t answer the question of which art is better. However, we can conclude that a very powerful man held sway by dint of his boxing and his athletic attributes, and that should serve as evidence to all of 
us that fitness is crucial in any kind of fight. 

Mark Hatmaker’s website is extremeselfprotection.com.

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Kip Marsh Aug 2019
Thanks for this history, Mr Hatmaker. Show how much fitness level will matter in a confrontation.