Boxing vs. la Savate (circa 1869)

  • Originally published on the site on Sunday, 13th June 2010

From “Fores’s Sporting Notes and Sketches”, 1894:

YES, I have seen one or two queer events in the boxing line. How time makes the running nowadays! Somehow, things seem to come and go much faster than they used to do, and, although I still feel young, it is nearly a quarter of a century since I witnessed the most amusing show, I suppose, that was ever given in the way of a contest between two exponents of the noble art of self defence— one an Englishman, and the other a Frenchman.

The match was arranged by a well-known amateur boxer, and took place in a small town in France, in the rooms of an old Frenchman who gave lessons in fencing, &c. Only about a dozen spectators were invited, and I happened to be one of the favoured few. The Englishman was one of the stars of his profession, and a real tough bruiser, and had never seen the French style of boxing, viz. ‘la savate.’ The Frenchman was one of the leading professors of the art, and had never met an Englishman. So we looked forward to seeing something that would amuse us. We were not disappointed. They both wore gloves, the weight of which I do not remember, and canvas shoes. There was no ring, so they had the whole room to manoeuvre in. The spectators stood round the corners.

I will call the Englishman ‘Tom,’ and the Frenchman ‘Alphonse.’ Tom appeared in the orthodox rig, breeches and socks, and stripped to the waist. Alphonse turned out in a white jersey and black tights. He was a great contrast to the broad-shouldered, bullet-headed Englishman, being nearly a head taller, with extraordinarily long legs, and a wild and hungry look about the eyes. They advanced to the middle of the room, and Tom held out his hand in the usual manner, but was received with a low and courteous bow from Alphonse.

Tom led off by making a feint at the face of Alphonse, who parried it, and landed Tom a smart kick on the side of the head with his right foot, followed immediately by another kick on the other side of the head with his left!

Tom’s look of astonishment was a picture, he tried in vain to get in at Alphonse, who seemed to flutter about more like a butterfly, or daddy-long-legs, than anything else; he tried to catch hold of the feet that kept playing about his head, but without avail, the head that he wanted to go for was never where the head should be, according to Tom, so practically, he had nothing to tackle, except an elongated pair of understandings that seemed to work on springs and on which he could make little or no impression.

I forget how many rounds were fought; any how, we were all convulsed with laughter till the last round, in the middle of which Alphonse threw himself back on his hands and shot out with his left foot, the sole of which was planted with terrific force full into Tom’s face.

The pugilist staggered back nearly the whole length of the room, but he recovered himself, and, with a wicked look, made a rush at Alphonse, and drove him into one of the corners, where he could not use his legs, and landed him one he will never forget, right under the jaw, which almost lifted him off his legs, and his head went with a crash against the wall, and poor Alphonse dropped senseless to the floor. Tom stood over him and muttered, ‘You d—d Froggy, I’ll teach you to play football with my head!’

It was some time before Alphonse came round, in fact, we thought at first that he was killed; however, with plenty of cold water poured over his head, and a fair quantity of cognac poured down his throat, he at last recovered, and it is needless to say, had had quite enough of it. I would go a long way to witness such another show, the extraordinary agility of the Frenchman was most astonishing, and there is no doubt an adept at ‘la savate’ is no mean adversary for an ordinary boxer to tackle.

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