Hurd-Williams and a Slave named Tom

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An examination of the rich boxing history in the DMV as Maryland native Jarrett Hurd defends his super welterweight titles versus Philly’s Julian Williams Saturday night on FOX.

It’s Philly vs. The DMV on Saturday, May 11.

That’s when Maryland’s “Swift” Jarrett Hurd and Philadelphia’s Julian Williams meet for Hurd’s world super welterweight titles at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia, live on FOX (8:00p.m. ET/5:00p.m. PT).

Though it’s a hardly been a hotbed of boxing activity, Virginia’s link to boxing goes back further than any other state. Long before Jack Dempsey asked a swimwear company named Everlast to make him some boxing gear, Tom Molineaux, Virginian and former slave, was the first American to participate in a match billed as a world championship match.

While most of the nation thinks of long lines and ugly photos when they hear the letters DMV, those in the D.C. metropolitan area think of Mumbo sauce and Redskins football. Like Philadelphia, the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area has been well represented over the years in boxing rings around the world. For every Midget Wolgast and Bernard Hopkins, the DMV has offered a Joe Gans or Pernell Whitaker.

Hurd, 28, (23-0, 16 KO’s), who’s been ploughing through his division like a prime John Riggins, is the latest star from the DMV. Born into a middle-class family in Accokeek, MD., Hurd is on the brink of sitting at the top of the boxing hill.

The 29-year-old Williams (26-1-1, 16 KOs) hopes to stop his ascent. He comes from a city synonymous with good boxers. Any boxing fan who grew up reading those monthly boxing magazines that were based in Blue Bell, Pa., and that featured a writer or two from Philadelphia, is familiar with the city’s boxing legacy. It’s a blue-collar town and so are the fighters, we’re told. But anyone living south of Exit 12 on Pennsylvania’s I-95 will declare that they too know about hard work. Perhaps none as hard as the work Tom Molineaux was forced to do.

America may never completely recover from those ugly years of iron shackles, throat collars, and daily floggings. Dr. Joy DeGruy calls it Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome in her book; that it can’t be treated clinically and explains that the only way it could end is if profound sociological changes take place.

Reading a few passages of Frederick Douglas’s biography, or zooming in on a photo of Gordon The Slave’s scarred back, one would conclude that slavery was nothing anyone today would want to be associated with.

However, only days ago, a prominent boxing promoter did just that.

“We were slave traders!” Barry Hearn said regarding the relationship between him and the boxers he promoted. “The pendulum has swung,” Hearn remarked before adding that nowadays, he had to address boxers as “Mr.”

“I have to be respectful,” Hearn smiled.

The pendulum swung for Molineaux too. Born on a tobacco plantation located between two rivers and about a 90-minute drive from Fairfax, Molineaux planted, cultivated and, when it was time for harvest, picked one dark tobacco leaf at a time until the sun set. When he wasn’t in the fields, he was forced to brawl against other slaves in matches that resembled those depicted in films such as Mandingo.

Black knuckles snapped, white teeth were chipped, and red blood leaked. Through it all, the slave traders placed wagers totaling six-figure dollar amounts. Molineaux, who was built like new Redskins running back, Bryce Love, was rewarded with his freedom after one of those matches. He soon found his way aboard a ship to London, where, billed as the American champion, he fought Tom Cribb for the bareknuckle heavyweight championship of the world.

The first American to participate in a championship match was from the DMV. Today, by accepting one difficult challenge after the other, Hurd has already solidified his position among the greats from the D.C Metropolitan area. His name will be forever included with the likes of Kid Norfolk and Sugar Ray Leonard. In Williams, he’s facing a fighter who has toppled unbeaten prospects, former champions, and even UFC fighters. They call him “J-Rock” and he knows that a win over Hurd will help put his name alongside those of Lew Tendler and Joe Frazier.

Their match on May 11 will take place only miles from where Molineaux punched his way to freedom. His 39-round bareknuckle fight with Cribb was described by contemporaries as one of the most exciting of the times.

According to legend, Molineaux should have won the fight, that Cribb was unable to recover during the 30-second rest period and, because of that, his handlers accused Molineaux of loading his fists with bullets. The commotion afforded Cribb enough time to recover. What isn’t legend is that, only 34 years old, Molineaux’s muscular chest exhaled for the final time.  

Of course, that promoter didn’t mean it literally when he said he used to be a slave trader. It was a poorly worded celebration of the fact that fighters today have a say in their careers. For the first 22 or so years of his life, Molineaux, and every other slave had no say in their lives. When we watch Hurd defend against Williams in Fairfax, we should know that Virginia is more than place along the Eastern seaboard where the color of the ocean waters begins to change from murky to tropical green. It’s the birthplace of Tom Molineaux, the first American fist fighter to challenge for a world championship. And when we say his name, we should call him Mr. Molineaux, lest anyone believe that being respectful is something that started only recently.

For a closer look at Hurd vs Williams, check out our fight night page. 

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