Tom Molineaux stood in a makeshift 24 square foot boxing ring. In England. Ankle deep in mud and blood.
His own blood ran from his head and down his face. The blood of his opponent, Tom Cribb, stained his bare knuckles and naked chest. He didn’t pay attention to the cold December rain falling on his beaten body. Nor did he pay attention to the wind threatening to turn that rain to ice on his skin.
All he saw was the bloody and beaten man falling in front of him. And all he felt was victory.
Just years earlier, Tom Molineaux had been living his life as an American slave in Virginia.
He was born into slavery in 1784.
Before he was ten years old, Tom was working from early morning light until dark on the plantation.
His body was blackened from days in the sun, but he learned to endure the elements at a young age. And he was no stranger to physical abuse. It was a regular thing on plantations for children to carry more than their little arms should be able to hold — working alongside grown men. He was expected to do the same amount of work. With the same intensity. And beaten when he fell short.
Tom Molineaux learned how to handle pain. And every day he became stronger — mentally and physically.
When Tom’s father died, he took over the job as the plantation handyman. Which meant that he spent a lot of time fixing things around the main house — and spent even more time with the plantation owner’s son, Algernon.
Algernon was a wild child with an extreme affection for, drinking, prizefighting, and gambling.
At a party one night, Algernon had a few too many drinks. When one of his rich friend bragged that his slave was unbeatable in bare-knuckle fighting, Algernon drunkenly countered that Tom was bigger and better and would beat his man to a pulp. He was so sure about it that he was willing to bet the plantation on it. Literally.
Algernon woke up the next day with a terrible headache and the faint memory of the terrible bet he had made the night before.
There would be a fight.
Algernon knew that Tom could fight, but the fight he had signed him up for was too important to just throw him in the ring and wing it. Algernon needed help. Tom needed training.
England had perfected the sport of boxing. And it just so happened that a Brit with experience in boxing had landed nearby in Virginia. Algernon hired him to train Tom.
Tom was not as excited about the upcoming fight as Algernon. After all, he had nothing to gain or lose by fighting. It wasn’t his plantation on the line. When Algernon found out that Tom refused to listen to his new trainer or fully participate in any training that would benefit him in the upcoming fight, Algernon was furious.
He threatened Tom with a beating if he didn’t do what he was told. Which did little good. Tom had endured plenty of beatings. He didn’t see what one more could hurt. He was a slave. His life was not his own anyway. If he died, so be it.
Day after day, Tom went to training. Day after day, Algernon got word that Tom wouldn’t train. Finally, Algernon decided to make Tom a deal.
Algernon already stood to lose everything. If he lost the plantation, he would lose Tom too. Instead of taking the chance of losing his family fortune, he told Tom that if he won the fight, he would get $100. Plus his freedom.
That was all Tom needed to hear. From that moment forward Tom trained for his fight. For his freedom. For his life.
He did everything he was told. He listened attentively. He struck hard and fast. Tom had never wanted anything more in his life than he did in all the moments leading up to that fight.
So he trained. And trained. And trained some more.
The day he waited on finally came. People traveled from hundreds of miles away to see which family would walk away with the other’s fortune.
Tom walked into the ring with his mind made up. That day would be the last day he was a slave.
The crowd waited anxiously for the fight to start. The onlookers placed bets and collected monies.
All eyes were on Tom and his opponent, Abe, as they entered the ring from opposite ends of the ropes. Thrown together like two dogs trained to kill.
The rules of fighting were new. And simple.
There were no bells or whistles. When one man fell, the round ended. When he fell for good or stayed down for longer than 30 seconds, the other man was declared the winner.
Tom struck. And he struck again. Abe fought back, but he could not overpower Tom and his lightning speed.
Tom defeated his opponent in five short rounds. The crowd went wild at the display of blood and savagery. Algernon went wild when he found out how much he had won.
True to his word, Algernon gave Tom his freedom. And because Tom had won him so much money, Algernon gave Tom an additional $400 to take with him.
So with nothing but $500 and the clothes on his back, Tom left Virginia and never looked back.
Tom fought his way through New York. Making a name for himself. He was a fighter to be reckoned with.
But in his travels, he heard of the fame and glory of the prizefighters of England. That was the place he needed to be. After a final bloody bout that garnered him the title of “American Champion,” Tom headed to England confident he could outfight any boxer.
And he did. Tom Molineaux never lost a fight in England.
Meanwhile, he was trying to bait the English Champion, Tom Cribb, into fighting him. But Cribb refused. He said Molineaux wasn’t good enough to fight him.
But with each new victory, England rallied around Tom Molineaux more and more. They wanted to see the bold American fight the hometown hero.
Eventually, Tom Molineaux said that if the Champion refused to fight him, then, perhaps, Tom Molineaux himself should be named the new Champion of English fighting.
That got Tom Cribb’s attention. He would not be bested by an American. Especially not a black American.
So Tom Cribb agreed to fight Molineaux.
It was a fight that would go down in history. The bout lasted 40 rounds — almost an hour on a cold December day in 1809.
It wasn’t a fair fight. The crowd that had ravenously hyped the fight turned against him when they saw their hometown hero begin to falter.
In the 14th round, the crowd rushed the ring in order to stall the fight so that Tom Cribb could catch his breath.
In the 28th round, Tom Cribb lay unconscious in mud. Down for longer than the standard 30 seconds. But the umpire changed the rules to please the crowd. Stating that Tom Cribb was still in the fight.
As the wind continued to whip his blood splattered body, Tom Molineaux wouldn’t give up. And the crowd wouldn’t accept that he was the winner.
So round after round. After round. After round. They fought.
Every time Tom Cribb came at him with a blow, Molineaux would greet it with a blow of his own. The two men had beaten each other so badly, it was hard for the crowd to tell the black fighter from the white one. Everything was brown and red. Mud and blood.
After 40 rounds of combat, Tom Molineaux walked away from the fight holding his head up high. His opponent was unconscious. He himself was barely coherent. But he was free.
At the time, most people like him weren’t lucky enough to be free. He had made it. He took his opportunity and ran with it. The moment presented itself and he was all in. Ready. And committed.
He fought his way to freedom. And never looked back. Today, we consider Tom Molineaux the first super-star prizefighter in the history of boxing. All from a life of nothing. He was a slave. Another person’s property.
From that place, he had brought himself so far.
Make no mistake. Your fight for progress is just that. A fight. An opportunity for greatness. A chance to set yourself free.
“DON’T LOOK AT YOUR FRUSTRATING SITUATION AS BEING HOPELESS. LOOK FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO BREAK FREE.”
Train for greatness. Prepare for greatness. Be willing to put in the time. Look for breakthrough.
And when you finally get your opportunity, be ready. Be all in. Don’t hold back.