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The Cribb-Molineux fight and the modern culture of the spectacle


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It was the greatest fight of its era. But its significance went beyond that. Even at the time, it seemed to be about more than boxing, more than sport itself. More than anything, the contest between a white English champion and a black American upstart seemed to be about an urgent question of identity: whether character could be determined in the boxing ring, whether sport could confirm a set of virtues by which a nation defined itself.

The fight cemented a set of stock characters â the fast-talking, ultra-talented, self-destructive black athlete; the Great White Hope; the canny coach who's half devoted to his pupil and half exploiting him â that have echoed down the centuries.1 In fact, so much about the fight feels familiar today, from the role of race to the role of the media, that if you had to name a date, you could make a good case that December 10, 1810, was the moment sport as we know it began.

1810?! That makes modern boxing one of the oldest American sports. I had no idea.

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