The Cultural Battles over Heavyweight Prizefighting in the American West

Meg Frisbee

  • Published: 2016. Paperback October 2018
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Sports
  • Bibliographic information: 256 pp., 23 bandw illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Boxing was popular in the American West long before Las Vegas became its epicenter. However, not everyone in the region was a fan. Counterpunch examines how the sport's meteoric rise in popularity in the West ran concurrently with a growing backlash among Progressive Era social reformers who saw boxing as barbaric. These tensions created a morality war that pitted state officials against city leaders, boxing promoters against social reformers, and fans against religious groups. Historian Meg Frisbee focuses on several legendary heavyweight prizefights of the period and the protests they inspired to explain why western geography, economy, and culture ultimately helped the sport's supporters defeat its detractors.

A fascinating look at early American boxing, Counterpunch showcases fighters such as "Gentleman" Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, and Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champ, and it provides an entertaining way to understand both the growth of the American West and the history of this popular-and controversial-sport.
Meg Frisbee is assistant professor of history at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

"An interesting interdisciplinary study that weaves sport, politics, and regional geography together."
-Gerald Gems, past president, North American Society for Sports History

"A nuanced treatment of the ebb and flow of the fortunes of prizefighting as a sport and as a growing enterprise juxtaposed with the changing moral values of American society."
-Richard O. Davies, author of The Main Event: Boxing in Nevada from the Mining Camps to the Las Vegas Strip

List of Illustrations

1. The "Slogging" Craze in San Francisco
2. The "Daring" Conservatives
3. Borderline
4. Nevada's Gamble
5. Paradise Lost
6. Prizefighting Is Not a Crime

Selected Bibliography

"In this sprightly, well-researched book, Frisbee examines the political battles over prizefighting in the West. . . Frisbee demonstrates that the most important matches of the time took place outside the ring in courtrooms and legislative chambers, where Westerners battled for the region's future. At stake were differing versions of morality, economic freedom, and social liberty. Highly recommended. All readers."

"Frisbee has written a lively and engaging book about boxing in the American West, with a particular focus on the turn-of-the-century Progressive Era. . . . Counterpunch is a finely researched, nuanced, and well-written study that deserves a wide readership among historians of sports, the West, and Progressive Era America."
-Brian M. Ingrassia, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains

"A compelling read beyond the narratives of early American heavyweight prizefighters. . . . Entertaining and engaging. . . . Boxing fans will undoubtedly enjoy this piece of sport history, but sociologists and sport historians in general might also find the author's descriptions of the social, symbolic and political conflicts over heavyweight prizefighting in American compelling."
-Anne Tjonndal,

"A compelling book that uses prizefighting as a lens to examine political battles between white men, their concerns about manhood, and the need for progressive reform in the West. . . . Frisbee's ability to describe the events will entertain boxing enthusiasts."
-Louis Moore, Pacific Northwest Quarterly