Boxing And The City Of Philadelphia

Submitted by Kimball Marsden on Jul 18th 2017


Philadelphia - also known as the city of brotherly love has a wealth of famous boxers present and past who learnt their trade in this famous American city that has such an interesting history. What is it about this place that has produced so many world champions? Historically it has always been a town that has had to fight and stake its claim on the shores of this great continent. It has seen good times and bad times but the people here have an indomitable spirit that has evidently translated into the ring.

The earliest records of activity in the area that became the city of Philadelphia go back to the early 1600s when Dutch explorers led by Henry Hudson first entered the river in search of the Northwest Passage. For most of this century the area continued to be visited by Swedish, Dutch and German traders, the first English settlement  occurred about 1642, when 50 Puritan families from the New Haven Colony in Connecticut, led by George Lamberton.

In 1681, as part of a repayment of a debt, Charles II of England granted William Penn a charter for what would become the Pennsylvania colony. Shortly after receiving the charter, Penn said he would lay out "a large Town or City in the most Convenient place upon the Delaware River for health & Navigation." Penn wanted the city to live peacefully in the area, without a fortress or walls, so he bought the land from the Lenape. The legend is that Penn made a treaty of friendship with Lenape chief Tammany under an elm tree at Shackamaxon, in what became the city's Kensington District.fully 

Philadelphia became an important trading centre and major port.  From it's inception the city founders pledged that it would be a place where people of all backgrounds would be welcome and able to peacefully practice their religion. This attracted many people of various beliefs and cultures. However tension grew between Britain and the colonies, in September 1777 the British invaded Philadelphia from the south. Washington intercepted them at the Battle of Brandywine but was driven back. Thousands fled north into Pennsylvania and east into New Jersey; Congress moved to Lancasterthen to York. British troops marched into the half-empty Philadelphia on September 23. The occupation lasted ten months. After the French entered the war on the side of the Continentals, the last British troops pulled out of Philadelphia on June 18, 1778, to help defend New York City. 

The city continued to grow and become more and more industrialised, during the 1800s it became one of the United States busiest ports. In response to exploitative working conditions, some 20,000 Philadelphia workers staged the first general strike in North America in 1835, in which workers in the city won the ten-hour workday and an increase in wages. Further evidence of the strong will and fighting spirit of the native people to this city.  In the mid and late 1840s, immigrants from Ireland and Germany streamed into the city, swelling the population of Philadelphia and its suburbs.   During the 1840s and 1850s, hundreds died each year in Philadelphia and the surrounding districts from diseases such as malariasmallpoxtuberculosis, and cholera, related to poor sanitation and diseases brought by immigrants; the poor suffered the most fatalities. Small rowhouses and tenement housing were constructed south of South Street.

The more people streamed into the city the more ethnic tension grew between the people. There was a visually evident disharmony between the people who considered themselves to be nativists and the new immigrants coming from Ireland and Germany as well as the continual stream of African Americans who's population numbers grew in the city year on year. Violence erupted in 1844 with the "nativist riots" where immigrants and people of colour were targeted leading to a number of deaths. The greatest wave of black migrants in Philadelphia’s history to that point came during World War I when the conflict overseas choked off European migration and Northern businesses across the United States looked to the South for labour. This massive population movement, known as the Great Migration, changed the face of Philly. 

The City of Brotherly Love was hit hard by the great depression with a large percentage of the city being out of work leading to many families being subjected to a life of poverty. Something had to change it certainly did with the beginning of World War 2. Many were employed in defence related industries and the country officially entered the was in 1941. When war ended in 1945, 183,850 residents were in the U.S. armed forces.

In 1950 the population peaked at more than two million residents. The city's population has since gone in to decline with more and more people moving out to the neighbouring suburbs. The city was built on industry, manufacturing and trade, during the late 20th century these went in to decline along with the railroad. This gradual downturn in industry coupled with businesses owners and the middle classes moving out of the city has contributed to the high levels of unemployment and poverty leading to the city being plagued by crime. These problems were primarily related to gang warfare over drug money and in 1970 crime was rated the city's number one problem in a City Planning Commission survey. Crime continued to be a problem in the 1980s. Deadly Mafia warfare plagued South Philadelphia, drug gangs and crack houses invaded the slums of the city, and the murder rate skyrocketed. 

In more recent times Philadelphia has seen some regeneration occur especially in the city centre with tourism becoming one of the city's main industries; Philadelphia is now the 10th-most visited city in the US (behind Atlanta and ahead of Miami, Dallas, and Boston). 

Boxing In Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia has had a long history with the sport of boxing stretching back as far as the 1800s. Boxing had became an incredibly popular sport back in the British Isles and was imported over with the continued migration to the new world. The Irish have a long history with boxing and also had a role to play in furthering the popularity of the sport with the large waves of immigration.  Over the years this great city has continued to produce one world champion after the next. The network of boxing gyms have helped thousands of young people avoid the hazards of getting caught up in a gang on streets that have for a long time faced problems with crime and violence. 

A fighter from Philadelphia is characteristically tough. The relentless never surrender fighting style of its boxers has thrilled fans over the years. It is a resilient working class town that for many people can be a very hard place to come up in. Growing up on the mean streets of Philly is a tough lesson in the realities of life and just how dangerous and volatile it can be. Being raised here instills an inherent toughness in its boxers that they carry in to the ring and this is something that cannot be replicated or taught without the years of experience residing in this proud city.

The largest city in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania has seen some historic events. One of the most notable fights to ever take place here was the world’s heavyweight title fight between defending champion Jack Dempsey and challenger Gene Tunney. Held at the Sesquicentennial Municipal Stadium on September 23, 1926. Boxing was an incredibly popular sport at the time and the fight attracted an astonishing 120,000 spectators, it must have been a sight to behold. The fight was set as a 10 rounder and Tunney outboxed and outclassed Dempsey in every round winning by unaninmous decision. Tunney would successfully defend his title and defeat Dempsey again at Soldier Field in Chicago in a fight that came to be known as The Long Count.

Legendary Boxers from Philadelphia


Bernard Hopkins

Bernard Hopkins is a highly decorated boxer coming out of the city of Philadelphia considered by many to be a modern day legend. He had a very tough upbringing growing up in the Raymond Rosen housing project. The Philly native was involved in crime from a very young age and was sentenced to 18 years in Graterford Prison at the age of 17 for a number of crimes including roberry and assault. Hopkins realised his passion inside which came in the form of boxing. When he came out he fully dedicated himself to the sport.

Bernard Hopkins holds the world record for being the oldest fighter ever to win a world title. He broke his own record when he took the IBF crown from Tavoris Cloud in March 2013 a couple months after his 48th birthday.


"Smoking" Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier formed part of a trio including Muhammed Ali and George Foreman in what was considered the golden age of heavyweight boxing. He faught against Ali on October 1, 1975 in what was dubbed "The Thrilla in Manila", considered by many to be one of the greatest fights of all time.  Although not being from Philadelphia originally Joe moved there at a young age and this is where he settled and boxed out of.


Philadelphia Jack O'Brien

Philadelphia Jack O'Brien(January 17, 1878 – November 12, 1942) was a Philadelphia native and campaigned for most of his career at light-heavyweight. He was a world champion and had a career record of 194 fights with 145 wins, 16 loses and 28 draws.

Nat Fleischer, founder and editor of The Ring Magazine, ranked O'Brien as the No. 2 All-Time Light Heavyweight, and famed boxing promoter Charley Rose ranked him as the No. 3 All-Time Light Heavyweight. O'Brien was inducted into the Ring Magazine hall of fame in 1968, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.

Famous Philadelphia Venues


Sesquicentennial Stadium

Boxing Hall of Famers Jack Dempsey (1895-1983) and Gene Tunney (1897-1978) fought the first of their two world heavyweight title bouts at Sesquicentennial Stadium in South Philadelphia on September 23, 1926. Tunney defeated the Manassa Mauler in ten rounds via unanimous decision in front of a crowd of over 120,000 fans in one of the best-known fights of the 1920s, a decade when boxing was considered the king of sports.


The Blue Horizon

The Blue Horizon is a historic 1,500-seat former boxing venue in PhiladelphiaThe Ring magazine voted it the number-one boxingvenue in the world, and Sports Illustrated noted it as the last great boxing venue in the country.

The Blue Horizon appears in the film Rocky V as some of the fight scenes with Tommy Morrison were filmed there. The building was also used to film the boxing scenes in the movie Annapolis.



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