George Bellows via Wikimedia Commons
Even after the Marquess of Queensberry introduced rules to help legitimize what was considered a disreputable sport, boxing had a hard time shaking its reputation of being a bloody spectacle. It hardly helped matters that in 1893, lightweights Jack Burke and Andy Bowen made headlines for fighting 110 grueling rounds—the longest gloved bout in recorded history.
The contest was for the lightweight title of the South. Bowen weighed 134 pounds, a close match physically with Texas native Burke. Promoters held the fight at the Olympic Club in New Orleans, La., Bowen’s hometown, which had embraced boxing by insisting on some veneer of respectability: There would be no fights on Sundays, no alcohol served to the crowds, and a small portion of the proceeds would be earmarked for charity.
Amid such decorum, Bowen and Burke entered the ring on a Thursday evening, April 6. They wouldn’t come back out until Friday, April 7.
Burke, who was said to enjoy taunting his opponents, started out strong, getting the better of Bowen over the first several rounds (which lasted three minutes each) and even wobbling him in round 25. But Bowen was resilient—one of his nicknames was “Iron”—and could not be toppled easily. In round 48, he rallied to send Burke to the floor, but time expired before Burke could be counted out.
At an unknown point in the bout, Burke found himself with two broken hands, the likely consequence of repeatedly hitting a man who kept coming forward. From that point on, Burke’s offense was hampered; Bowen’s was ineffectual. The result became a war of attrition.
Arms weary, the men began to move in a clumsy manner. Spectators began chanting "Home, Sweet Home." As midnight passed, hundreds began leaving. They had seen enough. The early morning hours gave way to the threat of dawn; a crowd that had come after dinner was now ready to eat breakfast. Burke and Bowen continued their stalemate, circling each other, neither wanting to quit with the belt at stake. It would be discovered later that they had lost nearly 10 pounds each from the effort.
After 108 rounds, referee John Duffy sensed the exhaustion of both the fighters and the crowd; some had even fallen asleep in their chairs. He told Bowen and Burke they’d have only two more rounds to try and finish the bout. When the 110th round ended without a winner—or even a punch thrown—Duffy waved the fight off, declaring it a “no contest” and later explaining it was actually a draw. (Announcing the latter in the ring, Duffy feared, might mean ticket refunds or worse—a mandatory rematch to make it up to spectators.) The fight had lasted an astonishing seven hours and 19 minutes.
Duffy recommended that the prize money, $2500, be split between the two men. Burke went on to fight for several more years. Bowen’s story ended more sensationally, and more abruptly: He fought again just two months later, this time for 85 rounds. The following year, a bout against George “Kid” Lavigne proved fatal. After getting cracked on the jaw, Bowen fell on the hard ring surface and fractured his skull. The blow that would kill him the following day came in the 18th round—six more than the allowable limit for today’s boxers, but 92 less than he had lasted against Burke.
Additional Sources: “Fought to a Draw,” The New York Times, April 8, 1893 [PDF]