The Boxer Who Started a Riot by Winning

Ass-kicking Athletes of Antiquity: James Burke

James Burke was the first British boxer to hit an American on his home turf, However, he’s best known for punching so hard he killed a guy and subsequently spending the rest of his life being unable to find a worthy opponent, or at the very least, an opponent willing to stand in front of him.

Prior to introducing the world to his murder-punch, James “Deaf” Burke was a little known waterman working on the Thames, and yes, he got his nickname because he was deaf, or at the very least hearing impaired because apparently Marvel still had a trademark on “Iron Fist” way back then.

Upon starting his boxing career in 1828, Burke enjoyed a life of quiet, punch-based obscurity and putting local thugs in their place up until he caught the as-yet unblackened eye of local heavyweight champion Simon Byrne. Now it’s unknown exactly what went down between Burke and Byrne during their fight. All we know is that three days after losing the fight Byrne dropped dead from the injuries he’d sustained. The only plausible explanation to us is that Burke punched so hard and fast that some of his blows burst through the fabric of space and time and entered a parallel dimension where they could be summoned at will to bring the pain whenever Burke felt like it.

When Byrne kicked the bucket and Burke was dragged to court to be charged with manslaughter we can’t imagine that the prosecution would have had that much of a problem convincing people that Burke was capable of killing with his bare hands, considering he was a 6’2″, 200-pound slab of marble someone had carved fists onto. Amazingly though, Burke was never charged for the killing.

Even more amazingly, despite the fact he’d proven his fists could only be more dangerous if he set them on fire, the current heavyweight champion of England refused to give Burke his belt and the area of England he was stood in immediately collapsed due to the density of his balls.

After his trial Burke found it immensely difficult to find anyone willing to fight him, proving that people back then weren’t as stupid as we thought, unless of course you read the previous sentence where we mentioned that they let the man with heart attack inducing uppercuts walk free.

He stopped wearing shirts after exhaling too deeply and disintegrating the last one.

He stopped wearing shirts after exhaling too deeply and disintegrating the last one.

Eventually realizing that no one in England was willing to fight him, Burke travelled to the States, in the process becoming the first Englishman in boxing history to set foot on U.S. soil with the intent of punching an American square in the grill. However, Burke first agreed to travel the country with Irishman Sam O’Rourke and engage in a number of sparring matches. After a few months of O’Rourke and Burke pretend-punching each other they were convinced by a fight organizer to hold an exhibition match.

Though this seemed like Burke’s chance to once again start-up his relationship with the sweet science, the fight between the two took place in New Orleans, which happened to have a huge Irish population that’d taken a shine to O’Rourke. Midway through the fight, fearing that their hero was going to have his liver turned to pate, the Irish fans embraced every stereotype in the book and started a drunken riot in the third round. For those of you not familiar with bareknuckle boxing, it wasn’t unknown for matches to easily last 100 rounds. So imagine how hard Burke must have been winning for fans to riot in the third round.

Realizing that he was no longer welcome in America, Burke travelled back to England to see if people’s opinion of him had softened. It hadn’t and in the 10th round of his next big fight against English heavyweight champion William Thompson, Burke was disqualified for punching Thompson while he was down. You could say this was a justified penalty until you realize that when Thompson retired less than a month later the title went immediately to Burke (no $#!+).

His extremely short streak of luck ran out when he was challenged by the brother of the guy who’d refused to hand over his belt all those years ago. During the course of the fight Burke easily gained the upper hand–however, a gang of men threatened the referee to disqualify Burke for a foul he absolutely did not commit, thus costing him the title he’d earned with hands that would set off airport metal detectors.

After this loss Burke once again found it difficult to find any opponent willing to fight him and he died at the tender age of 35. History tells us that Burke died of TB. We however think that he got so sick of being unable to find a worthy opponent and he simply punched himself in the lung so he could go battle the angels instead.

Dude, you've got a gorgeous girl on your arm -- show no fear.

Dude, you’ve got a gorgeous girl on your arm — show no fear.

Karl Smallwood is a freelance comedy writer that you can hire! His work has been featured on, and you should probably click those links to make sure he isn’t lying. He also runs his own website where he responds to the various pieces of hate-mail he’s gotten over the years, in fact, he got so much hate-mail that he wrote a book about it that you can buy on Amazon. When he isn’t writing, Karl also Tweets and uploads pictures of himself drinking on Facebook.

greatgama The Boxer Who Started a Riot by Winning

Why, his mustache alone could best you in combat!

Karl also documented The Most Hilarious Overreactions to Scary Movies. For a more contemporary ass-kicking athlete, check out Karl’s account of the five-decades-and-counting winning streak enjoyed by The Great Gama.

More from Karl Smallwood

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