You can drive it underground, but you cannot stop it

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

On 16 November 1911, the Daily Mail published a piece on Boxing as a Sport, A Defence by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who as a sports-man has often “donned the gloves” and as a novelist has written one of the best living stories on boxing (“Rodney Stone”), yesterday expressed the opinion that it is impossible to eradicate the love for boxing as a sport in this country.

Such decisions as that given at Birmingham in the Moran-Driscoll case, he told a representative of the Pall Mall Gazette, would only be to drive boxing underground: “You can drive it underground, but you cannot stop it. Instead of having contests in the presence of the public, the Press, and the police, you will have it underground. You can have it in the back parlour of a public-house, but you are going to have it somehow. It is better, surely, to have it in the daylight, where, if there has been any brutality, there will at once be a shriek of ‘Foul’ or ‘Shame.’

“It is certain you will not stop it. That is absolutely impossible. I confess I do not understand where the line is going to be drawn between boxing and a veiled prize-fight.” It was only our individuality and love of sport which gave us a chance of bringing out our manhood, but if one sport was to be cut down in this way it would do us a great deal of national harm.



  1. Bob Sykes says:

    Aesthetically, I much prefer boxing to MMA or pro “wrestling,” although I used to watch Gorgeous George, Hay Stack Calhoun, and Andre the Giant in my youth. But then, I grew up watching the Gillette Friday night fights with my dad, and lost $5 on the Clay-Liston fight. Liston threw those fights.

  2. Graham says:


    I haven’t read Rodney Stone.

    I can’t remember if I mentioned on this site the story I did read recently, The Master of Croxley or The Croxley Master.

    Doyle’s love of boxing certainly came through in it, from his details of the fight from the perspective of one of the combatants, to his ringside perspective, to his recounting of the nuances of boxing as a trade and a business and a social network.

    I had had no real interest in the topic and was just cruising through Doyle stories on Project Gutenberg. But I found that story far more engaging than I expected I would.

  3. Graham says:

    On the other hand boxing does seem to have declined in its cultural presence since the 1980s.

  4. Even gays weren’t as… gay in 1911 as today.

  5. James Fulford says:

    What Doyle was arguing against was a court case that said that a boxing competition between Jim Driscoll and Owen Moran was “really” a prize fight, which was illegal.

    I’ll just stick the link to that here:

    Doyle had a point. The illegal prizefighting of the early 19th century was hard to suppress, and Queensberry Rules fighting was supposed to be a civilized alternative.

    There are underground fights in New York City today (with gloves)and various illegal bareknuckle fights have been going on for years.

    To bolster her argument that Judge John Sirica had a mob-connected background, Renata Adler pointed out that Sirica had been a boxer as a young man, and not only was that the most corrupt, mob-owned business in America, it was actually illegal while he was doing it:

    “As for the boxers themselves, in Washington, D.C., as it happens, all professional boxing was illegal–not just in 1921, when Sirica began, but throughout the years he was boxing there–until 1934, when Congress finally legalized it in the District. Professional boxing in Washington, in other words, was a violation of the criminal statute. That Sirica knew this is beyond doubt. All the years he boxed professionally in the District before 1934 he used, although he does not mention this either, fictitious names. It is, of course, possible to be a criminal without ties to organized crime–a pickpocket, say, or a burglar. Illegal boxing, however, requires payoffs….”

    Letting the point about Sirica slide, I repeat, Doyle was not kidding about the possibility of boxing continuing to exist when banned. It had happened before him, it would happen after him, and it’s happening today.

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