Newark's 1880s Boxing Champ -- Faced John L. Sullivan

by Nat Bodian

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Newark had its share of notable boxers in the 20th century, but in an earlier era, one of Newark's largely unsung boxing 'greats' was a transplanted, mustachioed, Englishman from Birmingham who settled in Newark and lived his remaining years there.

His name was Charlie Norton, and he fought under the London Prize Ring rules1 and most of them were with bare knuckles.

He made his home at 17 New Jersey Railroad AVenue after settling in Newark in 1879 at the age of 27.

This was ten years after his first fight in his home town of Birmingham. That first fight, with bare knuckles was won in two hours and ten minutes.

In 1878, Norton had boxed Samuel "Pat" Perry at St. Helena Gardens near Birmingham in England, and won a decision for the Lightweight Championship of England, in 38 rounds.

His boxing notoriety in England had secured for him the post of boxing instructor in the Birmingham Athletic Club.

Arrival in America

Norton came to America with a built-up reputation as a tough fighter who had won most of his fights, and for some time he had difficulty finding opponents.

Due to legal restrictions against boxing, many competitive bouts were listed as "exhibitions." In 1881, Norton had also traveled with the immortal John L. Sullivan, the world's first gloved heavyweight champion.

Sullivan was the first great American sports idol, who was reputed to be able to take punishment, and who could break a man's jaw with a single punch.

Norton had traveled with Sullivan as a trainer, but frequently put on gloves with Sullivan in preliminary "exhibition" bouts.

Norton Claims Title

Also, in the year 1881, Norton had challenged George Fulljames to a fight for the vacant Lightweight Championship of America.

Fulljames declined the challenge and Norton claimed the Lightweight title by default.

He was scheduled to defend his title in November of 1881 against Brian Campbell, but Campbell withdrew and the fight was never held.

In 1882, Norton fought five fights in five different cities, in February, April, May, June and November. Four were listed as exhibitions with no decisions, but the one in Coney Island was considered one of Norton's greatest fights. The bout, against Jim Frawley ended in a third-round knock-out.2

Retires, Declared Champion

in 1884, Norton fought a draw with Jimmie Gould at Claredon Hall in New York City and then announced his retirement from the ring.

In that year he was formally presented with the crown as Lightweight Champion of America.

In his retirement, he opened a saloon in Newark, and became a trainer of a number of leading fighters of the era.

In the following five years leading up to his death in 1889, he took part in many Newark sporting events, and occasionally participated in friendly bouts.

However, he was sick most of his last four years, and his death in 1889, according to a newspaper report, was not unexpected.

He left a widow and three daughters and is buried in Newark.

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Funeral / Burial

The funeral of Charles L. Norton took place at his home at 17 New Jersey Railroad Avenue in Newark. He is buried in Fairmount Cemetery. Location: Adult 7, Row 11, Grave 28.

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Note: Information for the "Memory" based on correspondence with Mary Ellen Sobule, great, great granddaughter of Charles L. Norton. Ms. Sobule was born in Newark and lived in Newark until the age of nine. She is now a resident of Swansea, Illinois.



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