Tom Hyer was an American bare-knuckle boxer and barroom brawler, he was considered to be the first ever American World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Hyer was a well known associate of William Poole, known as Bill the Butcher Poole, and had a political association with the nativist Bowery Boys’ gang.
Hyer became the American Heavyweight Champion in 1841, in a fight with George Country McCloskey what was described as a brutal affair, lasting nearly 3 hours and going 101 rounds, a round in those days ended when an opponent hit the ground. McMcCloskey was said to have been beaten so bad his friends could barely recognize him. After the 101st round, McCloskey’s chief second, Yankee Sullivan, said, “It is no use Country, banging at him. he’s got you licked.” Hyer was recognized as the top fighter in the United States and awarded the American heavyweight championship.
In 1849 Tom Hyer fought “Yankee” Sullivan. “Yankee” Sullivan was born in Cork, Ireland, his real name was James Ambrose but moved to England with his family and settling in the East End of London. This is where Sullivan began prize-fighting, however when he was 25 he was given a 20 year sentence and sent to Australia, when then was a penal colony. Its believed that he served 8 years there and traveled back to England under a false name, presumably “Yankee” Sullivan, where continued boxing and then moved onto the United States.
Tensions had simmered between Hyer & Sullivan and the two came to blows in a bar in New York which resulted in the two setting the date for a bout. The location for the fight was agreed to in Still Pond, Maryland on February 7, 1849. Prizefighting was illegal, so they would move the bout at last minute avoid police.
Tom Hyer had a large advantage in size,he was about 5’11” height, had long arms, wide shoulders and weighed nearly 200 pounds. “Yankee” Sullivan was the size of a modern middleweight boxer, standing about 5’8” and weighing around 160 pounds, Sullivan was more of a technical boxer. Sullivan was said to have been in control for the first three rounds, he also scored the first knockdown at the end of the third with a blow to Hyer’s neck. Hyer picked up the pace and was able to use his reach advantage to deliver a mostly one-sided beating of Sullivan. Hyer’s corner men were forced to lance beneath his right eye, to prevent it from swelling shut. But within 18 minutes, Sullivan was bloody and swollen, and too weak to continue. Sullivan was carried from the ring by his supporters. Tom Hyer retired from the ring in 1851 and vacated the title, Sullivan would claim the title himself.
Hyer did make a comeback to fighting but never regained the title, he was associated with the Bowery Boys both politically and financially with this association Hyer came into conflict with John “Old Smoke” Morrissey and the Dead Rabbits gang, who were backed by Tammany Hall. In 1855, Tom Hyer was reported to have been injured in the head by being hit with the butt of a heavy revolver in an incident at Platt’s Hall, by Lew Baker, Henry Young and Jim Turner, who also assaulted Hyer. Turner also attempted a shooting at Hyer, in the Broadway Bar but he missed, Hyer returned a shot at Turner it missed. Both Lew Baker & Jim Turner stood trial for a shooting in which “Bill the Butcher” Poole died.
Taking advantage of his political connections, in 1857 Hyer was appointed Superintendent of Lands and Places, by New York Street Commissioner Connor. After his full retirement from the ring, he lived briefly in Washington, D.C. where he briefly ran a saloon. He enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, traveling with the army as it went from field to field. Sadly, he contacted rheumatism during the winter of 1862 while sutlering at Hooker’s camp, and returned to Washington a cripple. Tom Hyer died in Brooklyn, New York in 1864