The Arena Athletic Club began hosting fights on
January 26, 1897 with a main event that matched Jimmy Handler and
Charley Johnson in a six-round exhibition. These were the days of
"No Decision" bouts, meaning that no official result would be
rendered after the six round limit. All bouts were thus recorded as
a "No Decision" unless a knockout occurred. The Arena was a
large circular structure with a domed ceiling. Inside, there
were two levels, the groud floor and a large circular balcony that
wrapped around the ring.
The Arena was a busy venue during its two-plus-year run, staging
eighteen shows in its first year and 49 events in its second year.
After one show in 1899 (January 30th), the Arena stopped staging
fights. Numerous outstanding pugilists appeared at the Arena,
including Joe Choynski, Tom Sharkey, Joe Gans, Joe Walcott,
Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, Peter Maher, Owen Ziegler, George Dixon,
Young Griffo, Wilmington Jack Daly, Joe Butler, Matty Matthews, Gus
Ruhlin, Isadore Strauss, Mysterious Billy Smith, Kid Lavigne,
Ellwood McCloskey, Eddie Lenny, Tommy Ryan, and Steve Flanagan.
"No Decision" bouts left much to be desired as far as action goes.
Often the newspapers questioned the voracity of the fights, claiming
that the combatants would avoid heavy action.
However, at times the
fighters let the leather fly and made great fights. Based on the
newspaper reports back in the day, some of the Arena's best matches
were: the heavyweight battle between Gus Ruhlin and Joe Goddard,
which the papers called "Fierce'; Eddy Lenny's six-rounder against
Eugene Rowan (12/30/98), which was called "bristling and exciting";
Joe Choynski vs. Joe Goddard (9/12/98) was described as a "Hot
Tamale" of a fight.
The Arena A.C.
Indoor Arena / 4,000 Capacity
North Philly - Broad & Cherry
KEY VENUE DATES
1897 - First Boxing Show - 1/26
1897 - Joe Walcott Bout - 6/4
1897 - Geo. Dixon Bout - 6/21
1897 - Griffo vs Judge - 6/28
1897 - Joe Butler Bout - 9/6
1897 - Joe Gans Bout - 11/6
1897 - Matthews vs Ziegler - 12/27
1897 - O'Brien vs Strauss - 12/31
1898 - Walcott vs West - 4/22
1898 - Maher KOs Kenny - 1/21
1898 - Billy Smith DQ'd - 1/28
1898 - Bonner KOs Ullman - 2/25
1898 - Goddard KOs Maher - 5/13
1898 - Butler KOs Peppers - 8/5
1898 - Butler KOs Payne - 9/26
1898 - Ruhlin vs Goddard - 10/14
1898 - Ruhlin vs Choynski - 11/4
1898 - Eakins' "Taking the Count"
1898 - Eakin's "Salutat"
1899 - Final Show - 1/30
1899 - Eakins' "Between Rounds"
Classical Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) created a
number of works with the Arena, and fights there, as the subject
matter. His three most famous boxing works are "Between Rounds"
(1899), "Taking the Count" (1898), and Salutat" (1898).
"Between Rounds" and depicts boxing enigma Mysterious Billy Smith
resting in his corner.
About twenty years
after the Arena A.C. stopped hosting boxing, another Arena popped up
in West Philly. Also known as the Arena, this second spot
became one of Philly's mainstays for boxing action. However
the original Arena was one of the top venues in its day.