What You Didn't Know About The Fight Club Teddy Roosevelt Ran

Before Theodore Roosevelt became obsessed with boxing, he learned it out of necessity to overcome paralyzing asthma as well as bouts of childhood bullying, according to Roosevelt biographer, William Roscoe Thayer, in his book, Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography. But even as his asthma diminished, his fascination with boxing continued with him to college, when he joined the Harvard Boxing Club.

After graduation, Teddy Roosevelt worked boxing into nearly every stage of his professional life. As New York City police commissioner, he established boxing clubs for underprivileged youth. "The establishment of a boxing club in a tough neighborhood always tended to do away with knifing and gun-fighting," said Roosevelt, according to Nancy Whitelaw's book, Theodore Roosevelt Takes Charge. And, when Roosevelt became New York governor in 1899, he would regularly challenge visitors to matches.

Once Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, he created his own fight club in the White House basement. He lined the floor with training mats and challenged anyone who was willing to put up their fists, according to Mental Floss. Even during his 1904 re-election campaign, Roosevelt invited a local boxer to his office seemingly for the sole purpose of daring him to fight. "Show it to me! Show it to me! Hit me on the chin as you hit him!" yelled Roosevelt, according to Good Stories About Roosevelt. The fighter obliged the request and hit Roosevelt, who, in turn, took it as an opportunity to punch back, knocking the boxer to the floor.

The end of White House fight club

Teddy Roosevelt's fight club boxing days finally caught up with him in 1905, when he challenged Colonel Dan T. Meade to a fight that only Roosevelt could have appreciated. "He had no use for a quitter or one who gave ground, and nobody but a man willing to fight all the time and all the way had a chance with him," Meade told The New York Times. "That's my only excuse for the fact that I seriously injured him. There was no chance to be careful of the blows. He simply wouldn't have stood for it."

That serious injury resulted in losing his vision in his left eye (Teddy Roosevelt was grateful it wasn't his right eye because that would have affected his ability to shoot a rifle.) "I had to abandon boxing as well as wrestling, for in one bout a young captain of artillery cross-countered me on the eye, and the blow smashed the little blood vessels," Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography. "Accordingly I thought it better to acknowledge that I had become an elderly man and would have to stop boxing."

Instead, he took up jiujitsu.