So, Hazlitt wrote an essay, 'The Fight' (1822). This author, who confessed that it was his 'first fight', wrote about 'THE' fight?? Did he indeed!!!
More objectively, the title is probably only a reflection of the common habit of saying "going to 'the' match, 'the' cricket", and so forth. The encounter referred to was Bill Neate v Tom 'the Gasman' Hickman (December 1821).
But, stop the press, it was also reported by authentic Boxiana commentators - Egan and Bee.
Arguably, the literati did not condescend to comprehensively consider the merits of these 'low' writers. Some snippets are displayed below.
'After making play a short time, the Gas-man flew at his adversary like a tiger, struck five blows in as many seconds, three first, and then following him as he staggered back, two more, right and left, and down he fell, a mighty ruin [….] Neate seemed like a lifeless lump of flesh and bone, round which the Gas-man’s blows played with the rapidity of electricity or lightning, and you imagined he would only be lifted up to be knocked down again. It was as if Hickman held a sword or a fire in that right-hand of his, and directed it against an unarmed body. They met again, and Neate seemed not cowed, but particularly cautious. I saw his teeth clenched together and his brows knit close against the sun'. [HAZLITT]
[A worthy effort]
'Anxiety beamed in the faces of the privileged classes, for on the event depended whether a quarter of a million sterling should belong to this or to that side [….] At this time, too, the rays of the sun being compressed between two large clouds, threw its bright beams right upon the spot, and enlivened the immense assemblage of nearly 30,000 persons, many of whom were taking NEAT for choice, with five to four on his winning; whilst the sun-beams danced in unison with their wishes, and Hungerford church spire, in the distance, seemed, as the clouds now and then passed its apex, to nod assent to their undertakings'. [BEE]
The mouth of the Gas was full of blood, and he appeared almost choking with it [….] He was getting weak; but he, nevertheless, rushed in, and bored Neat to the ropes [….] Neat punished Gas in all directions, and finished the round by grassing him with a belly puncher [sic] that would have floored an ox. This hit was quite enough to have finished the pluck of two good men. The long faces from London were now so numerous, that 100 artists could not have taken their likenesses; and the Bristolian kids were roaring with delight. [EGAN]
[The pieces by these two prizefighting authors compare favourably with their more illustrious counterpart. Yes? No? There is no evidence of animosity, and Bee welcomed the alternative slant.]
Bill Neate (1791-1858), The Victor.
Pugilistica II (1880).
Copyright British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.B22.b.19.
The Boxiana spirit flickers when Hazlitt recounts the moments when the contest swings in this combatant's favour: ‘[Neate] planted a tremendous blow on his cheek-bone and eye-brow, and made a red ruin of that side of his face. The Gas-man went down [….] This was a settler [...] It was the first time he had ever been so punished; all one side of his face was perfect scarlet, and his right eye was closed in dingy blackness, as he advanced to the fight, less confident, but still determined. After one or two rounds, not receiving another such remembrancer, he rallied and went at it with his former impetuosity'.
William Hazlitt (1778-1830)
Hazlitt the outsider, Hazlitt the pretender, Hazlitt the interloper.
[This is a deliberately contentious interlude, so fans of Hazlitt -- do not be indignant].