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Mitt Romney survived boxing without a scrape. Teddy Roosevelt wasn't so lucky.

A caricature of President Roosevelt boxing.
A caricature of President Roosevelt boxing.
UIG via Getty images
Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

On May 15, Mitt Romney appeared in a charity boxing match with former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. The 68-year-old former presidential candidate fought the 52-year-old former boxer to raise money for Charity Vision in Salt Lake City.

It was mostly a lark — Holyfield faked a fall, Romney ran around the ring, and a charity ended up raising a lot of cash.

Mitt got lucky. Boxing caused Theodore Roosevelt to lose sight in one eye — and the fight happened while he was in the White House.

How Teddy Roosevelt lost sight in one eye while boxing

A young Theodore Roosevelt.

A young Theodore Roosevelt. (Library of Congress)

Since his youth, Roosevelt had a strong interest in boxing. He was trained by an ex-prizefighter and was a member of the Harvard Boxing Club. As police commissioner of New York City, he channeled his passion into building boxing clubs for underprivileged youth. When he became governor of New York, he continued to box and regularly challenged visitors to matches.

(Roosevelt's interest in boxing wasn't confined to the ring — according to the biography Theodore Roosevelt: Champion of the American Spirit, he also occasionally knocked people down if they made fun of his clothes.)

Teddy's fascination with boxing continued once he reached the White House. During the 1904 campaign, he invited a local boxer to his office and quickly challenged him to a fight: "Show it to me! Show it to me! Hit me on the chin as you hit him!" The fighter hit Roosevelt, who thought it was a good opportunity to hit back —and knocked the fighter to the floor.

Eventually, however, Roosevelt's boxing caught up with him. In a fight with Colonel Dan T. Meade, the president's eye was permanently damaged. Meade, a military aide at the White House in 1905, told the New York Times the full story. Roosevelt demanded a tough fight, and he got it:

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. 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.

As Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography, Meade smashed the blood vessels in his left eye, and "the sight has been dim ever since. ... Accordingly I thought it better to acknowledge that I had become an elderly man and would have to stop boxing." That was the end of boxing for the president.

Of course, he simply traded in boxing for jiu-jitsu.

Still, the moral stands: be grateful, Mitt. It could have been a lot worse.

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