But would he meet Goss? The two boxers had already tried and failed twice to stage the illegal boxing bout, and the Brooke County, West Virginia, sheriff had already arrived at the ring to deliver a threat from the governor to arrest all participants and spectators, should the match proceed.  So the fate of the fight remained uncertain. Ryan was in, but where was Joe Goss?
The fighters had arrived at Colliers the night before. The date and location of the fight had been kept a secret—until the day prior to the fight, the only details the fight organizers shared was that it would take place within 50 miles of Pittsburgh, which boxing fans assumed meant Colliers.  Clandestine matches had been held there in the past. The railroad town was easily accessible from Pittsburgh and Steubenville, Ohio, but far enough from well-organized urban police forces that could shut down prizefights.  The practice was illegal in the United States; New Jersey passed the first law prohibiting it in 1835, and other states soon followed. Middle-class Americans abhorred prizefighting, according to historian Elliot Gorn, because they perceived that “the sporting crowd threw off all sense of personal restraint, substituting hedonism and luxury for virtue.” The betting and boxing that urban, working-class immigrant communities enjoyed in their leisure time were seen as examples of “greed and opulence,” and the opposite of the idealized American “communal spirit of mutuality and simplicity.” “[H]alf-naked men skillfully pounding each other for cash,” Gorn dryly noted, “hardly squared with the spirit of human progress, universal benevolence and social improvement.” 
English and Irish boxers immigrated to the United States in the early 19th century, but the sport of boxing took several decades to develop. Prizefighting emerged in England in the late 18th century as a hugely popular leisure-time activity, enjoyed both among the nobility (who patronized fights) and working class (from whose ranks fighters were drawn). Until the 1840s, boxing bouts tended to occur only in the densely packed immigrant neighborhoods of large cities like New York and Philadelphia; Gorn found that boxing matches usually resulted from interpersonal disputes and that staking and betting on fighters became a way for people to express “individual, neighborhood and ethnic loyalties.” Only in the 1850s would the sport of boxing become widespread among “working-class males who rejected bourgeois standards of value, laborers dispossessed by new economic alignments, and men who lived in the netherworld of gambling, bootlegging, and petty crime.”  Bare-knuckle boxing enjoyed rising popularity throughout the 1860s, as the U.S. Civil War familiarized soldiers with the sport; boxing became a preferred way to exercise and to settle grievances during long stints in Army camps. Enthusiasm for prizefighting waned in the late 1860s and 1870s, as corruption and fight fixing alienated fans who wanted to see and bet on fair bouts, but experienced a revival in the 1880s as athletics became increasingly popular in postbellum culture. While the Victorian ideals of hard work and communal benefit prevailed, sports—including boxing—were increasingly seen as a valuable way to build character, reinforce prevailing standards of masculinity and keep the steadily increasing population of wage workers busy during their leisure time. 
The 1880 prizefight between Ryan and Goss was the tail end of what Barratt O’Hara described in his 1909 history of the heavyweight championship as “a period of mediocrity, marking the transplanting of the championship in America.” Goss—who was born in Wolverhampton, England, in 1838 and began boxing at 21 years old—had won the championship from Allen after a decade of failed attempts at the title.  Ryan was the first challenger in four years, and so the match attracted a fair amount of attention from boxing fans. According to coverage in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “The fight caused considerable excitement in the surrounding country, but through lack of transportation facilities only about 300 persons were present.”  The crowd was small but loud. “During the early morning a train arrived from Pittsburg[h], bearing a crowd of bruisers and sporting men who had learned of the location of the fight,” reported the Wheeling, West Virginia, Daily Intelligencer. “Their shouts awoke many of the sleepers, and their boisterous conduct and high handed refusal to pay for eatables procured at the station hotel indicated the general ‘cussedness’ of the multitude. Each freight train that came in, whether from east or west, added a dozen or more to the crowd, and the noise of their brawls and riotous arguments banished all thought of repose.”