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John L. Sullivan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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For the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, see John L. Sullivan (U.S. Navy). For others, see John Sullivan (disambiguation).
John L. Sullivan

John L. Sullivan in his prime.

Real name John Lawrence Sullivan
Nickname(s) Boston Strong Boy
Rated at Heavyweight
Height 5 ft 10 12 in (1.79 m)
Reach 74 in (188 cm)
Republic of Ireland

United States

Born October 15, 1858(1858-10-15)
Roxbury, Massachusetts, USA
Died February 2, 1918(1918-02-02) (aged 59)
Mattapan, Massachusetts, USA
Stance orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 41
Wins 38
Wins by KO 32
Losses 1
Draws 2

John Lawrence Sullivan (October 15, 1858 – February 2, 1918), also known as the Boston Strong Boy, was recognized as the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing from February 7, 1881 to 1892, and is generally recognized as the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing under the London Prize Ring rules. He was the first American sports hero to become a national celebrity and the first American athlete to earn over one million dollars.



[edit] Early life

He was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts (now a part of Boston) to Irish immigrant parents, Michael Sullivan from Abbeydorney, County Kerry and the former Catherine Kelly from Athlone, County Westmeath/County Roscommon. Sullivan was nicknamed The Boston Strongboy. As a youth he was arrested several times for participating in bouts where the sport was outlawed, and he went on exhibition tours offering people money to fight him. In 1879, when he challenged anyone in America to fight him for $500, Sullivan had won over 450 fights in his career.

In 1883 - 1884 Sullivan went on a coast-to-coast tour by train with five other boxers. It was scheduled to comprise 195 performances in 136 different cities and towns over 238 days. To help promote the tour, Sullivan announced that he would box anyone at any time during the tour under the Queensberry Rules for $250. He knocked out eleven men during the tour.

Paddy Ryan, 1887

[edit] Championships

A cigarette trading card of Sullivan produced in late 1886.

In Sullivan's era, no formal boxing titles existed. He became a champion after defeating Paddy Ryan in Mississippi City, near Gulfport, Mississippi on February 7, 1882. Modern authorities have retroactively labelled Ryan the "Heavyweight Champion of America", but any claim to Ryan's being a "world champion" would have been dubious; he'd never contended internationally as Sullivan had. Depending on the modern authority, Sullivan was first considered world heavyweight champion either in 1888 when he fought Charley Mitchell in France, or the following year when he knocked out Jake Kilrain in round 75 of a scheduled 80-round bout. Arguably the real first World Heavyweight champion was Jem Mace who defeated Tom Allen in 1870 at Kenner, Louisiana, but strong anti-British sentiment within the mostly Irish American boxing community at that time chose to disregard him. When the modern authorities talk of the heavyweight championship of the world, they are probably referring to the championship belt presented to Sullivan in Boston on August 8, 1887. The belt was inscribed Presented to the Champion of Champions, John L. Sullivan, by the Citizens of the United States. Its centerpiece featured the flags of the US, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Mitchell came from Birmingham, England and fought Sullivan in 1883, knocking him down in the first round. Their second meeting took place in 1888 on the grounds of a chateau at Chantilly, France in driving rain. It went on for more than two hours, at the end of which both men were unrecognisable and had suffered much loss of blood; neither could lift his arms to punch and the contest was considered a draw.

The local gendarmerie arrived at this point and managed to arrest Mitchell, who spent the next few days in a cell and was later fined by the local magistrate,[citation needed] boxing being illegal in France at that time.[citation needed] Sullivan managed to evade the law, swathed in bandages, and was taken back across the English Channel to spend the next few weeks convalescing in Liverpool. Mitchell acted as Sullivan's corner man for many years after.

[edit] The Kilrain fight

Jake Kilrain 1899

Sullivan-Kilrain fight
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Sullivan - Kilrain Fight

Jim Corbett

The Kilrain fight is considered to be a turning point in boxing history because it was the last world title bout fought under the London Prize Ring rules and therefore the last bare-knuckle heavyweight title bout. It was one of the first American sporting events to receive national press coverage.

For the first time, newspapers carried extensive pre-fight coverage, reporting on the fighters' training and speculating on where the bout would take place. The center of activity was New Orleans, but the governor of Louisiana had forbidden the fight in that state. Sullivan had trained for months in Belfast, New York under trainer William Muldoon, whose biggest problem had been keeping Sullivan from liquor.

Rochester reporter Arch Merrill commented that occasionally Sullivan would "escape" from his guard, and the cry was heard in the village, "John L. is loose again. Send for Muldoon!" Muldoon would snatch the champ away from the bar and take him back to their training camp.

On July 8, 1889, an estimated 3000 spectators boarded special trains for the secret location, which turned out to be Richburg, a town just south of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The fight began at 10:30 the following morning, and it looked as if Sullivan was going to lose, especially after he vomited during the 44th round. But the champion got his second wind after that, and Kilrain's manager finally threw in the towel after the 75th round.

[edit] Later career

Undefeated at that point, Sullivan did not defend his title for the next four years.

Corbett licks Sullivan

Sullivan agreed to defend his title in 1892, against challenger "Gentleman Jim" Corbett. The match was on 7 September in New Orleans, Louisiana. It began at 9PM in the electrically illuminated Olympic Club in the city's Bywater section, the venue filled to its 10,000 person capacity despite hefty ticket prices ranging from $5 to $15 (approximately $117 to $353 in 2009 dollars). The heavyweight contest occurred under the Marquess of Queensberry rules, but it was neither the first title fight under those rules nor was it the first title fight using boxing gloves. Corbett was younger, faster and his boxing technique enabled him to dodge Sullivan's crouch and rush style. In the 21st round Corbett landed a smashing left "audible throughout the house" that put Sullivan down for good. Sullivan was counted out and Corbett declared the new champion. When Sullivan was able to get back to his feet, he announced to the crowd, "if I had to get licked I'm glad I was licked by an American".[1]

Sullivan is considered the last bare-knuckle champion because no champion after him fought bare-knuckled. However, Sullivan had fought with gloves under the Marquess of Queensberry rules as early as 1880 and he only fought bare knuckle three times in his entire career (Ryan 1882, Mitchell 1888, and Kilrain 1889). His bare-knuckle image was created because both his infrequent fights from 1888 up to the Corbett fight in 1892 had been bare-knuckle.

[edit] Retirement

John L. Sullivan 1898

Sullivan retired to Abington but appeared in several exhibitions over the next 12 years, including a three-rounder against Tom Sharkey and a final two-rounder against Jim McCormick in 1905 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He continued his various careers outside boxing such as stage actor, speaker, celebrity baseball umpire, sports reporter, and bar owner.

Overweight and unhealthy from a long life of overindulging in food and drinks as well as from the effects from prizefighting, Sullivan died at age 59 and is buried in the Old Calvary Cemetery in Mattapan, now a neighborhood of Boston. He died with barely 10 dollars in his pocket.

[edit] Legacy

  • He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, as a member of the hall's original class. He had a record of 35 wins, 1 loss and 2 draws, with 30 wins by knockout, though many sources disagree on his exact record.
  • He is known to have been an autograph signer, and there are many items including documents and photos known to bear his signature, which are valued in the hundreds of dollars. A photo with a facsimile autograph surfaced decades ago on books, magazines and in novelty stores, and has been widely circulated.
  • The male nightwear garment known as 'Long Johns' are said to be named because he often boxed in an outfit that looked like long underpants.
  • His grandson (Frederick A D Sullivan) was also a successful professional boxer in the late 60's and attained a Light Heavyweight World title, only retaining it once before he was drafted in 1971 during Vietnam. Due to injuries inflicted in the war, he could not renew his license to fight again when he returned home in 1974.
  • The barn where Sullivan trained still stands in the small town of Belfast, NY and is now a museum which has been visited by Leon Spinks.[2]
  • There is a non-player character in a computer game Fallout 2 named John L. Sullivan. He is a retired boxer of Irish descent and he can teach the player "pugilism", which he calls "the manly, uh, and womanly art of hand-to-hand combat".
  • In the 1994 movie Timecop, a 1929 thug mentioned he "went 10 rounds with John L. Sullivan himself"--before being kicked in the gut and backhanded to the floor by TEC Agent Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who only "saw Tyson beat Spinks on TV."

[edit] Further reading

  • John Lawrence Sullivan, Dudley Allen Sargent. Life and reminiscences of a 19th century gladiator. Boston: J.A. Hearn & co., 1892. Google books
  • Washington Post; July 30, 1905; by John L. Sullivan; "'Your hands are too big; you'll never make a boxer,' was one of the bits of discouragement passed to me when I was beginning to attract notice as a puncher. That was the popular notion at that time, because Sayers, Heenan, Yankee Sullivan, and some other good men who had made their tally and passed up had small hands."

[edit] Professional boxing record

38 Wins (32 knockouts, 6 decisions), 1 Loss (1 knockout, 0 decisions), 2 Draws, 1 No Contest [2]
Result Record Opponent Type Round Date Location Notes
Loss 38-1-2
1 NC
United States

James J. Corbett
KO 21 (?) 07/09/1892
United States

Olympic Club, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
For World Heavyweight title. The first 4 rounds were all repeats; Corbett flitting and dancing elusively around the ring, with Sullivan trundling cumbersomely in pursuit. After that, Corbett moved in closer, jabbing, his lefts moving straight as a sharpshooter’s bullet to Sullivan’s face. The rest of the fight was routine. In the 21st round Corbett landed a smashing left "audible throughout the house" that put Sullivan down for good.
Draw 38-0-2
1 NC
United Kingdom

Charley Mitchell
PTS 39 (?) 10/03/1888

Baron Rothschild's Training Groung, Chantilly, Oise, France
A finish fight.
Win 38-0-1
1 NC
William Samuells TKO 3 (3) 05/01/1888

Philharmonic Hall, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Draw 37-0-1
1 NC
United States

Patsy Cardiff
PTS 6 18/01/1887
United States

Washington Roller Rink, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Sullivan broke his left arm in the 1st round after missing a punch at the elusive Cardiff. Forced to use only his right for the remainder of the fight, he could not catch up with the smaller man and the fight was declared a draw after the end of the scheduled 4 rounds. Attendance: 8,000.
Win 37–0
1 NC
Republic of Ireland

Paddy Ryan
KO 3 (?) 13/11/1886
United States

San Francisco, California, United States
In the 2nd round, Sullivan landed a perfectly timed counter punch to drop his fading opponent and, when Ryan got up, put him down twice more before the close of the round. Ryan fought a brave fight and came out for the 3rd, but had nothing left. He was devastated by a right hand and floored twice more before the police interrupted.
Win 36–0
1 NC
United States

Frank Herald
TD 2 (?) 18/09/1886
United States

Coliseum Rink, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Sullivan used his size advantage to drive his opponent to the ropes through much of the 1st round. The 2nd became a wrestling, holding, and fouling match. Police stopped this fight in the 2nd round after Herald was dropped. Referee awarded decision to Sullivan as per agreement that allowed for a decision if there was a police stoppage.
Win 35–0
1 NC
United States

Dominick McCaffrey
PTS 7 (6) 29/08/1885
United States

Chester Drving Park, near Cinncinati, Ohio, United States
In the 6th round, after the champion tackled the challenger to the floor, referee Billy Tate stopped the fight to save McAffrey from further punishment and declared Sullivan the winner. Both fighters subsequently agreed to fight a 7th, unofficial round without a referee present. Sullivan is named the 1st Heavyweight Champion under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules after this victory.
Win 34–0
1 NC
United Kingdom

Jack Burke
PTS 5 13/06/1885
United States

Driving Park, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Sullivan vs. Burke.
NC 33–0
1 NC
Republic of Ireland

Paddy Ryan
NC 1 (?) 19/01/1885
United States

New York, New York, United States
Both fighters appeared badly out of shape and showed little action however. Sullivan had only just started to take control in the 1st round when police stopped the affair on orders from Mayor William Grace. Sullivan was declared winner of the abortive bout and he split his winnings with the near destitute Ryan.
Win 33–0
United Kingdom

Alf Greenfield
PTS 4 12/01/1885
United States

Institute Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
In this fight, Greenfield did his best to avoid all contact with the champion. He nearly ran around the ring in an effort to keep away and, when Sullivan drew dangerously near, Greenfield simply clinched. He lasted the scheduled four round distance, but the small crowd in attendance booed both champion and challenger. Owing to the order of the police captain, Sullivan carried Greenfield.
Win 32–0
United Kingdom

Alf Greenfield
TD 2 (?) 18/11/1884
United States

New York, New York, United States
The 1st round of the match showed little action, with Greenfield landing the few telling blows. Sullivan came on in the 2nd, attacking ferociously, while Greenfield resorted to holding. Pinned in a corner, Greenfield suffered a cut above his left eye, prompting Clubber Williams, Chief of Police to step in and end the affair. Announcer Billy Williams declared Sullivan the winner.
Win 31–0 John Laflin KO 4 (?) 10/11/1884
United States

New York, New York, United States
Hybrid rules. After being dropped in the 1st round, Laflin was given 30 seconds to recover, in LPR fashion, before continuing. Sullivan had completed his exhibition tour of the U.S. 6 months earlier and had fallen badly out of shape in the interim, but did do some minor training for this appearance.
Win 30–0 Enos Phillips KO 4 (?) 02/05/1884
United States

Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Part of world champion Sullivan's grand tour of the U.S.. Sullivan carried the challenger for 3 rounds, moving and lightly sparring. In the 4th, he finally attacked, flooring Phillips 3 times before the local police interfered.
Win 29–0 William Fleming KO 1 (4) 01/05/1884
United States

Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Part of world champion Sullivan's grand tour of the U.S.. Fleming was allegedly drunk on fight night. Sullivan knocked him out with his first right hand punch, landed to the jaw. Fleming went completely unconscious and Sullivan later claimed this bout, lasting just two seconds, to be his quickest knockout.
Win 28–0 Dan Henry KO 1 (4) 29/04/1884
United States

Hot Springs, Arkansas, United States
Part of world champion Sullivan's grand tour of the U.S..
Win 27–0 Al Marx KO 1 (4) 10/04/1884
United States

Grand Opera House, Galveston, Texas, United States
He suffered 3 knockdowns before the end of the first minute of action, and "threw up the sponge." Part of world champion Sullivan's grand tour of the U.S..
Win 26–0 George M Robinson DQ 4 (4) 06/03/1884
United States

Mechanic's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, United States
Robinson went down 51-66 times in 4 rounds until finally disqualified for going down without being hit.
Win 25–0 James Lang KO 1 (4) 06/02/1884
United States

Seattle, Washington, United States
Win 24–0 Sylvester Le Gouriff KO 1 (4) 01/02/1884
United States

Astoria, Oregon, United States
Win 23–0 Fred Robinson KO 2 (?) 12/01/1884
United States

Butte, Montana, United States
Robinson was Sullivan's 5th challenger on his latest exhibition tour across the U.S.. 2000 people watch Robinson take a horrid beating, going down a total of 15 times in just two rounds before the fight was called off.
Win 22–0 Mike Sheehan TKO 1 (?) 04/12/1883
United States

Davenport, Iowa, United States
This bout was part of Sullivan's grand exhibition tour of the U.S. after winning the title. Sheehan was a Davenport blacksmith who somehow became known as "the strongest man in Iowa."
Win 21–0 Morris Hefey KO 1 (?) 26/11/1883
United States

Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Part of Sullivan's grand exhibition tour of the U.S.. Hefey was floored 3 times in 30 seconds.
Win 20–0 Jim Miles TKO 1 (?) 03/11/1883
United States

East St. Louis, Illinois, United States
Part of Sullivan's grand exhibition tour of the U.S.. Police found it necessary to stop the bout after only 20 seconds of action to save Miles from further punishment, yet the challenger insisted he be allowed to continue. When he rushed past the police and at Sullivan, the champion slapped him off of the stage.
Win 19–0
United States

James McCoy
KO 1 (?) 17/10/1883
United States

McKeesport, Pennsylvania, United States
McCoy was Sullivan's first challenger of his 1883-1884 "Grand Tour," another of his exhibition tours criss-crossing through the country offering to pay the locals to step into the ring with him. McCoy landed few punches before a one-two combination from Sullivan put him flat. After 20 seconds, it was all over.
Win 18–0
New Zealand

Herbert Maori Slade
TKO 3 (?) 06/08/1883
United States

Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, United States
Sullivan vs. Slade.
Win 17–0
United Kingdom

Charley Mitchell
TKO 3 (?) 14/05/1883
United States

New York, New York, United States
Mitchell knocked Sullivan down it the 1st round.
Win 16–0 P J Rentzler TKO 1 (4) 17/11/1882
United States

Theatre Comique, Washington, United States
Win 15–0 Charley O'Donnell KO 1 (?) 30/10/1882
United States

Chicago, Illinois, United States
This was part of champion Sullivan's nationwide tour offering 500 dollars to any man who could last 4 rounds against him. O'Donnell was knocked down 5 times during the fight.
Win 14–0
United States

S P Stockton
KO 2 (?) 16/10/1882
United States

Fort Wayne, Indiana, United States
Win 13–0 Henry Higgins TKO 3 (4) 23/09/1882
United States

St. James A.C., Buffalo, New York, United States
Part of Sullivan's nationwide exhibition tour.
Win 12–0
Republic of Ireland

Jimmy Elliot
KO 3 (?) 04/07/1882
United States

Brooklyn, New York, United States
Elliot was a former claimant to the Heavyweight Championship of America. Elliot was floored twice in the opening round and once at the close of the 2nd. At the opening of the 3rd, a blow to the throat put Elliott down for the count.
Win 11–0 John McDermont TKO 3 (?) 20/04/1882
United States

Grand Opera House, Rochester, New York, United States
Part of Sullivan's tour of the Northeastern U.S.. McDermont did well to last into the 3rd round, mostly by keeping his distance from Sullivan, who had to take breaks to catch his breath. Eventually, Sullivan knocked him out, to the boos of his audience.
Win 10–0
United States

Jack Burns
KO 1 (4) 03/09/1881
United States

Chicago, Illinois, United States
Part of John Sullivan's 1881 tour of the Northeast. Burns fashioned himself the Michigan state boxing champion and was both taller and heavier that Sullivan. However, Sullivan made short work of him. Down within 20 seconds, Burns rose shakily to his feet but a blow to the mouth sent him careening into the audience below.
Win 9–0
United States

Captain James Dalton
KO 4 (4) 13/08/1881
United States

United States
This fight took place during Sullivan's tour of the Northeastern U.S.. Dalton survived into the 4th round, longer than any of Sullivan's previous opponents on the tour. Still, Sullivan dominated the action and dealt Dalton a severe beating until the tugboat captain collapsed in the 4th.
Win 8–0 Dan McCarty KO 1 (?) 21/07/1881
United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
This was the second fight of Sullivan's tour of the Northeastern U.S.. The fight did not last a round, with an early punch to the neck sending McCarty sprawling to the floor.
Win 7–0 Fred Crossley KO 1 (4) 11/07/1881
United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
This was the first bout of Sullivan's tour of the Northeast, arranged by his manager, Billy Madden. The fight proved a horrible mismatch, with Sullivan forcing an already bloodied Crossley to flee to his corner and quit in the opening round.
Win 6–0 John Flood KO 8 (?) 16/05/1881
United States

Yonkers, New York, United States
LPR bout with hard gloves, lasted 16 minutes total. Fight held on a barge six miles up the Hudson River.
Win 5–0
Republic of Ireland

Steve Taylor
TKO 2 (4) 31/03/1881
United States

Harry Hill's, New York, New York, United States
This is the fight that helped first establish Sullivan's reputation within the fight community of New York.
Win 4–0
United States

Professor John Donaldson
RTD 10 (?) 24/12/1880
United States

Pacific Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Scheduled fight to the finish. LPR rules with hard gloves. On the 10th round Donaldson was too much exhausted to come to the scratch.
Win 3–0
United States

George Rooke
KO 3 (?) 28/06/1880
United States

Boston, Massachusetts, United States
The bout was officially labeled a boxing exhibition under Marquess of Queensberry Rules to please local authorities, but the fighting was serious. Sullivan used his size advantages to score 3 knockdowns in the opening 3 minutes. During the 3rd round, believing the action too "realistic," police stopped the match to save Rooke, who may have been drunk, from further punishment.
Win 2–0
United States

Johnny Cocky Woods
KO 5 (?) 14/03/1879
United States

Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Win 1–0 Jack Curley KO ? (?) 13/03/1879
United States

Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Sullivan won this fight to the finish (likely LPR rules with gloves) in 1 hour and 14 minutes.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: John L. Sullivan
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Paddy Ryan
World Heavyweight Champion
1882 – 1892
Succeeded by
James J. Corbett
Name Sullivan, John L.
Alternative names
Short description
Date of birth October 15, 1858
Place of birth Roxbury, Massachusetts, USA
Date of death February 2, 1918
Place of death Mattapan, Massachusetts, USA
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