John L. Sullivan
By Christopher Powers
John L. Sullivan was born in the South End of Boston,Massachusetts on October 12, 1858. His father, Michael Sullivan was from Abbeydorney, County Kerry and his mother was from Athlone, County Westmeath. From a young age, Sullivan was fighting others. This got him the nickname The Boston Strongboy. He got in trouble many times because he would practice fighting with other boys in areas where boxing was outlawed.
On his first boxing tour, Sullivan had an idea to bring more popularity to him and his fellow fighters: he would fight people on the street for the chance to win $250. It is because of these undocumented fights that his record of won fights was about 450. His career record was 40-1-2. Sullivan became a champion in 1882 when on February 7th he defeated Paddy Ryan in Mississippi City. He was now known as the American Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
In 1889, Sullivan fought and defeated Jake Kilrain. The Kilrain fight is considered to be a turning point of Boxing history. The fight was the last world title bout fought under the London Prize Ring Rules, and it was the last bare-knuckle heavyweight title fight to take place. It was the first time in boxing’s existence that newspapers carried extensive pre-fight coverage. There were full articles on the fighters’ trainings, and they even speculated where the fight would take place, as it had been banned in a number of areas in the United States.
On July 8th, 1889, an estimated 3,000 spectators boarded special trains to the secret location of the fight, which turned out to be Richburg, a town just south of Hattiesburg Mississippi. The entire fight seemed to be going in Kilrain’s favor. This feeling that Kilrain was going to win intensified when Sullivan vomited in the 44th round. Yet Sullivan got his second wind, and after the 75th round, Kilrain’s manager threw in the towel.
Afterwards, Sullivan did not defend his title until 1892. His challenger was “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. The match began at 9 p.m. on the 7th of September in New Orleans. In the 21st round Corbett landed a decisive left, and knocked Sullivan out. When he regained consciousness, it is reported that Sullivan said, “if I had to get licked I’m glad I was licked by an American.”
Sullivan retired to Abington, Massachusetts where he took up many other jobs such as a stage actor, a public speaker, a celebrity baseball umpire, a sport reporter, and a bar owner. He also did a few exhibitions matches for another 12 years as well. But because of his unhealthy eating habits and overindulgence in liquor, as well as the effects of fighting for a living, Sullivan died at age 59.