ON this day in 1858 one of the greatest names in boxing history was born. John L. Sullivan was one of the first sporting heroes in America and is a boxing immortal, and he is widely considered the link between bare knuckle fighting and glove fighting.
SULLIVAN won the American heavyweight title in 1882, when he beat Paddy Ryan in a bare knuckle contest, dominating Ryan to win by a ninth round knockout. He was awarded the world title in 1885 and reigned for 10 years, but refused to fight any black boxers throughout his reign, drawing what was to be known as boxing’s “colour line”.
HE had shown proficiency with his fists way before that though, as he used to fight in the Boston barrooms, where he used to issue an open challenge, saying that he “could lick any man in the house”.
HE lost his title in what was to be his final fight, against James J. Corbett in New Orleans in 1892. It was the first world heavyweight title fight fought under Queensbury rules, and as a result, Sullivan’s claim to the title as we know it is a questionable one. Corbett was known for his superb boxing ability and knocked out the out-of-shape Sullivan in the 21st round.
SULLIVAN retired, following a career where he fought all over the world, not just in matches but in exhibitions and bare knuckle fights as well. He was a heavy drinker throughout his career, but swore off the drink after he retired and tried his hand at acting, before finally becoming a temperance lecturer.
SULLIVAN depleted most of the fortune he had won during his career, retiring to a Massachusetts farm and was also married three times in his life.
HE died of a heart attack in February 1918, but even his burial, like a lot of his career, didn’t go entirely to plan. Apparently the ground was so frozen that they needed dynamite to blast a hole for the grave.
HIS old bare knuckle rival Jake Kilrain, who Sullivan knocked out in the 75th round in the last ever bare knuckle title fight in 1889, said “Old John L. would have approved”.
SULLIVAN is still remembered as a true great and legend of the sport, with a record of 38(32)-1-1 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 as part of the original class.
HE was a true trailblazer and summed up boxing in his own way, once telling a reporter: “There’s nothing to fighting. Just come out fast from your corner, hit the other fellow as hard as you can and hit him first.”