Sign in to follow this  

John L Sullivan - his story

Recommended Posts


Sullivan – biography

The Boston Globe

4 Feb 1918

John L Sullivan’s Life, as it was written by himself

Part 1 of 22

By John L Sullivan

In beginning this narrative or my life and rather turbulent career, I want it distinctly understood that I am not and never was ashamed of having been a fighter. To attain anything in this world every man must fight and to reach the top he must win. Life itself is a fight. Even the art of writing is a fight. If any of my readers have any doubts on that subject they should see me with a pencil and paper in my hand trying to knock ideas out of my head, trying to fill these pages. When I went on a grand tour of the United States and faced all comers, I did not find a single man as hard to knock out as I do this first chapter.

As I said before, life is a fight from beginning to end. The world is full of fights, and those you see directing the affairs of the Nation are the winners. They have fought their way to the top, and that is the only way to get there. Even. the preachers have to fight. They go into the pulpit with the idea, of knocking out the Devil, and by the way that Devil seems to be about the only fighter that ever stuck it out regardless of age.

They keep pounding on him, however, and while they have never succeeded in knocking him out completely, Old Satan has never got any better than a draw. The man who stands out in law, medicine or any other profession has to fight his way to the top, and the poor

boy who starts out to reach the top was to fight his way to honors as well as to fight off poverty at the same time.

Desire to Excel

It may or may not be morally right for one man to stand up and strike another with his fists, but it is the same old idea — a desire to excel. If you will remember away back yonder in the time of Julius Caesar — well, I guess you can't remember that far back, neither can I — anyway, at that time the historians, tell us of how great multitudes arose and marveled at the muscles of the man." That was many years before the corning of Christ, and even then people were congregating to look some fellow over who showed some signs of being a champion. The same thing has been true ever since. Did you ever notice that throngs are on hand to greet a champion just after he has won a big fight?. The rivalry between men for physical superiority is what is left of our ancient animal instincts and will be continued until the end of time.

The lion ruled the forest because he was the best fighter. Among all the wild fighters the leader of the herd is always the one who has won his spurs by showing physical superiority. Some time ago I was standing in back of stage curtain of a moving picture show. At the start a picture of President Taft was thrown on the screen and it got a fair round of applause. Next came Roosevelt, and he received an even a little better applause. They then flashed a picture of Jim Jeffries on the screen, and I thought the crowd would tear up the house.

It was almost an ovation. The next was that of George Washington the Father of His Country, and he only got a ripple of handclapping. I do not think, however, that the favoritism toward Jeffries was so much on account of lack of respect or admiration for the others, he was simply the man of the hour — the man who was getting ready for the champion of the world with his fists.

I merely relate that incident to show what a hold any man of muscle and brawn has on the American public. Very few men can ever reach the ideal of physical perfection, and those who do attain that honor are looked upon as heroes who have done something for the physical uplifting of the race. Now. this is not a lecture, but I could not refrain from giving my readers a few of my views in regard to the ancient sport, business or whatever you may pleased to call it, of fighting.

Having passed the half century mark in years, and being able to look back over a career of strife and excitement, my mind drifts to a little scene in the playground of a primary school in Concord St. Boston.

It Was The Beginning

It was the beginning. A knot of youngsters had gathered in the centre of the playground and from their gesticulations were evidently intensely excited. One youth held under his arm a little schoolboy’s hat, and in it was a handful of marbles, some of the best and prettiest marbles in the school. Another muscular looking youth had the bareheaded boy by the lapel of his coat and was talking in the strongest language a boy of 12 knows. To his coat tail was hanging a small pale faced boy, evidently in deep distress.

"Now, look here, Jerry," said the boy who was protecting the weaker youth, "You've got to give this boy those marbles “

“ You know he won them on the level, because he beat you plain."

"I ain't going to give him nothing." Jerry said, "I couldn't shoot cause my thumb was sore."

"Ain't so." said I he little fellow "John,†when I beat him he grabbed all the marbles and tried to run away.

Don't let him keep them." "Jerry, go on and give this boy those marbles.

The boy spoken to as John was evidently getting angry, His eyes flashed and the muscles in his small arms began to move up and down beneath the sleeve of his jacket. "I ain't going to give them," replied Jerry, doggedly, "and I don't, know of anybody that can make me. It's none of your business, anyhow."

"You ain't, eh?" replied John and his eyes snapped, "Well, let me tell you something. When Bobby first came to this school his mother told me to look after him and I am going to do it. You've got to give him those marbles or you've got to lick me, one or the other."

At this the little gathering of boys applauded vigorously. They wanted to see a fight. "Go on and fight, him. Jerry, or give up the marbles," they yelled in chorus.

Jerry Was Willing

Jerry appeared to be willing, and after handing his cap and marbles to one of the boys the two youthful fighters squared and got ready for an honest set-to. The other boys gathered in a circle, which in schoolboy customs means a guarantee of fair play. After a little jumping around Jerry ran at his antagonist and tried to plant a blow on his face, but it failed. John blocked the blow, and came back with another that narrowly missed Jerry's ear.

"Hit him, John; hit him!" yelled little Bobbie, "he is a big bluffer." John tried but failed and Jerry stung him with a glancing blow to the cheek. That appeared to get up the Irish in John and, like a whirlwind, he waded into a clinch, his elbow rubbed into Jerry's ribs. Jerry reached for the spot with his right hand and as he did so John's right shot out and struck him squarely on the jaw". Jerry dropped

to the ground defeated.

"Here's your marbles, Bobby," said John. "Ain't hurt much, are you, Jerry?" he asked the fallen boy. "Let's shake hands."

"Guess I was wrong, anyway," said Jerry. "Let's be. friends."

From that date on these two boys— Jerry and John—were the best of friends. They were both named Sullivan, but were no kin.

The winner of that fight was yours truly, John L. Sullivan, and it was the first big fight of his career. Moreover, that fight was on the level and it was fair. I stuck to that principle the rest of my life.

That little fight in the schoolyard on Concord St taught me that the place to strike a man and knock him out without injuring him permanently was on the point of the jaw. Practically every man that was ever knocked out by me took the count from a punch on the jaw.

I was not a quarrelsome boy, and as a rule had little trouble, but it so happened that my prowess as a boxer spread around the school and many a little lad I had had to defend in the years that followed. My success as a regular boxer and fighter for money will be told in the chapters that follow.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 2

I have always believed that I inherited my love for athletic games and muscular feats from my father, who came from County Kerry, Ireland. My big frame and general physical build came from my mother’s side of the family. She was born in County Roscommon, Ireland, and she came from a race of big men.

My father was a little fellow weighing no more than 130 pounds. What he lacked in size however was made up in enthusiasm over great athletic stunts. In fact he grew so enthusiastic at times that he almost forgot facts and figures. That was especially true as to things that were supposed to have happened in Ireland. He could never “see†anything that occurred in America.

During my fight with Paddy Ryan for the championship my father spent time in a newspaper office in Boston getting the telegraphic details. When the fight was over and my father learned that I had won he was taken home in a cab. Several friend were along with him and he was being showered with congratulations.

“Well Mr Sullivan†said one of the newspaper men, “ I guess you are very proud of your son, aren’t youâ€

“And what for ? “ asked the old gentleman in a derogatory manner.

“Why, because he has just won the championshipâ€, replied the young man.

Nothing Said His Father

“That’s nothing, me son†said the old gentleman.â€There’s many a man in Ireland who kin knock the face of himâ€

While I knew the old gentleman was proud of his son at heart, he would never allow me to think so. I shall never forget the manner in which he greeted me on my return.

“So you are the champion eh ?†he said after looking me over. “Well he continued. It’s a good thing that you don’t fight in Irelandâ€

In the room with my father was an old gentleman named Hudson. They began to ply me with questions as to what I had seen while travelling around the country. The talk was on matters pertaining to athletics and great muscular feats.

I began to tell them about a great athlete James Maloney who I had seen jump in and out of 10 flour barrels and make a running jump of 22 feet. I think the record then was 21 feet.

“Sure that nothing†said the old man. “you have no jumpers in this country . I mind a fellow born in Ireland who jumped across the Shannon river and it was 32 feet from bank to bank at the narrowest placeâ€

“Well “ I replied a little testily “ I guess you never had a man over there who could do what George Washington didâ€. “And what was that ?. asked the two of them. “Why he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac river when he was only 18 years oldâ€.

That stumped the old men for a minute. “Well ye know my boy†finally said my father, “Ye know a dollar went a long way in them daysâ€.

Learned To Keep Cool

I quickly learned that the advantage was in keeping cool and making every blow count. I was naturally very strong. In fact I weighed 200 pounds before I had reached the age of 21. I was quite a good runner, a good baseball player, and a fair Jumper. I liked boxing better and I made that a specialty.

At that time boxing was quite the rage around the athletic clubs of Boston and I fell right in with the sport. I always believed in fighting with gloves. At this time I was working as an apprentice plumber trying to learn the trade. I got along very nicely and did not have as much time as I would have liked to devote to boxing. I went to the clubs at night and was beginning to make some reputation as an amateur boxer.

I worked the plumbing trade for 6 months. When the water pipes in the old Williams market were frozen a journeyman and myself were sent there. We went with all the necessary appliances which were used for thawing out pipes in the plumbing trade, including lighted torch and hot water. After a hard day’s work in which I carried all the water the journeyman and myself had some words. I told him that I thought I had carried enough and that he could have a few hours of that work himself. This caused some feeling between us and resulted in our having a scrap over the affair, and right there I won another fight. He made his escape to the shop which was only a few doors from where we were working.

When Career began

A few nights after that my career as a boxer really began. I dropped into a variety show at the Dudley Street Opera House. I knew that there was to bee a boxing exhibition, but I had no idea of taking any part in it. I took a seat among some friends near the first row. A strong looking young fellow named Scannell was introduced as a great boxer, he walked to the footlights and said.

“ I would be glad to put the gloves on with any man in the house. If there is anybody here who thinks I cant lick him, let him stand upâ€

I could feel that everybody in the house was turning his eyes on me. Having had some local reputation as a boxer they naturally expected me to accept the challenge.

I walked to the stage and went into the wings. I had no fighting togs, so I simply took off my collar and rolled up my sleeves. I walked out on the stage and everybody laughed because I looked so queer in my street clothes, while the great fighter had on tights. I was very timid at being on stage, and I stood around for a second, as if waiting for the fighters to be introduced.

As I stood there with my hands down that fellow Scannell walked up behind me and gave me an awful clout on the back of the head that almost knocked me cold. I was enraged at this, but did not lose my senses. Turning my head very quickly I saw Scannell smiling at the crowd as if he had done a very smart trick.

I was determined to get even with that fellow and without turning my head I slowly edged up to him until I had got within range. I then turned like a flash and let loose my big right fist. The blow caught him squarely on the point of the jaw and lifted him clearly of his feet. I swung so hard that I knocked him over the top of the piano and into the orchestra. He crashed into the works of that piano and made the inside of it look like a load of splinters. He kept falling until he had broken three of the fiddles and your ought to have heard them howl. They wanted the money for their broken fiddles, but I told them to collect it from Scannell. Scannell came to about an hour afterward.

I didn’t get any money for that fight, but had the pleasure of taking the fight out of the fellow who had hit me from behind and broke up a German orchestra as well.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks mate

part 3

As a youth I was a very industrious young fellow, and, unlike many fighters, I never had much trouble making money. When I quit the tinsmithing business I was getting $21 a week and that was considered good pay in those days.

I was one of the best amateur ball players around Boston and played with the Tremonts, the Etnas, Our Boys and several other clubs. I used to get $25 for playing a game and I got that twice a week. I played first base and right field and was a good hitter. In 1870 I was offered $1300 to play with the then famous Cincinnati Reds in Its seasons of 1870 and 1880.

I had the boxing fever, however, and did not accept the offer. Between my baseball playing

and my boxing exhibitions around town I was making as much as $1000 a week before I was 21 years old.

Having made up my mind to become a fighter I went at it in a systematic way. I never had a teacher. I never took a boxing lesson in my life, I watched other boxers keenly and appropriated the best of their styles. I was strong and that made it easy for me to experiment.

The first regular sparring match — they would call it a fight these days that I ever had was in 1878, when I met Johnny Woods, better known as "Cocky" Woods, in Cockerill Hall, Hanover St, Boston. He was also a Bostonian and was a man of considerable reputation, having been matched to fight Heenan, the Benecia boy. After a little preliminary sizing' up I planted a clean wallop on his jaw and he was out.

You must understand that at this time practically all championship fights were fought under the old London prize ring rules., They differ vastly from the Marquis of Queensberry rules that are used today.

London Prize Ring Rules

Under London prize ring rules the rounds may last one minute or they may last 10. Whenever either fighter is knocked or wrestled to the ground the gong- sounds and the round is over.

Thirty seconds are allowed for rest, but the fighters were more apt to get three minutes. That 30 seconds of time is supposed to start from the moment the fighter is placed in his chair in the corner of the ring. Consequently the old fighters did a lot of "stalling." for instance, they would fall to the ground and the trainers would take plenty of time in going to pick them up. These

seconds would make a chair out of their arms and hands and place the fighters on it. They would take all the time they could to get back to the corner and then after they got there the fighter

would still have 30 seconds.

There are a lot of fighters in America today who would have a hard time getting along under the old London prize ring rules, especially if they had to fight with their bare fists. During the year 1880 I had many fights and succeeded in beating two such men as Dan Dwyer and Tommy Chandler

This was not the "Tom" Chandler of Pacific Coast fame, however. Later In that year I got my chance to be known as a coming fighter. It was through Prof Mike Donovan, the man who trained President Roosevelt, that I got a first peep at fame. I agreed to box with Donovan at a benefit performance given him by some friends at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston.

We wound up the fight in three rounds, and toward the finish I really tried to knock him out. I didn't quite make it, however, and we left the stage with the crowd cheering. The master of ceremonies, thinking we were sore at each other, made us shake hands. Donovan was a clever boxer and I surprised him by my ability to stand him off. !

When we reached our dressing rooms upstairs we had a long talk.

"John," he said, "1 believe you really tried to knock me out."

"O, no," said I, as 1 winked to one of my seconds. "I didn't try very hard to finish you."

"Well, I'm going to be honest with you, John," he said, "and tell you that I tried my best to knock you out,and I was surprised I failed to do it." "Well, I'll be honest," I. replied, "and tell you that I came within an inch of putting the knockout wallop over. If you hadn't dodged that last one that

was aimed at your jaw you wouldn't have come to yet."

They Didn't Believe It

Prof Donovan returned to New York and" told Joe Goss, George Booke and other knowing ones around that city that he had found a comer up in Boston that was going to be the boss of the mat.

"O, tell that to the sailors," Goss replied. "I would like to get a peep at him. Can't you show him to us?" Donovan told them that they would see me before long. Goss, at that time, if you remember, was one of England's greatest champions, and, incidentally, he was a great fellow to know.

It was so arranged that I was to meet Goss on April 6, 1880, at a testimonial given to him in Music Hall, Boston. That gave me the first chance to demonstrate to the wise ones that I was to

become one of the world's greatest exponents of the manly art of fighting.

We boxed three rounds, and I could have knocked him out completely, but my friends advised me not to do so.

In the second round we were standing toe to toe and slugging when suddenly I let loose a right-handed swing and knocked him flat. He was all in, but his seconds managed to get him to his corner and save him for the next round. As he came in the third I could have finished him easily, but Tom Denny and Billy Edwards advised me not to do so, as I might hurt him worse than I intended.

Therefore I was very careful and sparred through the last round without trying for a knockout blow. As Goss was taken to his dressing rooms he turned to the referee and said: "That fellow's blows feel like the kick of a mule."

The next day the papers had a little article about the fight and one of them said: "Sullivan's terrific hitting on this occasion proved quite a sensation." You know, in those days the papers didn't have much to say about prize fighting. If a fighter got as much as two inches of reading' about himself before a fight came off he was lucky.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 4

When, at the age of 21, I spent two months in a strange city, fought a man twice to get a decision, was arrested by the police end then received a purse of $58 , and $20 of which I contributed myself for my troubles, I began to feel that I was a real prize fighter.

The city I visited was Cincinnati and the man I fought was John Donaldson, who was known far and wide as the "champion of the West." The fight advanced me to the first round of the pugilistic ladder and gave me an initial insight into the workings of the prize ring as the sport was conducted in those days.

My reputation as a boxer and fighter In Boston had spread throughout, the country. John McCormick, a sporting writer on the Cincinnati Enquirer, who later came to New York and write under the name of "Macon," conceived the idea of having a fight in Cincinnati between a good man from the East and the champion of the West.

Having found gentlemen who would give him financial backing: Mr McCormick packed his grip and started for Boston. They didn't do things through the papers In those days as much as they do now.

One afternoon I dropped into a sporting place known as Sheppard's, in Boston, and the proprietor told me there was a stranger there to see me. The visitor was Mr McCormick."I want you to come out to Cincinnati and see if you can best our champion in an exhibition boxing match," he said to me. "And I want to know what you will charge. Of course I will pay railroad expenses both ways."

I thought It over for a minute, and then agreed to go for $250. I thought that was putting the figure pretty high at that.

"That's a little high," he said, "but I'll tell you what I will do, I will pay your railroad fare and your hotel bill and give you $150."

"You're on," I replied, and the bargain was sealed.

Imagine a fighter of today going all the way from Boston to Cincinnati to fight the "champion of the West" for Why, they would charge you that much now for incidentals.

Started for the West

A few days thereafter I packed my grip and started out for the strange Western country. That is the first time I ever went away from home. Arriving at Cincinnati I had a week in which to get ready. I didn't need it, however, for I was ready all the time.

The boxing match was held in Robinson's Opera House, and when I stepped on the stage I saw that the place was jammed to the doors with people. I determined, then and there to put the Western champion out if I got a chance. Donaldson was a well built man and was a fighter of considerable note. He had licked a lot of good men out in that section of the country and I knew that if I even made it close the fight would give me some added reputation and finally lead me up to a fight for a championship.

Although considerable heavier than Donaldson, I was much quicker. He quickly realized that and attempted to keep out of my way. We were to box three rounds. It was in the second round that I caught him as he jumped and the blow floored him. I hit him so hard that he almost turned a somersault, and the spectators set up a shout of wild glee.

When the third round was over the crowd began yelling "Go on! Go on! Give us some more of it." Donaldson walked to the corner and removed his gloves. He refused to continue the fight.

"I am not in condition," he explained to the gang. "And as this man is in training I refuse to fight him." As a matter of fact, I had not trained as much as Donaldson. I was in perfect condition, however, and didn't need to train.

The crowd was in a big hubbub and everybody was clamoring for Donaldson to go on and have it out. I stood there for I knew that I could lick him. Finally Donaldson came to the footlights and made a speech. "I am not going to fight now because I am not in condition," he said. "But I here challenge John L. Sullivan to meet me in two months for $500 a side and the fight to be fought with hard gloves." "That suits me." I replied. "Get your money up."

Waited Two Months

As a matter of fact I did not have $500, but I had several friends in Cincinnati, who offered to put up the coin. Donaldson never did get up his money, but I was so anxious to get at him that I decided to fight, anyway. I stayed around Cincinnati for two months at my own expense to get this fight. Mr McCormick made good his contract to the letter and paid me $150 and expenses, but, of course, he had nothing to do with the second fight and I had to take a chance on getting what I could.

Donaldson and myself finally met on the night, of Dec 24. back of the old Atlantic garden on Vine St. We had intended fighting at some hall out of town, but the police got on to it and gave a warning not to start. There was a big crowd waiting to see that mill start. Those on the inside finally got the tip and we all slipped around to the hall back of Atlantic garden.

There was a crowd of less than 150 on hand when we finally got together, and none of them paid their way in. We were afraid of the police and had to rely on a collection. This was done by passing around the hat. I put $20 in the hat myself. I was counting on getting Donaldson’s $500 bet.

At the last minute he flickered on the money question, but said he, would get it as soon as his friends arrived. They never arrived.

We started the fight finally, under the London prize rules. It lasted 10 rounds, and when 1 finally hooked a hard right swing on Donaldson's jaw he went down and out. He had prolonged the fight by running around the ring and crawling on the floor when down. It was not a hard tight, for I had the best of it all the way through. If we had been fighting under Marquis of Queensberry rules I would have knocked Donaldson out in less than three rounds, but he kept stalling me off by hitting the floor und staying there.

Just $58 in the Hat

After I had been declared the winner I took the hat that held the money. When counted up it figured just $58, and I never saw anything of that $500 that was to have been bet by Donaldson, To add to my troubles as a coming fighter both Donaldson and myself were arrested the next day. Bobb Linn went bond for both of us. On the following Wednesday we were tried for "engaging In a prize fight."

The courtroom was packed when we came before the judge, and there were scores of witnesses. Their testimony kept the courtroom in an uproar of laughter until the Judge stopped it.

Johnny Moran, brother-in-law of Peter Moris, the well-known featherweight champion of England at one time, was the main witness. "Did you see a prize fight between these two men?" asked the judge. "No, your honor," replied Moran. "What I saw was a foot race."

"Well, who was ahead'.'" asked the judge.

"Donaldson was in the lead by several yards," replied Moran. "And Sullivan was hot behind him."

"Did he catch him?" asked the judge, who was enjoying the thing himself.

"Only once, judge," replied Moran.

"And then he barely touched him."

"Well, what happened then?" asked the Judge.

"Nothing, judge," replied the witness, "except that Donaldson stopped runningâ€

"You are discharged," said the judge to Donaldson and myself. "I fall to see any harm in a good footrace."


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 5

It was in Cincinnati that I first saw light ahead that would eventually lead me to the championship. My victory over John Donaldson had made me quite a favorite in the Ohio city, and I was advised to go after Paddy Ryan and not stop until I had nailed him. I needed no advice, however, for it had always been my one ambition to get Paddy Ryan, the champion, in the ring and let myself loose. Thus it was that the following challenge appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

To the Sporting Editor of the Enquirer:

I am prepared to make a match

To fight any man breathing for any

sum from $1000 to $10,000 at catch weights

This challenge is specially

directed at Paddy Ryan and will remain

open for a mouth, if he should

see fit not to accept it,

Respectfully yours.


I caught Ryan at Springfield, Mass, but he refused to either spar or fight me. "You go get a reputation before coming to me," said Ryan. I could clearly see he did not consider me worthy of his standing as a pugilist. Arriving in Boston, I was practically broke. I set about to raise some money in case Ryun should' accept my challenge. I got hold of Joe Goss, the English champion whom I had licked, and we gave a sparring: exhibition.

There were several bouts at the exhibition and one of the men I was selected to fight was Jack Stewart, called "The Champion of Canada." I shall never forget that fight, for it was the first time I had ever seen a man show the white feather in the ring. I cracked Stewart a couple of hard ones and in the second round he ran out of the ring and fled from the hall. Just as he was beating it into the wings I gave him a hard kick that helped him on his way.

Before the fight he had been parading around the theatre and telling everybody about what he was going to do to me. The exhibition netted $1300, which Goss and divided evenly.

Goss opened a sporting resort in Boston with his share of the money. I took the first train to New York. I had but one thing in view. I must get a reputation and at the same time get together enough money to make good on a bet with Ryan.

No "Stage Money" Then

You know, in those days, when a fighter said he would bet $500 he had to put it up. In this day and time they bet $10,000 and $15,000 at a crack, but that is easy. They never put it up. Most of the bets in prize fighting today are made on paper.

On the way to New York I thought out a scheme for getting money that later proved to be the greatest novelty ever introduced in prize fighting and one that did more to add to my fame than anything I ever did. My idea was to meet any man in the world that wanted to fight me and give $50 to any one who could last four rounds.

On March 31, 1881, I was tendered a testimonial benefit at Harry Hill's place. The sports of New York were beginning to take an interest in me, and I received lots of encouragement in my ambition to finally become the champion. At the close of the entertainment at Harry Hill's the master of ceremonies walked to the footlights and announced in a loud voice:

"This man, ,lohn L. Sullivan, is not afraid to fight any man in the world. He offers $50 to any man who stands before him for four rounds. He does not expect any one, and if Paddy Ryan is in the house It goes for him." In one of the boxes was a man known as Steve Taylor, though his real name was John Mahan. Many of the New Yorkers of today will remember him.

He was a native of Ireland, but came to America when a youth. During his career Mahan was well known around New York as a politician under the Tweed regime. He was also a coroner in Jersey City at the time. As a boxer and prize fighter Mahan was for some reason known as Steve Taylor, and it is that name I will use in telling this narrative.

Taylor had fought many of his fights and around New York he was looked upon as a wonder. He was a six-footer of very powerful build, and as agile as a cat. He fought a draw in 1878 with Phil Dwyer, the Brooklyn champion. When Jem Mace came over here from England Taylor was looked upon as the only man that could give him a fight. Among Taylor's other experiences were those of training Paddy Ryan for his fight with Joe Goss and sparring over The country with him.

It can be readily understood that all the people at the boxing benefit naturally turned their eyes towards Taylor when I issued my challenge of $50 for anybody who could stand before me for four rounds. "I will fight him, finally said Taylor, as he jumped to the stage. Matt Grace,

the collar and elbow wrestler, was selected an referee, and Hollywood stood up for Taylor, while Billy Madden acted in that capacity for me. We fought under the Marquis of Queensberry rules and wore ordinary boxing gloves. The minute I saw Taylor put up his hands knew I would beat him.

Paid, Although He Won

The first round was spent sizing each other up. Just at the end of the opening round I got in one left that staggered Taylor, and he looked at me in surprise. He never felt a blow like that before, he afterwards told me.

We had barely got started in the second round when I caught Taylor on the side of the head, with a right hand swing, and he hit the floor with a thump. He was game to the core and came up for more. He was making a desperate attempt to last the four rounds. Again I felled him with a stinging right, and he was so far gone when the bell rang that he threw up the sponge and I had won.

I felt a little sorry for Taylor, because he appeared to be a good game fellow. I needed the money badly, but I couldn't stand the idea of seeing him lose a fight like that and then go broke. I went over and shook his hand and gave him half of the prize he had failed to win. After that Taylor was a friend of mine and he once went with me as a sparring partner on a trip around the


The crowd went wild over this novelty in prize fighting. The crowd was anxious for more. Finally there was a voice up in the gallery. A big rawboned looking fellow stood up for a minute and then walked to the stage. "I have just come over from England, said the new man and haven't got a farthing to my name. I would like to fight for a purse If I can get a backer. My name is Con Morris. I think I can lick this fellow."

The hall was again in an uproar.

I will give a purse of $500 for a fight between those two men','' said a voice from the gallery, and Bill Borst, the famous sporting man, stood up. I found out later that Jim Wakely was also ready to help. Everything was going along nicely and I was told to come in Borst's place that night so we could fix up the details. we had just about fixed everything up when they decided they had better take Morris uptown and give him a tryout. They told him to put on the gloves with a fellow named Connors, who was a very ordinary fighter around New York. The new champion proved a bad one and Connors knocked him out in five rounds.

This stopped my fight with Morris and it was responsible for my battle with John Flood on the barge in the Hudson River. I will reserve my description of that fight for the next chapter.


Part 6

I was seated on a campstool in one of the dark corners of the old barge. My only companion for most of the trip was Joe Goss, the old champion, whom I had licked in Boston. As we moved slowly up the stream I could hear the choppy waters of the Hudson River slushing against the sides of the old boat. I thought of the good old times around Boston, and couldn't help being reminded of how far I had gone to realize my ambition of being a great fighter.

The only light we had was that from a flickering torch stuck over in a corner. There was a haze of tobacco smoke all over the barge, and through it I could see men drinking from wine bottles and wagering money by the handfuls. There was occasionally a burst of laughter, but the principal noise was the popping of champagne corks.

The chill of the night had begun to make me shiver when Jim Wakely, the famous New York sport, came over and threw an extra blanket around my .shoulders. I was already dressed for the fight and Goss had to continually rub me to prevent stiffness of my muscles. The tug that was towing us up the river made as little noise as possible. The torches were backed up with reflectors to prevent them being seen from shore. The whole affair seemed weird and mysterious. We were dodging the police.

Since the days of Sayers and Yankee Sullivan the police have been a constant thorn in the side of the prize fighters. Even to this day matches have to be so arranged that conditions are introduced in the agreements covering a possible interference by these officers of the law. They gave us some lively chases in those days, but by some hook or crook we always managed to ward off arrest until after the fights had been decided. After all my big fights, or rather the greater part

of them, I had to undergo arrest.

As we proceeded up the river that memorable night — it was April, 1881— I was constantly on the lookout for any boat that might put out from the shore. In another corner of the barge sat John Flood, a noted heavyweight, known far and wide as the "Bull's Head Terror." He and his party were watching the other side of the river.

To a Finish, for $1000

Having failed to get a match with the Englishman, Con Morris, Billy Borst and Jim Wakely had arranged for Flood and myself to fight to a finish, under London prize ring rules for a purse of $1000. Of that amount $750 was to go to the winner and $250 to the loser. In addition to that we made several side bets. We had been warned of interference by the police, and the managers had conceived the idea of slipping up the Hudson in a barge and holding the fight in the middle of the

stream opposite Yonkers.

Five hundred men were taken on the barge at $10 each, which, as you see, made a sum total of $5000. Of course the managers had to come in for something, as well as to pay the expenses of the trip, the referee, timekeepers, etc.

As I sat there keeping an eye on the shore Joe Goss, who had left me for a moment, came back and tapped me on the shoulder. "John," he whispered “they have framed it up to beat you out of this. you want to be on the lookout for they intend to play some trick on youâ€. "I don't believe they would take the chance," I replied.

Goss insisted that he knew what he was talking about, however, and again he left me for a minute."They are all ready to try It," he whispered, as he came back to my corner. There are several toughs over in that end of the boat and they have been betting their heads off on Flood. If he does not win it their plan is to jump in the ring, put out the lights and stop the fight. If they cannot win any other way they will throw you overboardâ€

I stilt refused to believe that men would be capable of such a thing. Despite this belief I later found that it was true. Jim Wakely, Billy Borst and some others came around with the same information. By the time the old barge had reached the end of Manhattan Island the rumor had spread all over the boat, and it looked for awhile as if there was going to be serious trouble.

It was something like 10 o'clock when we reached a point off Yonkers and there we anchored. I knew now that It was time to fight. Al Smith, one of the most reliable and straightforward men that the sporting world ever knew, was selected as referee, and Joe Elliott, at one time

sporting editor of the New York Herald, acted as stakeholder.

Ordered Into the Ring

The anchor had hardly struck the mud when 'we were ordered to get in the ring. I did not know it then, but it developed later that Al Smith had hurried things so as to stall off any trouble regarding the plot to beat me out of the fight if I won.

As Flood and I took seats opposite each other in the canvas-covered ring Al Smith threw off his coat and stood up between us. "Gentlemen," said Smith, "I have an important announcement to make, and I want you to listen. There has been a plot formed here to beat Sullivan out of this fight if he wins, and I want to tell you right now that you are not going to get away with it. If any man other than the fighters puts his foot into this ring or attempts to start any trouble I will award this fight to John L Sullivan, and I have friends enough on hand to see that he gets the money.

Have you got the money Mr Elliot ?

The stakeholder announced that he had the money on hand and he would turn it over according to the referee’s directions, no matter what happened.

“You are right†yelled the gang from Cherry Hill “ and we’ll stick by youâ€

That put a decided crimp into the scheme, and Flood and I got ready to fight. As I was walking over, to shake hands with my opponent, I caught a glimpse of the smiling face of Paddy Ryan in the edge of the crowd. "I'll get you next," I said to him, and he laughed good naturedly.

"You'll get a chance yet," he replied, and some one in the crowd added: "But you will have to get up some dough to fight the champion."

Flood and I pulled on our skin-tight gloves, and with a shout from the crowd we went at it. Still fearing some trick on the part of Flood's friends, I made up my mind to end the fight just as quickly as possible.

Without waiting for any preliminary sparring I rushed at Flood and let both fists drive at his face and stomach. He stood them oft for a second, and then I caught him on the ear with a right-hand swing that sent him flopping to the floor. The round had lasted less than a minute. You must bear in mind that we were fighting under London prize ring rules, and that a round ended when one or the other of the fighters was downed.

How It Ended

In the eighth round Flood showed a little new life and came to me with a rush. That was just what I wanted. He had been keeping out of reach for several minutes. We had been fighting 16 minutes when Flood suddenly made a second dash toward me. A wave then lurched the boat a little, which only served to increase his momentum. I saw his right fist coming and dodged it. I knew that my chance had arrived. Instead of stepping to one side I braced myself and, as his fist shot over my head my right landed squarely on his jaw and he flopped to the floor. It was an awful jawbreaker that I hit him, and without waiting for him to revive Flood's own backers threw up the sponge and admitted that I had won.

"There is no use in letting a willing man be killed," said one of Flood's backers. "He is completely outclassed." Although I still had in mind the attempt that had been made to stop the fight and cheat me out of my honest victory, I felt very sorry for Flood. I knew he had nothing to do with that scheme. He was too honest and too game.

I went over to the corner and took him by the hand. "We met as friends. old fellow," I said to Flood, "and I want to part that way." I then grabbed a hat and went all over the boat taking up a collection for the man I had beaten. After that fight John Flood was one of the best friends

I ever had.

Paddy Ryan came over and congratulated me. The next morning there appeared an interview in one of the papers, in which Ryan said: "Sullivan is a clever young fellow, and he looks as if he would turn out to be a good fighter." "Are you willing to give me a fight now?" I asked of Ryan, when I met him on the street. "Show me another good victory and I'll talk to you," replied Ryan.

Still determined, I started out looking for another customer.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 7

The prevalent idea that fighters, as a rule, are vicious and cruel is erroneous. I have known some pugilists of prominence who were so gentle in thought as To be actually "chicken hearted" over the most trivial matters. Old Joe Goss couldn't stand to see a chicken killed.

I have also known fighters who would fight all day in the ring and then be afraid to go into a dark room. Kid Broad, they tell me, couldn't sleep in a room without a light in it.

Fighting becomes a business pure and simple. The knockout is merely detail of the job. I never Experienced a thrill of pleasure in knocking a man out, and I have often wished that fights could be settled without the necessity, of rendering a man unconscious .The public won't have it any other way. The fight fans are always more vicious in temperament, than the fighters. They are responsible for most of the prizering's brutality.

The reader has probably attended many fights in which he saw one of the combatants staggering around the ring and the other hesitating to strike the deciding blow until his opponent was able to put up his hands. "Finish him! Finish him!" the spectators will yell. "Go on and knock him out!" You have heard and seen that many times if you attend boxing matches. The fighter is thus forced to deliver a blow on the face of a helpless man when he really hates to do it.

As I left the barge that memorable night In April, after having whippedJohn Flood, I was thinking about these things. He wanted me to fight him again and I hated to do it. I knew that I could knock him out whenever I got ready, and I really hated to take advantage of him again. As an illustration of this feeling on the part of fighters, the greatest regret I had while in the prize ring was in knocking out a gigantic blacksmith while touring the West and offering $50 for any man that would stand before me for four rounds. Evans was his name, I believe. I had heard that a giant would be up against me that nitght, and I was looking over the various persons who came around the wings of the stage.

Man's Son Was There

Presently I caught sight of a stripling of about 18 years. He acted in a manner to attract my attention. He was plainly nervous and something appeared to be weighing on his mind. By intuition I picked him out as the son of the man who was going to fight me.

“come here young fellow†I said to the youth, and he came up trembling. His big blue eyes wandered around as if he were expecting somebody at any minute. “Are you the son of the man who is going to fight me ?†I asked.

“Yes sir†he replied, “ and I have come here to make him stop, my mother and I don’t want him to fight. He says though that he can lick anybody in the country, and that he is going to get that $50â€

“I would rather give you the £50 now†I replied. “If he needs the money that bad. I don’t want to fight himâ€

"O no, sir said the boy, "I couldn't do that. You don't know my father. He means to fight."

Just then a man of enormous build came lumbering on the stage. He musthave been seven feet tall and weighed close to 300 pounds. The crowd was beginning to yell for us to go on with the scrap, and the big blacksmith had many friends on hand to help him along. We finally got in the ring, and as I shook hands with the giant I looked over and could see those big blue eyes of the boy as he stood in the wings. In his face. I could see a look of fear and at the same time a hope that his father might win out after all.

"Well, there is nothing to do but to whip this fellow," I said to myself, "so I had better get at it." He was much taller than I, and I had to figure on a way to get him. The big blacksmith lunged at me with a roar and I stepped to one side. He went bellowing to the other side of the ring and came up against the ropes with a growl. Again I caught a glimpse of the boy’s eyes and they were sparkling with hope.

He Got Up for More

The next time the blacksmith started I stepped a little to one side and then poked my left hand into his stomach. That brought him clown within reach and I clipped him a clean right on the jaw. The blow felled him, but he was of tough caliber and immediately got up far more.

In the second round I knocked him down again but he came right back. Up to this time he had not struck me a single blow. Again he lunged at me and again I floored him. This time he got up very groggy. He was staggering about the ring and I could have finished him easily, but the blue eyes of that boy haunted me. I hated to do it. In the third round the blacksmith was very groggy. I knocked him down a couple of times and he was all in. He would not give up, however. Finally, he ran at me and all I had to do was hold up my fists. He ran into them and knocked himself out.

I could see tears in the boy's eyes as they carried his father to the corner. "Here, son," I called to the boy. "Take this $50 and run with it to your mother. Your daddy tried hard to earn it."

It was a month after the famous barge fight that I met Flood for the second and last time. I had responded to the demand to meet him again. This time things had been fixed up with the police and we were to fight in Clarendon Hall, New York.

Every sporting man in the country was there, for the tip had gone out that there would be some excitement over another challenge to Ryan. Just before the fight with Flood began the crowd started yelling for me, and I walked to the corner of the ring.

"Gentlemen," I said, "I am ready at any time to meet Ryan in a glove fight, and I think it is time he was giving me a chance." "A glove fight decides nothing," shouted James McGowan of the Police Gazette. "This is no baby affair."

"He will find out it's no baby affair when I'm through," I replied. “I have a blank check signed by Richard K. Fox," yelled McGowan, as he jumped to his feet. "And if you want to make a match I will fill it out for any amount from $5000 to $10,000."

Thought $1000 Too Little

"I will waive the glove clause," I repled, "and will fight him with bare fists for $1000. I can’t go any further than that now, until I have seen my backersâ€

“One thousand dollars doesn’t amont to anything†said McGowan, as the crowd began to jeer him.

“better men than Ryan or I have fought for $1000†I said.â€There’s Jem Mace, Tom Allen and others who fought for less than thatâ€.

The crowd was intensely excited over this colloquy and they were jumping up in all parts of the hall. One of my friends finally climbed on a chair and yelled “ If Ryan will fight for $1000 a match can be made right hereâ€

“Ryan won’t fight for $1000†remarked McGowan. “It isn’t worth whileâ€

I didn't have the money and there was no use in going on with the argument. I saw I would have to raise $5000 to get a chance at the championship. That is the way they made matches in those days, right out in the open. The fighters did not work for the promoters at so much an hour. They had to put up their money, and what they said went. This thing of betting $10,000 without having a cent did not go in

those days.

The incident being over, Flood and I went on with our fight. Harry Hill was master of ceremonies. Flood was easily defeated, and I never fought him again. That exciting incident over, the Ryan match had aroused the sporting blood of New York, and it eventually led to

the great fight of my career.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 8

At. my scheme of offering $50 for any man that would stand before me for four rounds had panned out pretty well, I decided to keep it up. My tour began with an exhibition at Philadelphia and by the time I had returned to Boston the match with Ryan had been made. Things were working nicely now, and I would soon be in a position to have a say as to the arrangements for these big fights myself.

Arriving at Philadelphia I appeared on the stage at Arthur Chambers hall and offered to fight any number of men four rounds each. The only man who accepted the challenge was a local boxer by the name of Crossly, he quit in the first round. Soon after that I began to see a new angle of the boxing game.

In those days it was customary to give benefit entertainments for boxers, so that they could have a little spending money, I agreed to put in a week at John Clark's Olympia for $150. John Clark, the proprietor, came to me and asked me to allow the use of my name, as a drawing card for the benefit. "Sure," 1 said. "Go right ahead. You know I want to be a good fellow,"

Clark went out and advertised that affair as a benefit to me, when in reality it was a benefit to him, and he made several hundred dollars. For my end I merely got the S160 for a week's work.

Just before I appeared Mr Clark addressed the crowd from the footlights. "As there are three men in the hall," he said, "who, I understand, would like to try Mr Sullivan, I hope they will hurry to the front."

This One Took 40 Seconds

In a minute a big, muscular-looking man was seen making his way to the footlights. He proved to be Dan McCarty, a famous fighter of Baltimore. "Well," said McCarty, "I am here to call your bluff. So you had better get busy." He took off his coat and shirt and donned the mitts.

" I hate to break your winning streak,' said McCarty, "but i need that $50." His friends hoard this and set up a big roar of applause.

Before we were hardly set McCarty ran at me, but I fooled him by not stepping to one side. I planted my feet firmly and shot my right list straight into his face. The blow slammed him up against the dressing-room. As he came back I let him have the other barrel, and that left of mine knocked him to his knees. I could hear him abusing me as he rested on his knees. Then as he arose I turned loose my right again and it caught him squarely on the neck just below the ear. We went sprawling on the floor and was out for the count.

It was some time before they could resuscitate him, and I began to set alarmed. It had taken just 40 seconds to lay McCarthy out. He finally came around all right and I offered him my hand.

From Philadelphia I went to Chicago and gave an exhibition at McCormick's Hall on the North Side in Clark St. I made my same offer of $50 and the first night I discovered that they had tried to put, in a ringer on me. Parson Davies, the well-known sporting man, was interested in my exhibition financially. He received 25 percent of the profits for his end.

Tried to Put in a Ringer

"Well, we have a good one for you tonight," a local sport informed me as I walked to the stage that night. "He is a tugboat man known as Jack Dalton. He is all right, too." I felt that something was wrong, so I made inquiries of a close friend concerning Dalton. I found out that he was a famous fighter in the West, and that he had successfully downed John Dwyer, Ryan, Donaldson, Chandler and others. I realized that I would have to go at this fellow right from the jump if I wanted to get him in shape for a licking.

We had hardly been introduced to the crowd when I shot a couple of vicious right-handers straight in his face and he started to bleed. The way I went after the big tugman got the crowd going immediately, and in a minute the place was in an uproar. He was a game fellow, however, and he held me off for three rounds. In the fourth the tugman came up a little groggy, and I waited for a chance to crack him on the jaw. This came in a few seconds, and I knocked him so stiff that he was out for 10 or 15 minutes. I gave him $25 anyway.

That fight put me on the road to final success. A Chicago paper of that date said: "Sullivan created quite a sensation by the way he knocked out Dalton, .and there were any number of men who offered to back him for any amount, from S1000 to $10,000, to fight anybody in the world."

John Dwyer, the old fighter, made a statement to the crowd, in which he said .1 was the most dangerous young follow in America. A few days after that I had a chance to make the easiest $250 I over made in my life. I had gone over to Mt Clemens, a Summer resort about 20 miles from Detroit, Mich. I had never seen that part of the country before and I started to take a look around.

Beating a Bully

On one of the streets there was a raised sidewalk, and on my first night I selected that as my route for a stroll. As i walked along I suddenly received a severe bump that nearly knocked me off the sidewalk. I looked around in surprise. A big, tough looking fellow glared at me. Without saying a word he deliberately tried again to bump me off the sidewalk.

"What do you mean by that?" I asked him. "Are you deliberately trying to knock me off the sidewalk?"

".I’ll make you jump oft if I want to," he yelled back. "You don't know me," I replied, a little angrily. "Have you mistaken me for somebody else, or what is your game?"

"I will show you what my name is," he said, and he made a pass at me. "I knew there was no use to argue with this fellow, and having seen politeness and diplomacy failed, I squared off. The thug seemed surprised that I would even take a chance with him and he rushed at me with a bellow.

The air was blue with vile epithets that for some reason he was heaping, upon me. In a minute I saw that he knew nothing about fighting, but by this time I was thoroughly angry and I let him have one on the point of the jaw that would have knocked out a bull. He went down and out for keeps.

The citizens evidently heard of the fight, tor the next morning a committee appeared at my hotel. The spokesman was a druggist named Crane, who said: "Mr Sullivan, I have come to present you with a purse of $250, which has been contributed by the citizens of Mt Clemens as a reward for having taught that bully a lesson. For the last six months he been abusing and browbeating everybody in town,"

I thanked the gentlemen as best I knew how, but I told them that I could not accept the money. I had about made up my mind to hurry East so as to make the Ryan match when I received a telegram calling me to Chicago to fight a new terror that had shown up. The man they had dug up to win that $50 was a big fellow called the "Michigan Giant." He was 6 feet 6 inches tall and built in proportion.

"Why, I hate to hit this little follow," he roared, and then he looked at me as if to frighten me. As he did I walloped him in the stomach and he came down to my size. With all the power in me I swung my right on his jaw and he landed in the second row of the orchestra seats.

That night I heard that the Ryan match was getting under way and I took a fast train to Boston. Everything was full of sunshine for me, and I was the happiest boy in the land when I left the train and was in my old home again.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 9

In the beginning of this chapter, which will deal with the final signing of articles of agreement for a fight with Paddy Ryan for the championship of the world, i cannot refrain from a comparison between that and the proceedings over the arrangements for a fight between Jim

Jeffries and Jack Johnson.

I had been in Boston less than two hours when I was notified that arrangements had been made for me to fight Ryan. It was on the fifth day of October, 1881. We agreed to fight for a purse of $5000. Of that amount, each of us was to put up $2,500. The first $2,500 was put up on my behalf, as a forfeit in Harry Hill's hands.

On Nov 9, a month later, we each had to put up an additional $1000, and the last deposit of $1000 was put up on Dec 7, making the total $5000. Now, mind you, that is the amount we were to fight for. There was nothing said about gate receipts, advertising privileges, or anything

of that kind.

Of course there were no moving pictures then, and that did not figure. It was generally understood that if we made any money through the box office the winner was to take It all, but, as I say, that side of the fight was inconsequential.

This Was Different

Can you imagine Jim Jeffries fighting a championship battle for a purse of $5000, all of which was wagered money?. That meeting between the backers of Ryan and myself was held in the open and within a day everybody in the country knew all the particulars. The final meeting between the managers of Johnson and Jeffries, if you If you recall was held behind closed doors. There was talk of a side bet, but the public did not see the money deposited.

As a matter of fact the question of the side bet was secondary. It was too small by comparison to be worthy of consideration. They are to fight for a purse of $101,000! They are to get a percentage of the moving pictures and get many weeks on the stage at an enormous salary! Can you beat it?.

right here I want to ask a question or two and I am not trying to knock anybody either Big Tim Sullivan, an honest man if one ever lived, is the stakeholder. They have to put the money in his hands before they start. Of course they will have to borrow some of it.

Suppose that Tex Rickard and Jack Gleason fail to take in that $101,000 at the gate. How are they going to make good ?. I do not mean to intimate that any of these fellows are not honest,

But I think they are putting their figures too high.

Having concluded all arrangements for the great fight with Ryan for the championship I selected Pete McCoy and others for sparring partners and started on the long trip to New Orleans. It had been agreed that we would fight in State where there would be no interference by the authorities. The State chosen was Mississippi and the place was a little town called Mississippi City. New Orleans was to be the centre of our business activities.

Training In Mississippi

After a series of exhibitions, in one of which Mike Donovan backed out of a challenge that he had issued and refused to meet me, we finally arrived in New Orleans. I went to Bay St Louis where I made my training quarters. Everything was moving smoothly and the whole country was talking about the coming fight.

Ryan and his crowd came down a little later from his home in Troy, N Y and established quarters at Mississippi City , the place where we were to fight. While in New Orleans the papers were full of stories and interviews about the coming fight. Everything that either Ryan or myself said was printed word for word and, of course, we had to be very careful.

One day I was invited to visit one of the newspaper offices and accepted. The reporter who escorted me was a very nice young fellow, but he smoked those strong cigars that the people down there are so fond of, and it almost stiffed me. I accepted the chair that he proffered.

"Now, Mr Sullivan, have one of these cigars," he said politely.

"No siree," I replied with emphasis, and he looked surprised. "I know when I meet anything stronger than I am and I cave. That cigar is too much for me."

The office force had a good laugh over this incident and the next morning the whole thing appeared in the paper.

"By the way Mr Sullivan," said the managing editor as he came over, "I have a job for you if you care to take it. I fell for this for a minute and then he began to explain. "You see," he said, "our fighting editor is laid up in the hospital and to do I will read you something " he then showed me a letter, in which a mail said he was going to use the editor for a floor mop, because the paper had said that when "this man's daughter was In Frisco her hair was so red she stopped a Chinese funeral."

Said He'd Take the Job

The next letter he handed me was from a young dude or society man who wanted to fight a duel, His complaint was that the paper had said, referring to him, “Leander and his pants were both so tight that at the Rex ball he could neither stand up nor sit down " The third letter was from a man who wanted to fight because the following appeared in the paper; “The Robinson County whiskey sampler and Councilman from the 15th Ward might as well learn now as later that he cannot open a coal hole with a night keyâ€.

“now you understand the nature of the job†said the editor. “and if you will take it I will give you $100 a week and expenses. Is it a go?" "Put it there," I replied, offering hand. "If you will hold that job open until I get through with this Ryan fight I will take up the work " I was on the level with that too. I mention that just to show that newspapers were run differently in those days to what they are now, and that even an editor had to be a fighter.

At Bay St Louis I took up my training work with a vim. I wanted to fight At 175 pounds, and that made it necessary for me to take off about eight We trained somewhat like they do today

except that we did not do any of those wild stunts like climbing mountains , hunting bears wrestling with cows and all that hot air stuff.

I would take a run of eight or 10 miles and then come back and have a rub down. After that I would box a while with my sparring partner and, then take it easy for the rest of the day. I did not drink a drop of anything but water during that training period. Running or walking is the best thing in the world for increasing the wind or endurance powers, and nobody has even been able to find a substitute for that kind of exercise.

While I was working away down there on the Gulf Coast the Boston papers were printing columns about me, and for the first time correspondents were sent South by all the big papers of the country.

Talent Was There

To give you an idea of how the country was worked up, I received a Boston paper down there with the following story, in which it appears that a reporter had been making the rounds of sporting men in Boston to see what interest was being taken in the fight.

“Has much talent left Boston to witness the fight†the reporter man queried. “You can bet there has†said the tough “coveâ€. Why, all of our best is there, and the only reason we didn’t go was because we bet all our "sugar" on Johnny.' "What good men are still in the city?"

" 'Well,' answered the young man. 'I think there is Tim McCarty, Jerry Murphy, "Fish" Kennedy, Sammy Blake, Uncle Bill Busby, Marcellus Baker, Prof Bailey, Ned Kelly and a few other good men left in this deserted village; but the pride of the town Is down there, mebbe at this very minute on the battleground.â€

"What will be the result should there be no fight — that is if the backers and trainers of one of the men should object at the last moment.'"

" 'Well, then, there'll be blood on the moon if such a thing should happen there'd be the bloodiest fight over heard of at a "mill" in this country.' "Upon what do you base these conclusions?" " 'Why, when the Sullivan men left here they went with the idea that this fight must take place. They won't back down, you bet; and If the Ryan men try any "shenanigans" there'll be pistols out and blood will flow. You see, all the men are away down South a long ways from their homes, and in a country where shoottin' irons are common instruments. They have a freer feelin', you see than they would have North or even West.' "


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


On the morning of Jan 15, 1882 following appeared in the New Orleans Times-Democrat In a column called

"Letters from the People":

"To the Editor of the Times-Democrat:

"I see that a man signing himself 'Conge' suggests that Ryan and Sullivan

meet in the Fair Grounds. His ideas, are correct, and if his plans are

carried out you can immortalize your yourself by sending an invitation

to the Mississippi Legislature, and on their arrival they should be

presented with a pocket bible with the story of David and Goliath marked.

As insignificant as that might appear it raised one of the biggest disturbances among the lawmakers that Mississippi and Louisiana had seen for years. To show how the Mississippi Legislature came near availing themselves of this suggestion, a bill was introduced on Jan 17, two day’s later, making it unlawful to hold a prize fight in Mississippi and fixing the penalty at a fine of $1000 and five years in the penitentiary.

I had been training regularly for several weeks and knew nothing of this sudden turn of affairs until a committee suddenly appeared at my quarters in Bat St Louis one morning with the doleful news.

Ready for Special Train

"Mr Sullivan," began the man, whom I knew as a square sport in New Orleans, "we are here to take you away and you must get ready as soon as possible. We have engaged a special train and it is at the disposal of yourself and Mr Ryan. We thought it advisable to slip you out of the State of Mississippi before this bill became law. We want to do the square thing. We have promised you an even break and an honest fight and you are going to get itâ€.

“There is nothing to it John†said Billy Madden, who stood at my elbow. “ I guess we will have to light outâ€. It appeared that the news had reached New Orleans that morning by way of a private telegram, and the sporting element of that grand old city was completely upset. Feeling that their reputation for good fellowship was at stake they immediately held a council of war.

“It’s a sharp game on the part of some new legislator†said a man from Chicago ,†and I’ll give $200 toward getting both men out of the State of Mississippi by means of a special train right now†. “I’ll give another $100†cried another, “ and I another†chimed in a third.In a few minutes the money was raised and in a few hours the committee had reached training camps.

To give the reader an insight into the character of Paddy Ryan – he was a noble fellow – I will give a verbatim account of what happened when the committee of sportsmen reached his quarters with the alarming news.

“that’s rough ain’t it†said Ryan after listening to the spokesman, and then turning to his trainer said “ can I fight him tomorrow John†.†we can find a place right away and settle it before the law goes into effectâ€. “ You certainly cannot†was the reply. “The day has been named and when it comes I will have you there if we all have to go to the penitentiary. We will fight here in Mississippi Cityâ€.

Later in the day a committee of citizens called on Ryan and told him there was no danger for a while and they would give him ample warning. Nevertheless he decided to play it safe and took the special train to New Orleans where he established quarters in the St James hotel.

Ryan Ready to Fight Then

When called upon by the reporters and fight managers Ryan said: "Just find a place where we can fight, that is all I ask — a fair field and no favors, and don't you ignore the other side in the matter. They must be satisfied, too."

"You have the naming of the place, Paddy." remarked Roche. "And I don't think they would consult you in the matter.".

"O, well, Roche," observed the good natured Troy man. “Let’s be decent about it and have a place that suits them as well as me.â€

A short time afterward he said with a smile; “Sullivan says he will go to Cuba or Texas to fight. Now don’t be so – well I’ll go anywhere in the world; it’s my last fight and I am anxious to get out of the business, so the sooner the better.â€

That shows the nature of the men I was to fight. How many fighters of today would show that consideration to a man who was after his title? A week later somebody in the Legislature succeeded in shelving the obnoxious law, and we were told that the fight would be held in Mississippi City without interference.

1 shall never forget the day of Feb 7, 1882. We had arrived in Mississippi City ready for the great fight. The grounds in front of the Barnes Hotel were thronged with thousands who had come by special trains from New Orleans and other cities to witness the deciding of the championship. The gathering, although animated, was of an orderly character, and one spectator remarked; “A conference of clergymen could not have been more staid.â€

The sets on the plaza of the hotel sold for high prices and many of them were occupied by ladies in the old fashioned dress of that day.

Hawkers Sold The Colors

On every side there were hawkers selling the colors of the two men. The sale was lively and everybody wore the colors of one or the other. It was the fashion those days when there was to be an important meeting between prominent pugilists for them to issue colors. These colors were highly prized by sporting men and in many homes of New York today there can be seen the colors of Sayers, Harrington, Tom King and even your humble servant.

My colors on that occasion consisted of a white silk handkerchief with a green border. In the opposite corners were embroidered Irish and American flags. In the center was an American eagle. As an instance of the interest in such things I may remark that a facsimile of the colors worn by me was taken to China, where the Chinese workers in silk reproduced them in elegant style. They were subsequently brought to this country and presented to me.

There was considerable wait over the ring arrangements, and during that time I stood on the hotel plaza looking out at the sea. The water was as smooth as a mill pond. Far out a white sail gleamed in the bright sun and I could see the fishermen going out to their grounds. They appeared to be the only persons in the world not interested in the fight, and I half wished that I was with them and rid of all the worry. Suddenly I felt a touch on my elbow and looked around half startled.

“what are you thinking of Mr Sullivan†It was a newspaperman who had asked..

“I was thinking that I had never seen so beautiful a sea†I replied. “But I guess it’s time to quit dreaming and think about fighting. Are they ready.â€

In describing that incident the newspaperman told the rest of it like this. “Your ring is ready†called Joe Goss just then, and the soft look faded away from the eye of the Boston boy and against Sullivan the gladiator stood where one second before had stood Sullivan the sentimentalist.

I turned and started down the steps – the steps that would lead me to the championship.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 11

The ring in which I was to win the championship of the world was pitched on the green turf not far from the main hotel in the little town of Mississippi City. That kind of a ring would appear strange to the fighters of today who wear soft leather shoes and jump around on a canvas covered floor. We wore shoes with sharp spikes in them very much like the running shoes used

by sprinters today.

After a short conference on the steps of the hotel it was decided that John Roche of New York and Tom Kelley of St Louis were to be Ryan's seconds. Billy Madden and Joe Goss were to act in a similar capacity for me. James Shannon of New York was umpire for Ryan and John Moran of Cincinnati was selected as umpire for me.

There was some trouble in selecting a referee, the choice being between Mr .Alex Brewster and Mr Hardy. Neither side would give in and, at the suggestion of Joe Goss, we compromised by allowing both men to serve. As we walked to the ringside, there was considerable excitement over a report that Gov Lowery of Mississippi had issued a proclamation calling upon the

citizens to prevent the fight. We were momentarily expecting a posse, but none appeared.

Ryan Got the Applause

I entered the ring at 11:40 o'clock and quietly sat down in the corner. There was considerable applause, but it was like a soap bubble as compared with the outburst when Ryan appeared a half hour later. As I sat there I was a very lonesome person. I could feel at heart that nine men out of every ten at the ringside were hoping to see me licked. Ryan was unquestionably the favorite.

While we waited impatiently for the arrival of the champion there were several bets made, one of $1000 to $800 in my favor. At 10 minutes after 12 Ryan could be seen making his way through the crowd. Ten feet away from the ring he stopped and threw an old hat into the enclosed square of turf. In the old days it was always customary for the fighters to throw something in the ring before they entered.

In another minute Ryan had jumped over the ropes and stood in his corner while the crowd roared with applause. He was clad in a suit of white drawers and undershirt, flesh colored stockings and fighting shoes. Ryan appeared very pale and some of his friends throw an overcoat over his shoulders. His good-natured smile seemed to have deserted him.

We lost little time in getting down to business. I always admired Ryan and I walked to the center of the ring and offered him my hand. He took it cordially, and I knew that I was to fight a man who was square and honest. We did a little preliminary sparring just to get warmed up. I had been told That Ryan expected to outwrestle me and for that reason I kept away from him until I could get in get in a timely wallop.

Knockdown in 30 Seconds

Ryan finally led out with a right that barely grazed my chest. I countered with my left and dealt him a stinger on the face. He looked at me in surprise because he bad been led to believe that I could not box.

While eyeing Ryan closely I suddenly made up my mind that the time to win the fight was right at the start. Waiting for a good opportunity I suddenly lunged at the champion with all my force. There was a rapid exchange of short arm jolts. When I saw the opportunity I let go my right with all the force I had within me and it caught Ryan squarely on the jaw. The blow

almost lifted him from his feet and he hit the turf like a shot, face downward. That ended the round, and I had scored the first knockdown in just 30 seconds.

After the fight Ryan said to Billy Madden:

"When that Sullivan boy struck me

the first time I thought that a telegraph

pole had been shoved against me endways,"

That first knockdown came pretty near ending the tight, for Ryan was all broke up and during the rest of the fight be failed to show any speed. At the end of the first round I could have finished Ryan, but my seconds warned me not to do so. I walked up and pushed the champion over. Joe

Goss warned me against hitting him hard, as there was a danger of killing him. For that reason .1 did not strike him in the stomach, although I had opportunity after opportunity to do so.

At the end of the ninth round Ryan was all in. He could not move, and it required the best care of physicians to bring him around.

Was Declared the Champion

I was declared the champion of the world!. I was so jubilant over this great victory that I jumped out of the ring and ran 100 yards to my dressing room. In an hour I was on the streets in my regular dress and receiving the congratulations of friends.

More than $200,000 changed hands as a result of that fight. In addition to losing the money that he had bet Ryan's pocket was picked of $300 while the doctors were trying to bring him around. As an indication of how complete the public regarded my victory over Ryan I reprint the following from a New Orleans paper of the date succeeding the fight.

''Mr Sullivan has probably put an end to heavyweight prize-lighting. It is altogether improbable that for many years a man will be found who would dare face him in a prize ring. He cared nothing for .Ryan's blows and his hitting is so tremendous that it seems to be beyond the power of man to recover from the shock of one of his hands let out from the shoulder."

To prevent any possibility of arrest we hustled out of the State or Mississippi as fast as the train could carry us. I reached my old quarters in the St James Hotel in New Orleans and found a crowd of friends ready to give me a blowout.

Ryan was patched up by the doctors, and arrived at the hotel a short time after I did. We sent for him to come into my room and join in the festivities. He was a good fellow and came right over.

"Well. I'm through," Ryan said to the crowd, "and I am glad of it. There are two others who will be happier than I am when they find that I have quit the prize ring forever. They are my wife

and mother."

Knew "They Never Come Back"

Ryan knew that it was impossible for a fighter to "come back" and he quit, I did the same thing after I fought Corbett. It is a pity that others did not follow the same tactics. What a glorious old fighter Bob Fitzsimmons would have been to history if he had quit the ring after his first defeat for the championship.

That night in the St .James Hotel the wine flowed freely. It was then that I saw the things of life that money can buy. I realized what it was to be famous. I tackled John Barleycorn in a limited go. Later he bested me, but that is another story.

While enjoying this little celebration after the victory I was told for the first time of a plot that had been hatched against me before I went into the ring. A party of low-lived fellows had gone to Billy Madden and had offered him $4000 — and they put the money in his hand — to give me some kind of knockout drops that would put me out of condition. They also went to New Orleans and offered a man $2,500 to put me out of the way.

Ryan did not know of this. No friend of his would do a thing like that. For fear of making me nervous Madden did not tell me of the incident until after the fight.We did not remain long in New Orleans, for I already saw the road to wealth and was anxious to be on my way.

On the evening of Feb 9 I started for Chicago with Billy Madden, Joe Goss, Pete McCoy and Bob Farrell. I was already billed to appear in that city under the management of Parson Davies at McCormick's Hall Feb 1. The journey from New Orleans to Chicago was an ovation all the way. At every stop immense crowds surrounded our cars and clamored for my appearance.

I did not appear, however in our party was a well known sporting man whom we called "Big Steve" He posed all the way as John L, Sullivan and would make a flowery speech at every stop. In that way I gained the unwarranted reputation of being a great orator as well as a great fighter.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


There has been so much talk and diversity of opinion as to whether I was ever the real champion of the world that I feel it incumbent upon me to produce facts and figures to show that I really earned that title. Frequently I see this question asked in the newspapers, and in many cases I see that the sporting editors answer that I never was champion. To start with with, Dr Dudley A. Sargent, in his "Life and Reminiscences of a Nineteenth Century Gladiatorâ€' calls me the champion of the world. England is part of the world, ergo according to Dr Sargent, who is an authority, I was champion of England.

Let us begin at the start. Tom Figg was considered the first champion in England. He bloomed in 1719. The next champion of note was Tom Cribb, who received a championship belt that was not transferable in 1819. The next champion was Tom Spring, who was cock of the walk in 1820. Then comes Jim Ward who appeared five years later. In 1841 Caunt defeated Nick Ward for a belt that was subscribed for. Four years later Bendigo beat Caunt and got the belt. In 1850 Perry, the Tipton Slasher, after his draw with Paddock claimed the championship, but never defeated the then champion bendigo. In 1853 Perry again claimed office because Harry Broome forfeited a match with him. Four years later Tom Sayers beat Perry for a new belt and a $200 side bet. Four years later Tom Bayers beat Perry for a new belt and $200 a side.

Good Luck Heel

When Heenan and Sayers were in the ring an American put the heel of an old shoe in Heenan's hand, saying' "This is the heel of Yankee Sullivan's shoe, Jack; he swore he never lost a fight while it was in the ring. Leave it there and go in and lick England.

Although the heel did not prove strong enough to get for Heenan the English championship belt, it must have discouraged Sayers, for he left the belt open for competition. This was the time when Jem Mace won it conquering the giant, Sam Hurst, known as the “Staleybridge Infantâ€

Tom Sayers and Heenan fought their memorable battle in I860. Chambers Encyclopedia, under the head of boxing or pugilism, has this to say of the Heenan-Sayers fight: "The year 1860 however, witnessed a strange revival of the pugilistic sport on occasion of a fight between Tom Sayers, the champion prizefighter of England, and John Heenan, the Benicea Boy, an American, for a £200 a side, and the belt, a badge of honour won by the champion. The battle was elevated to the dignity of a great international contest by sporting papers took place at Farnsboro, April 17, 1860. It lasted for more than two hours, in which time the American was beaten almost blind, and the Englishman dreadfully bruised. The continuance of the battle was prevented by the breaking in of the ring, caused by the interference of the police."

How He Figured It

In 1861 Jem Mace beat Hurst, in 1863 Tom King beat Mace and claimed the belt, which he subsequently gave up, declining again to meet the gypsy. Mace again claimed the belt. In 1860 Jem Mace and Joe Goss fought a draw for $1000 a side and the belt. In 1869 McCoole beat Tom

Allen In this country for the championship of the world. In 1872 Jem Mace drew with Joe Coburn here for the championship of the world. In 1870 Jem Mace and Tom Allen fought for the title and $5000 at Keanville, New Orleans. Mace won.

Tom Allen beat McCoole on Sept 23, 1873, at Chateau Island, near St Louis, and on Nov 18, same year. Ben Hogan fought Tommy Allen for $2000 and the championship of the Pacific coast. Allen was winning when a wrangle broke up the fight. On Sept 7, 1876 Joe Goss fought Allen for $2000 and the championship of the world in Kentucky, Goss was declared the winner. The later was brought over from England by Jem mace. On may 30,1880 Joe Goss fought Paddy Ryan for $1000 and the championship at Collier Station W Va., and after one hour and twenty seven minutes of hard fighting Ryan won.

In commenting on the fight the Kansas City Times said “Sullivan knocked Joe Goss out in four and one half minutes on Feb 7,1880, while it took Ryan one hour and twenty seven minutes to do the same thing to the foreign championâ€

My victory over Slade of Australia ( the Maori) brought here by Jem Mace is a matter of history, as is the slaughter of Charley Mitchell in Madison Square Gardens, when I begged Capt. Thorn to let me get one more crack at him. This was when Charley’s seconds had propped him up against the ropes after the police interfered during the third round. Turning to Mitchell Capt. Thorn said “ Go to your dressing room. I stepped in to save Sullivan from killing you.â€

Alf Greenfield was brought from England in 1884 to defeat me. He was sent over as Albion’s champion. On Nov 17 that year in Madison Square Garden, I had Alf in a semi conscious state on the ropes and all hands ( principals and seconds ) were arrested. Charley Johnson awarded the decision to me.

Challenged The World

Greenfield again met me. This time In New England Institute, Boston, M. Keyes of San Francisco refereed. This was on Jan 12, 1885. When Greenfield came back to life after the fourth round and he was asked if I could hit hard, he turned to Jack Burke and said, "Sullivan could beat you, Mitchell and myself in the same ring.â€

I guess that came pretty near making me the champion of the world. As a further proof I would like to reproduce the challenge that I issued after I had arrived in Boston, immediately

following my defeating Paddy Ryan for the championship:

"There has been so much newspaper talk from parties who claim that they are desirous of meeting me in the ring that I am disgusted. Nevertheless, I am willing to fight any man in this country in four weeks from signing articles for $5000 a side, or any man in the old country for the same amount at two months from signing articles, I to use gloves, and he, if he pleases to fight with bare knuckles, as I do not wish to put myself in a position amenable to the law. My money is always ready, so I want these fellows to put up or shut up.

John L Sullivan

Boston, March 23 1882

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 13

On the celebrated tour of the country which began with my trip from New Orleans It has been estimated by my companions that I spent more than $10,000. I probably did. In later years I spent 10 times that much. I want my readers to know, right here, however, that all of that money did not go for wines and liquors. I gave as much for schools and churches, in comparison to what I earned, as almost any man in the country!

Having been frequent contributor to so called “good causes†I was very much interested Some time ago at reading the position a certain prominent preacher took in reference to John D. Rockefeller's princely gift to the church.

He said that the money was tainted and advised against its acceptance. This talk about "tainted money is all rot. In all my years, of reckless spending I never heard of anybody refusing to take the money of John L,Sullivan. Of all the money I gave for churches, schools and general charities I cannot remember a single cent being returned because if was-earned by biffing some luckless fellow on the jaw.

There is no such thing as "tainted money†and I have handled about every kind there is.

I do not think that Rockefeller's money should be refused . It will buy just as many meal tickets for the poor missionaries as if it had been handed out by someone who never even smelled kerosene. Why, it's a chance for the church to reform the coin, as it were, just like picking a fellow out of the gutter and making a man out of him. Any money that is given for a good purpose is good money, no matter where it comes from.

I shall never forget one time I stopped off at Atlanta to make a Railway connection. While standing in the station I was introduced to a preacher. I shook hands with him cordially and he seemed to be pleased at my deference for his profession .

"Why. Mr Sullivan." he said, "I expected to find you a man with a harsh voice, a vicious looking face, and I could almost imagine that you wore horns. Why you appear to be as gentle as a schoolteacher.". "Thank you." I replied. "But you know you remind me of an incident told about the first meeting of Finley Peter Dunne, the author of "Mr Dooley,†and Richard Harding Davis.

"Why Mr Dunne,' observed , Mr Davis, “I expected to find you a red faced Irishman with a rim of red whiskers around your chin and a plug hat set on the back of your head.†"Yes,†replied Mr Dunne, with a smile. “And when I met you I expected to find a man with a cute little society face and wearing a pink silk shirt waist. "Davis declared, that the drinks were on him and they went to the nearest place to have the score, settled.

The Georgia preacher laughed heartily at this and said that, he hoped to have the opportunity of talking to me at length at some future time. Later I sent him $25 for the church, and he did not tell me the money was tainted either. That preacher was of the broad minded kind that do world good as they go through it.

Advice to Preachers

In my opinion the preachers could do a lot toward making men better if they would overlook, the little faults of other men and get right down to the man's real heart. Talk to him about the things that he is interested in and you can soon find out his real way of thinking. If the preachers would do that they would get next to a lot of fellows who really would like to be good if they were directed in the proper channels.

The theory that the man who is good is awfully lonesome is rot, I tell you. A man have just as much "fun†as they call it if he is sober and decent. Don't tell me that because a man wants to do right and be clean and manly, people are going to shun him off to lonesomeness all by himself. I won't stand for that. I have been around with some mighty bad gangs in my time, and often too when I wasn't drinking a drop. Yet I have always found that they respected me just as much, just as they would respect any other man who didn't see things exactly as they did. Be good and you will be respected; that's sure, which is some recompense for the mythical lonesomeness that many people seem to dread when they start a personal reform.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 14

During my series of picnics following the defeat of champion Ryan I knocked out more than 100 fighters, and sporting men throughout the country were scouring the world for somebody to stop me, None of them ever succeeded. At this time the country was wild over prize fighting, and it was no trouble to pack the houses wherever I appeared. .

While on this tour of the United States Richard K. Fox, editor of the Police Gazette, proved to be the best friend I ever had, although he did not know it. He had agents all over the World looking for somebody to lick me. He always backed my opponents in big fights. By his untiring efforts to get me whipped he kept me in the limelight and furnished the opportunity in the shape of easy fights for me to make a lot of money.

The only man who succeeded in staying the four rounds was Joe Collins, better known as "Tug Wilson," an English fighter, for whom to this day I have a supreme disgust, He had been imported from England to "pulverize" me. They found him in Leicester.

The match took place in Madison Square Garden, New York on the evening of July 17, 1882. "Tug's" ability to stay the four rounds was due largely to a bad decision of the referee and the fact that he managed to crawl on the floor and hug until the round would end. It was evident to the 12,000 people who witnessed the mill (which could hardly be called a fight) that Wilson was whipped, but he was on his feet when the time was called at the end of the fourth round, and he went back to England with $4000 in his jeans.

Wilson was badly pummeled, but, as Dick Malloy, the well known New York politician said, "you know, a lot of court plaster can be bought for $1000."

New Idea In Fighting

That encounter with Wilson opened the eyes of the public to a new idea in fighting that is prevalent today. Up to that time the sporting men had been accustomed to seeing men stand up and fight. It had never occurred to them that a fellow could deliberately "dog" it and get away for four rounds. Wilson went into the ring with no intention of fighting. We had hardly put up our hands when he dropped to the floor without having been struck. He stayed there for the count of nine, and when I went after him he hugged me around the waist until he could ease himself to the floor. There was no chance to put him out because he wouldn’t stand up. I had never fought a man like that before, and it riled me to think that a follow wouldn't stand up and be game.

The crowd hissed repeatedly, but that had no effect on the Englishman. He was bent on getting away with the $4000, and he cared nothing for having a reputation as a clean fighter. Up to that time the fighters had a sense of honor among themselves, and they had rather be defeated than to be considered what we now call "yellow.

That was not true of Wilson, however, and this artful dodger gave the public a new idea in prize ring tactics. Since that time many fighters have employed that means of continuing a fight. That is one reason why so many of the fights of today are unsatisfactory at six or eight rounds. By dropping to the floor and holding on most any fighter can stick out six rounds.

In the fourth round Wilson got in the way of one of my swings and was nearly out, but the bell saved him. I say bell , as a matter of fact we had no bells in those days. The timekeeper would simply call out “timeâ€. The bells came later.

He Was Hopping Mad

When the fight was over and Wilson had been handed his $4000 for staying four rounds, I was hopping mad. My managers were equally angry. Richard K, Fox and others were at the ringside, and right there and then we made arrangements for another fight between us. Fox put up a forfeit of $500.

The second match was stopped by the authorities, and the chance to lick that fellow was gone. Subsequently he agreed to a match with Jimmy Elliott, with a forfeit of $500 a side, the fight to be under London Prize Ring Rules. But Tug Wilson had no intention of fighting again, and he slipped off to London. Fox forfeited the stake money and that was the end of Wilson’s career in America.

While I was having this "series of picnics" don't imagine for a minute that I was not trying to learn something. No man ever got too old to learn and to this day I am finding things out that are new to me. That fight with Tug Wilson gave me an idea. I had never seen a man who would

refuse to stand up and fight before. I therefore decided that the only way to get one of these fellows was to land on him when he put up his hands and take no chances of his crawling about

the floor.

Difficult Feat

While a fighter might be able to whip an antagonist with ease in 10 rounds, he will find it very difficult to get a man in four rounds if the opponent resorts to running tactics. Under the London prize ring rules a man could not run so easily, as he was compelled to wear shoes studded with one-inch spikes. That was intended as foothold in the turf, so that he could put force behind his blows. No man can hit hard unless he has his feet securely planted. He must put the force of the body into the blows to make them effective.

While watching a preliminary fight between two lightweights one day I noticed one of them make a feint and then ram his fist into his opponent's stomach. Up to that time it was customary for fighters to stand with their hands stuck out on a level with their faces That was before the day of the crouch. Seeing what a disadvantage a fighter was at when he held his hands high, I decided to lower mine and keep them on a level with the stomach, as the fighters do today.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 15

Fighting has lost much of its element of romance and adventure. In this day and time it has become a regular business. The fighter, arranges his affairs now just as a banker would keep tab on the books of his institution. In the olden days there was a fascination about the fight game that does not exist today.

The fighters were more of the people then and decidedly more democratic when it came to mingling with their admirers. They went into the ring ready to meet any strange kind of adventure, and they relished the uncertainty of the life. They were always ready to take a chance.

There is a zest in preparing for a fight when the man getting ready has no idea who is to be his opponent, it is a dash of adventure that appeals to everyone. Today the fighters know whom they are to meet months and months ahead, and there is no such things as challenges to all comers. That has robbed the game of much of its romantic Interest.

It is the same feeling as that, which comes over an old adventurous sailor when he sees that the days of sailing ships are numbered that that what used to be a chance for thrilling and dangerous experiences has been supplanted by these big floating hotels.

The romance of the sea has gone and the romance of fistiana has gone with it. The old adventurers have been supplanted by men who think of nothing but business. Everything now is commercialism. Money is champion.

Many Adventures

On my trip with that variety show, when I was meeting all comers, I had more adventure in a week than the fighters of today have during their entire career.

At Fort Wayne, Ind, we ran into a hubbub of excitement. Half the town was gathered at the train to see us enter. I knew that something was doing somewhere, but until I reached the theatre I could not locate the cause of the intense excitement.

It had been rumored that Shang ( Shane) Donahue, “The tripper of Connellsville “ would face me and attempt to win the$500 which was the sum offered at the time for standing out the four rounds. The crowd were greatly disappointed when he did not appear, but they soon got satisfaction.

As Madden and I came on the stage there was a great commotion in the audience near the entrance. A tall muscular fellow had forced his way past the doorkeeper, insisting that he would meet Sullivan and that he wanted that $500.

He weighed over 200 pounds and looked equal to the task of tackling anybody."I'll box this world beater!" shouted the unknown, as he pushed his way through the crowd. His appearance

created a great sensation.

"Here is a customer for your champion!â€' shouted one of the spectators

"Mr Sullivan will box anybody," said Billy Madden. And then to the stranger:

"Sullivan will box you sir, if you will come up and get ready, and if you stand up before him for four three minute rounds, here is $500†brandishing five $100 bills in crisp notes.

"I'll take It. anyhow," said the unknown. "I threw over Farmer Babcock's steer when they wanted to shoot it. I lifted over 800 pounds, and there is no fighter can whip me in four rounds, especially with boxing gloves.â€

Giant's First Fight

"Did you ever fight anybody.'" Inquired Madden. "Well," replied the new would be champion, "I never fit 'cording to rules I was going to fight Joe Coburn once, but I left the town afore he arrived. Tom Allen and I was going to have it up in Cleveland once, but I did not stop over night and we never met .I intended to tight Paddy Ryan when he was in Cleveland, but it was not Ryan's fault the fight did not take placeâ€.

"I tell yer what I did though. I lifted the whole double corner of a stake , and ridered fence one day when Josh Myer's colt's leg got fast, and when Dave Gould was going to kill his bull and they could not corner it, that fist (showing Madden" a bunch of fives that would not have disgraced Tom Spring) knocked him stone dead."

Madden. Bob Farrell and Pete McCoy smiled in wonder. "Well," said Madden, "Mr Sullivan has been looking for a pugilist like you for some time, but he's never yet found oneâ€.

"I am the man, then," said the unknown, bracing up. "Bring on your man. I have read how this yer Sullivan raised a hen coop on Paddy Ryan's neck , and I often thought how I would have liked to be Tom Wilson and to have received that hay cart full of silver dollars for letting him pound me."

"Well, you are satisfied to meet the champion, are you?" said Madden.

"Well, you see, I've been slinging a sledge hammer all day bouncing it against an anvil, and I should like to box him without, any gloves, for I am not used to wearing them mufflers but I will do it anyway."

"Won't you think you had better have a doctor or a surgeon brought in?" said Bob Farrell.

Jollied Him Along

"I think if the gentleman is going to meet Sullivan, he had better send his measure for a coffin," suggested Pete McCoy. Madden then escorted the rustic giant to the dressing room and he stripped. Madden looked in amazement when he saw the muscles and the great physical

development of the Indiana giant, and running up to Bob Farrell and Pete McCoy said, with a wink:

"Why, this fellow will murder Sullivan." Then, turning to McCoy, he said in a stage whisper, "I guess we had better postpone this meeting." We used to pull that kind of stuff right along to get the crowd worked up.

In an instant the burly blacksmith was alert. "Now. sir." said he, "I am going to whip this champion. I want that $500 to buy wrought Iron when I go to Pittsburg and I'm bound to have it." "All right," said Madden. "Our man is ready."

In a few minutes the ambitious pugilist was prepared. He stripped well, displaying well formed limbs and well developed chest. As soon as the manager announced that Sullivan's challenge had been accepted and that the Great Unknown was to meet him the statement was greeted with loud cheers. I stepped onto the stage and was followed a few seconds later by my opponent.

“He is quite a big fellow Billy†I said to madden. “But I’ll double him up with a couple of punches if I am not mistakenâ€.

The unknown eyed me eagerly, but did not appear at all nervous. When all was ready I stepped up to the center of the ring and the Unknown's friends told him to do the same. We shook hands and the next instant there was a great slugging match.

Knockout in the Second

The unknown was devoid of science, but he let go his right, and left at random, sometimes landing on my body or face, but more frequently missing or falling short. Intense excitement prevailed as I began to bore in and deliver some crushing blows on the unknown's jaw, I was astonished to find that he did not flinch.

He swallowed the medicine good humouredly. All of a sudden the giant made a desperate effort to plant his left on my nose but luckily I blocked it, and quickly crossing him. I clipped one on his jaw and the unknown fell all of a heap into the corner. He gamely came again and received another dose and was fought down. Time was called and both pugilists were loudly cheered.

When time was called for the second round I got to work in earnest. I banged the unknown a terrific one with my right in the neck. He rushed into clinch, but before he could do so I jumped back and then, feinting with my left, gave the giant yahoo a swinging blow with the right, which landed on his left ear with tremendous force,

The unknown reeled and fell senseless on the stage. Time was called, but the countryman was still asleep. When it was announced that the unknown could not fight any longer I was greeted

with loud cheers.

Stockwell, which was the unknown's name, did not know whether he was asleep or awake when he came to and wanted to know if he fell off a barn. “ I was never cut out for a prize fighter," he said, "and now I'm glad that when I went to Cleveland to meet Paddy Ryan the Irishman was not there."


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 16

Since the inception of prize fighting as a sport there seems to have been An implication that no man could be a fighter and still be a man of honor and a gentleman.

In many quarters the idea still exists that fighters must be vicious or criminals. I have never believed in that. I’ve always believed that a man can be a fighter and still be a gentleman. It is just as much chance for a man for a man to make a start in life through the prize ring as through a bank or a lawyer. As a rule you will find the fighter as honorable and as straightforward as the employees of a bank.

In my days I have reckoned among my friends some of the most prominent men in the world. Among them were Roscoe Conklin, the American statesman, Theodore Roosevelt , Joseph Cannon, Speaker of the House of Representatives; John O’Reilly, the famous Irish patriot, and scores of others.

I might be surprising for you to know that Mr. O’Reilly wrote for me the speech that I was to make in accepting the belt given to me as a mark of esteem by the citizens of Boston. The unfortunate part of it though is , to my embarrassment, I forgot the speech Mr. O’Reilly wrote and I had to deliver one of my own. He said by the way that it was just as good as any he could have written.

Speaker Cannon

Several years ago I was in Portland and at the same hotel was Speaker Cannon. One of the Congressmen who knew me saw me in the lobby and called over to introduce me to Speaker Cannon. “I’m awful glad to meet you†I said “ I have been reading about you for a matter of years. I always liked you stuff too.â€

“Well you’ve got nothing on me†said Speaker cannon. “I have been reading about you a lot longer than you’ve been reading about me, and might also add that I am equally well pleased with your stuff.â€

We had a pleasant chat for an hour and Speaker cannon invited me to call on him when I went to Washington. He told me that he likes a good prize fight and that if he had the opportunity he would see more of them.

I started out to tell you about Roscoe Conkling however. He was a great man, of those days, and when I was meeting all comers he always appeared if I fought anywhere near Washington.

Conkling was what is now called a “fight fanâ€. He always had an idea that he ought to have been a fighter. He was a good boxer too. One of Mr. Conkling’s closest friends Chandler and they frequently donned the gloves. I have to tell you a story about Conkling’s experience as a boxer. He used to tell it to me every time we met.

When Conkling and Chandler were members of the United States Senate they, engaged in a lot of sparring ring matches with each other. It so happened that at one of these meetings the great Conkling sent the statesman to the mat in such a way that he was almost out. Chandler ruminated long and deeply over his humiliation and studied a to how he should have revenge. Finally he hit it.

In due course of time Conkling was invited to a private tea, nobody being present save one the latter's acquaintances, a Mr Elmer. After the tea and muffins were disposed of and the cigar’s were lighted, Conkling began bantering his host about his discomfiture, and finally proffered him satisfaction with the gloves. Chandler had a lame wrist and declined; but seeing that his guest had been anticipating some fun and was disappointed, suggested that his friend Elmer would put on the gloves. Elmer was a little shy about it, but Conkling promised not to hurt him and the two men were soon facing each other on the dinning room floor .

In a flash Conkling Was bowled over and it was done so "slick" that Chandler insisted that his colleague must have slipped, but the Senator had scarcely faced his adversary the second

time before he was sent spinning into a corner.

"Never mind about hurting, go in Conk!" yelled Chandler and the New Yorker, a little flushed, went at it again. Then he got a pounder that laid him in a confused mass among a pile of chairs, and the fun was over. "You should have put me on my guard, but it's all right, and how much

did you give him?" was Conkling's parting salutation to his host, who was shaking the whole block with his laughter.

The secret was that Chandler had sent to New York for one of the boys, and the Michigan "constituent" was one of the most noted sluggers in the country.

O'Reilly was a "Fan

John Boyle O'Reilly, the great Irish patriot and poet, was also a "fight fan." He studied the game thoroughly, and it might be interesting here to reproduce an article prepared by him on the subject of prize fighting, and especially as it has an important bearing on the style that I used at that time. Many have said that I never was a good boxer, but that I was primarily a slugger. Here is what the illustrious O'Reilly had to say on the subject:

"The superiority of Sullivan lies in his extraordinary nervous force and his altogether incomparable skill as a boxer. "The chief reason why boxing has fallen into disrepute is the English practice of prize fighting with bare hands, and under improper rules: "The American champion, Sullivan, has done more than attempt to defeat all pugilists who came before him; he has made a manly and most creditable effort to establish, the practice not only of sparring, but of fighting with large gloves. The adoption of gloves for all contests will do more to preserve the practice of boxing than any other conceivable means. It will give pugilism new life, not only as a professional boxer's art, but as a general exercise."


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 17

The first fighter to arrive in this country from England who was a truly clever boxer 'was Charlie Mitchell. By "clever boxer" I mean a man who was fast on his fee£ and knew how to handle his fists with-great rapidity. To many of our old-school fighters this man Mitchell was a marvel. He fooled several of them by his quick shifts and won many fights without getting over a heavy punch. Some maintain that he never had a punch. I was sitting at the ringside one night when he was fighting Cleary, and Dick Malloy tells me that I turned to him and said. “That’s a job for me.â€

Mitchell won his first fights by shiftiness and because many of the old timers who met him had a bad habit of holding their hands very high. He would feint so as to make them guard their heads and then he would nail them in the stomach. Under the management of Jim Wakeley of New York I made arrangements to meet Mitchell at Madison square Gardens, May 14, 1883, in a three round bout. Mitchell, you understand, had been imported from England especially to "knock out the Boston giant.â€

Knocked Down for First Time

In that fight I was knocked down for the first time in my life! As that knockdown brought out columns of comment in the papers throughout the country I think it would be an excellent idea to explain it right here. As I was turning away from him I decided to step to one side. As I did so one of my feet crossed over the other one, and while I was in that position Mitchell 'struck, me and I fell. It was as easy as knocking over a chair.

A noted sporting man was twitting me about this one day in the Palmer House in Chicago. I explained it several times, but the gentleman laughed at me, and my anger was aroused.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," I said to the man. "I will bet you $1000 that I can stand in my usual position in the ring with my hands tied behind me and let Mitchell hit me 12 times without knocking me out of my position."

Although the gentleman did not believe I could do this, he was afraid to bet. I would have put up the money at least. I believe it would have been impossible for Mitchell to have knocked me down by hitting me a clean blow when I had my feet braced. When I fell to the floor in that round and the crowd began to cheer, I was decidedly worked up and went at him like a bull at a red flag. In the third I had him on the ropes helpless at my mercy.

Police Stopped It

Inspector Thorne and Capt Williams, who afterward became an inspector, jumped into the ring and stopped the proceedings. "Let me have one more crack at him," I begged of the captain.

"John, do you want to kill him?" he replied. "No," added Inspector Thorne, "I am not going to give you a chance to commit murder." When Mitchell recovered he made all kinds of bluffs and began to bluster around the ring. "You had no business interfering," he said to the police. I was all right." "You go to your dressing roomâ€, said the captain. "You are a lucky individual that I stepped in and prevented Sullivan from killing you."

That fight with Mitchell was the biggest event of its kind that had ever been held in New York. The doorkeepers had an awful night of it. For blocks around the people jammed and bolstered one another along as though their hopes of happiness depended on an early glance of these two "fist slingers."

At 8:20 the exhibition began. Madison Square Garden was then a sight. There was no semblance of a seat, of a bench or of a box, but every stretch of flooring and every foot of board presented a continuous moving sea of human heads.

Noted Men at Ringside

Just beside the platform sat. Ex-United States Senator Roscoe Conkling. At the end of the reporter's table was Mr. Charles A. Dana. Mr Lawrence Jerome and a cluster of clubmen were beyond the platform, while fistiana was represented by her other subjects in swarms. "That fight was a good one," said Billy Edwards after the battle was over. ' "Only one thing can be said about it. Mitchell is a very good man, but he met another who is his superior all the way round." ''The contest," said Jim Cusick, "only proves the old saying that a good little man cannot whip a good big man."

Following my victory over Mitchell the crowd of fellows who were always hunting for somebody to lick me went all the way to New Zealand to find a champion. Jem Mace, the one-time famous fighter, was sent to find him. The man's name was Slade, but he was generally known as "Mace's Maori." Jem Mace spent a long time training this man Slade and they figured that he was just about right to win the championship when they landed in Frisco in December, 1882. The papers were filled with talk about this new man who was coming for the express purpose of "winning the championship from the Boston giant."

"Maori" a Big Fellow

Mace and his protégé finally arrived in New York and I had a chance to look "the Maori" over. He was certainly a strapping young fellow. He was over 6 feet tall and built in proportion.

He was a larger man than I. The fight was finally arranged for Aug 6, 1883, which gave the importation from the Antipodes six months in which to get ready. We fought at Madison Square Garden and the crowd was larger, if that be possible, than one that witnessed the fights with Charley Mitchell and "Tug" Wilson.

Richard K. Fox put up the money to get Slade here, I was told, and he was instrumental in having Jem Mace train him. They were determined to have me defeated, but the public knows how well they succeeded.

The announcer that night introduced the combatants and the event as follows:

"This is to be a combat in the latter day pugilistic fashion between John L. Sullivan and the importation from far distant New Zealand, Herbert A. Slade. a Maori half-breed." We had not been in the ring 10 seconds when I aimed one straight at Slade's nose and it landed. I followed

it with another on the neck and the Maori fell back into his corner.

For the rest of the round I kept at him, and I could see that the New Zealander was out of wind. In the third round I knocked Slade down repeatedly, and the last time he appeared so dazed and bewildered that the police jumped in and stopped the fight. The New Zealander appeared

quite willing that such a course be adopted. He went over and took off his gloves and I shook hands with him.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 18

What is generally known as the greatest "knockout tour" in the history "of pugilism began on Sept 27, 1883, following my victory over Slade, the halfbreed Maori from New Zealand. On that spectacular tour, which was arranged by Al Smith, one of the squarest sporting men that the world ever knew, I fought in 154 cities throughout the United States and British Columbia. I knocked out 160 men. I have their names at hand, but for lack of space will omit them here. Mr Smith offered on my behalf the sum of $1000 for any man that would stand before me for four rounds.

Nobody ever won it.

That tour netted us the immense sum of $180,000. Unlike the champions of today I barred nobody, but issued a sweeping challenge that could be accepted by any man who felt so disposed. I have always believed that what popularity I have today is due to that triumphal tour.

My company was made up of Herbert Slade, the Maori, Steve Taylor, Pete McCoy and Mike Gillespie . The occasion often arose when some fellow wanted to fight me, but was lacking in physical build. If he would consent I would let him fight McCoy or one of the smaller men of my party first.

If he succeeded in making a showing I would give him a chance. I did not wish to kill anybody, and took every precaution to prevent such an unfortunate accident.

Challenged By Mace

I was frequently challenged by Jem Mace, the one time great fighter, but all of his propositions were side-tracked for reasons that I will explain. I will do so in the words of Al Smith. The following statement by Smith will throw considerable light on the early methods of faking fights so as to fool the public.

We were in Cincinnati when a reporter came to Mr. Smith and asked why he had not accepted the challenge of Mace, which looked very good on paper.

“here is the truth of the matter†said Mr. smith. “When Mace was here before I was his firm fast friend, and was his umpire when he face Coburn in Canada. Until I saw Sullivan I thought he was the best man in the world. When mace first talked of meeting Sullivan, which was before the Maori went against him, he came to me and said;

I want to meet this young fellow, Sullivan, but I don’t want to be knocked out. It would break my heart if I was. Now, I want you to fix it up so I won’t.â€

I told him it was no use to talk to Sullivan on this subject, but he urged me saying;

“Won’t you see him and tell him that after four rounds are over I will get up and say he is the best man I ever met and the coming champion.â€

I replied “Jem, why not go against him on the dead square ?, we can pack Madison Square Garden at $2 a ticket for common seats. It will hold $20,000 and suppose you do get knocked out, we will split the receipts in two and you will have $10,000 for the trouble.â€

"He asked me to give him until next day to think it over, and he did so. The next night he met me and urged me to see Sullivan about his proposition, as it would break his heart to be knocked out.

To oblige him, I went to Boston, where Sullivan was training for his fight with the Maori, and delivered Mace's message, saying as I did so:

“Now, do as you please about it.†" There is only one thing I will do about it,†answered Sullivan, “and that is I will do my best; and let him do the same. All I have ever made has been by doing this, and I won't quit to oblige Mr Mace.â€

"When asked if he would meet Sullivan then, he said: 'Not for the bloody Bank of England."

More Challenges Came

After Sullivan beat the Maori, Mace resumed his challenges. One day I met him and said: “Jem, you had better accept our proposition. You are getting to be an old man, and in a year or two no one will believe that you will have better make this $10,000 while you-can.

He refused again to meet Sullivan on the square, saying that he was the wonder of the world and it would break his heart to be knocked out by him When he issued the challenge to meet Sullivan In three matches, he said to " 'Don't mind what I say or do; I have to make some money, and this is the best way to do it.â€

"John would be only too happy to meet him with the gloves, but it would have to be on the square." I never had any objection to meeting with gloves any strong, healthy young men who wanted to contest for boxing honors, for I appreciated their position as one in which I found myself on starting out. I knew full well that reputation does not make the man.

There is another side to this idea however, that is at times humorous, shall never forget the time I arrived at Davenport, la, and found a giant blacksmith named Mike Sheehan waiting to annihilate me. He was noted as "the strongest man in townâ€. Just before the exhibition at the theatre his wife called on me at the hotel and with tears in her eves begged of me not to meet her husband. She said she was the mother of five children and it was on their account that she did not want the fight to come off.

“Well isn’t your husband a great fighter ?†I asked.

“O, yes indeed†she said. “He can whip anybodyâ€.

“Then why is it you do not wish me to meet him?" I asked in surprise. .

"Why," she said, as if astonished at my question. "Why, Mr Sullivan, I am afraid he will kill you, and I do not want my children to grow up and know their father was a murderer."' This was a new one on me.

That night I put the blacksmith out in two rounds. He was intensely game and wanted to come back, but he couldn’t. I made him a present of $100. I believe that if he had been trained he would have been a good fighter.

How a "K. O." Feels

"What are the sensations of a man being knocked out?" That is a question that has been asked me since I first entered the prize ring. Just why this question was always directed at me I have always failed to understand. I was never knocked out in my life. In my fight with James Corbett I was not knocked out. I knew everything that was going on, but the machinery within me refused to respond to my call, and I could not rise from my knees.

I have taken occasion to give this subject considerable study, however, and I will undertake to answer the question as best I can. notwithstanding the various opinions to the contrary, I still believe that the most vulnerable part of a man's body is the point of the jaw. A hard blow on the point of the jaw will render a man unconscious, and at the same time will not effectually weaken him otherwise, I have consulted many physicians on this subject, and they tell me that the point of the jaw is connected with the spinal column, and the effect of a heavy blow at that point is to temporarily paralyze the brain.

The sensation, as it has been described to me by fighters whom I have knocked out, is the same as that felt by a person who has been under the influence of ether and is coming out of it. The man's mind, they tell me, seems confused, sick and giddy. He has no real feeling of pain, but simply a sense of numbness or deadness which renders him non compos mentis for the time being.

To verify that I can mention several instances where men have regained consciousness after being knocked out, and, instead of complaining of pain, asked various questions showing an absolute, lack of acquaintance with their surroundings. For instance, one fellow at Nashville, Tenn, that I knocked out, came to in about 20 minutes. The first thing he asked me was:

“Did I win?"

Another man that I knocked out in California came to me and asked

When do I go on?"

Booze Hardest Hitter

The after effect of a man being knocked out is not at all serious. It leaves no mark or lasting damage. There is another knockout, however, that puts a man out for good, and right here is about as good a place to discuss it as any other. The real knockout punch is carried by old King Booze, and nobody who ever went against him ever recovered enough to be a good fighter.

A great many persons have said that I should be an authority on what is commonly called the curse of liquor. I am. I make the statement openly, though I am ashamed of it. But I am going to be straightforward. I hope, and in making this acknowledgement of a fitful past, I want to put myself on an equal footing with some of the men who may heed my talk and certainly need something of the kind. I fought the booze, but I wasn't the man with the punch. No man carries a swing or a hook or a cross or an uppercut that can make an impression on Old Red Eye.

They used to say that I won most of my fights by scaring my men into a fit before getting into the ring with them. But Old Red Eye never gave me a serious thought when I threw down the gauntlet to him. I was just as easy as any of the rest of them. You have heard before, I guess, that no man can beat the booze game. It's a fact, established as early as the hills from which the booze is supposed to come. Nobody can beat it by fighting it.

Perhaps in my time, and I do not mean to say this boastfully, I have turned more young men into a straighter path than any other man outside of those occupying temperance lecture platforms. You ask me how I do it. Simply by being forceful. I used the argument that if a champion of the world, and the man who really discovered the original punch, couldn't negotiate a victory over King Cornjuice , what chance had anybody else? Pretty strong talk that, but absolutely right.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 19

I have found since the beginning of my career as a fighter that the big men of the country are always interested in fistic sport. By "big men" I mean men who have amounted to something in the affairs of the Nation. Ex-President Roosevelt is a great fight fan and half of the members of the United States Congress are close readers of the events of the ring. If a man has red blood in his veins there is something about a fair fist fight that appeals to him.

A noted preacher of Boston once told me that if he could make his congregation understand things as he did he would attend all the fights. I have counted among my friends some of the most prominent men in the world, and they can tell better reminiscences of my career than I can myself.

I suppose a great many of you know Bill Sterrett of Washington and sometimes Texas. If you don't, you ought to. Aside from being a man of considerable influence in politics, he is one of the best political correspondents for the newspapers in this country. Col Sterrett was always interested in prize fighting and at one time, when I appeared in Texas on my famous tour, he had discovered a champion whom he expected to take my title. Perhaps I had better let Col Sterrett tell the story himself, which he often does at public gatherings.

How He "Whipped" Sullivan

"When I see a plain, ordinary Senator or Representative, go on the rampage trying to do up the press gallery," said Col Sterrett, "I am reminded of the manner in which the champion of mine in Texas whipped John L. Sullivan. His name was Marks – Al Marks – a cotton screwer in Galveston, and one of the strongest and gamest fighters in Texas. Sullivan came down there on a tour and offered $500 to any man who would stand in front of the gloves three ( four ) rounds. Marks accepted the challenge. After the contest I asked marks for particulars, and this is the way he told the story.

“As I walked to the stage people cheered me, and I felt pretty proud. I was going to put my hands up against the great Sullivan. I felt sure I could whip him, but when I got into the ring John L. stood in front of me. He appeared to be a heap bigger than he looked from my seat. I determined to astonish him right from the jump. So after we had shaken hands I let him have a good one right in the jaw. Sullivan looked at me in a surprised sort of way.

I said to myself: "This man has his match at last, and he knows it. He is afraid of me. So I gave him some more knocks. John L. looked at me almost appealingly. He tried to stop my blows, but he was slow and clumsy.

In the second round I gave him several more hard ones, and continued to look scared. I said to myself it was ridiculous for this man to be posing as the champion of the world, and determined to put an end to his pretention.

Then The Change Came

About the middle of the third round, just as I was getting ready to do Sullivan up, I saw another sort of look coming to his eyes. He looked like some wild animal. In the next second he caught me under the left jaw with his right and lifted me up from the floor till my toes barely touched. At this his terrible left caught me on the other side of my face, and….

“I’ll have to finish the story†said Sterrett “for marks didn’t know much about the subsequent proceedings. When he had raised his man clear off the floor, just as a football player lifts the ball preparing for a kick, he hit poor Marks a crack which knocked him over the ropes and down into the orchestra. Two chairs and three violins were broken and where Marks was picked up unconscious. Sullivan thought he had killed the man and hid himself in the wings of the theatre .

Unexpected Experience

Just a few days after that I had the most unexpected experience of my career. We were to appear in Chattanooga and before our arrival someone had started a report that the man who was to appear as John L Sullivan was an imposter. This report had gained such widespread circulation that it would not be stopped.

When I appeared on the stage that night the chief of police and one of his officers jumped on the rostrum and demanded that I establish my identity. I had no way to prove it, except for the men travelling with me, and the cops would not take their word. It was said I raved like a bull at what I called an outrage. Finally I thought myself of a scheme.

“Chief†I said to the officer “If you or anybody in this town have any doubt as to my identity I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You just send any man in this house on the stage, and if he faces me five minutes I’ll give him $1000. There is but one Sullivan, and I'm the man," That argument carried some force with it, and one man ,who they had been asking to meet me, threw the crowd into laughter by yelling: ' "I'll take his word for it, all right; I'm sure he is John Lâ€

One Punch for Fleming

"We went from Chattanooga to Memphis, and there a young doctor called on me. He wanted to know if I really offered $1000 to any man that would stand before me four rounds. I assured him that I did. He then told me of a man named Fleming, and he wanted to fight me. Late during the day Fleming came around, and the $1000 was put into the hands of a responsible man.

On the stage Fleming appeared to be a strong, healthy fellow. I was a little disturbed for fear that he might stick. My fear was groundless, however, for I aimed the hard one straight, at his face

right from the jump, and he went out. Fleming was knocked out for 20 minutes and had not entirely recovered when the show closed.

The first word he spoke after coming around was to his "When am I to meet Sullivan?" he asked. He was informed that such an event had already happened. "Did I win, all right'."' asked poor Fleming. That was perhaps the shortest glove tight on , record. It lasted only two seconds.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 20

You may talk all you please to the boys of America about the great deeds of: George Washington, Daniel Boone, Mad Anthony Wayne and other figures prominent in history, but to them the two real heroes of this country are the prize fighter and the ball player. A man who can put another out of business by a punch on the jaw appeals much more strongly to the average American youth than does the hero of history, who could outgeneral the British.

The same is true of ball players. The man they worship is the fellow who can hit for two bases with the bags all full, or a pitcher who can strike out the side. I always take a lot of pleasure in teasing the little fellows who follow at my heels when walk along the streets, and on several occasions I have, unintentionally put some very mischievous notions into their heads.

I was walking along Grand St, in New York, one day, when several little fellows, discovering my identity, began to follow me. One audacious little rascal yelled at me:

"Hey, John L., what do you eat to be so strong?"

"Nothing but gunpowder," I replied; "it makes me fierce,"

"What do you drink?" asked another, as he came close to me.

"Blood, my son," I answered. "Nothing but blood. It takes two or three little fellows like you to feed me every day."

What He Taught"

I thought no more of the incident until I returned to that neighborhood a week or so later. Then I had it forcibly brought to my attention. A party of ladies called on me one day and when I went down to see them I had considerable curiosity as to what they wanted.

"Mr Sulllvan," said a little woman, whose name was Mrs Maloney, "you have taught our boys some very bad tricks, and we know that you will be willing to straighten it out if you have the chance."

"Why, what in the world have I been doing?" I asked.

Well, I'll tell you," replied the little woman. "Do you remember walking down Grand at in New York one day and telling a lot of little boys that you ate gunpowder and drank blood to make you fierce?'

I laughed uproariously at this, for I did remember this incident.

“It’s not as funny as you might think†said the little woman. “Those boy’s of ours thought you meant that and they are taking every cent of money they can get to buy gunpowder. Why,my little son has actually been feeding our bulldog on milk and gunpowder to make him fierce."

"Yes," spoke up one of the others. "My boy went over to the slaughterhouse and bought a quart of beef blood. He drank it all before he came home. He came in with the information that he was so fierce and full of fight that he wanted to whip his sister. That night he was very sick and we had to send for the doctor."

Took It Seriously

From the evidence of these good women I ascertained that the little boys along Grand St had been flocking to the slaughter houses over near the river every day begging for beef blood so that they could be great fighters like John L. I knew no way out of the difficulty except to go down there and make a talk, which I did. I told the little fellows that the beans I ate in Boston would make them just as vicious as the gunpowder and the blood, and for another week they had their mothers baking beans every day.

I have often laughed over that incident, and you readers who have been boys that were full of life can understand just how those kids felt.

It was on this visit to New York that I had considerable trouble with the police over allowing the fight between Alf Greenfield of England and myself to proceed at Madison Square Garden. Just as a matter of comparison, I will give you an idea at how they evaded the law in those days, so as to hold boxing matches. Pat Sheedy was my backer at that time, and Richard K. Fox was backing Greenfield.

How It Was Done

On the strength of an affidavit by Inspector Thorne, to the effect that he had reason to believe that a prize fight was to take place, at Madison Square Garden Greenfield and I were hauled before Judge Patterson. Col Spencer appeared for the defense and the proceeding was like this:

"Are you the man mentioned in this affidavit as Sullivan?" the Judge asked "I am, sir," I replied. "Yours truly, John L."

"Have you made some sort of an arrangement to box or something like that in Madison Square Garden Monday evening with a person known as Greenfield?"

"Simply a scientific exhibition of the manly art of self defense†I answered, just as I had been instructed to do.

“Have you any animosity against Greenfield “ asked the court. “none at all – in fact I rather like him.â€

"Do you intend, during that exhibition to inflict upon Mr Greenfield any damage?"

(Laughingly) "Pshaw, no; we were merely to spar scientifically, not hurt each other."

"Is there any prize put up beyond what people are willing to pay to come'

"No, sir." ."Is there such a thing as a science of self-defense treated off in books?"

"Yes, sir. You can learn a lot of it that way"

"Sign your statement," said Clerk Sellman, as I concluded, and as I hesitated, the clerk said, with a smile: "You can write, can't you?" "I can," said I, laboriously putting my signature to the paper.

Then Greenfield came up smiling.

Greenfield's Turn

"Hi was born in England," he said, "hand know Mr Sullivan slightly. Hi've made harrangements with 'im to give, you know, what you call a scientific exhibition."

"Have you any enmity toward Mr Sullivan?" asked the lawyer.

"Lord bless you, no!" said Greenfield, closing his eyes and shaking his Head;

"hi don't hintend him any arm."

At this everybody grinned, and Greenfield continued.

"We would use the hordinary gloves, which, you know, his very soft."

"Sign your name, please," said Clerk Sellman.

"Beg your pardon," said Greenfield, "but you know in hour country we don't ave a chance to leam, but Hi can make my mark," and he put a big X at the bottom of the sheet.

That explained the matter thoroughly, and we were allowed to go on with the fight. At that they stopped it in the second round, when I had Greenfield at my mercy. I later licked him in

four rounds at the New England Institute in Boston.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 21

After my fight with McCaffrey there was nothing doing in the way of matchmaking, and I turned my mind toward making money. I went back to Boston and signed a contract to travel with Allen's Minstrels at a salary of $500 a week. My job was to pose as statues of ancient and modern gladiators. I can assure you that that was much easier money than knocking some poor fellow out for it every night.

In the meantime I had put myself under the management of Pat Sheedy, and we started on a trip to the Coast with Steve Taylor, George La Blanche, Jimmy Carroll and Patsy Kerrigan. In Frisco I finally got another chance to meet Paddy Ryan, the man from whom I had won the championship in 1882.

I knocked him out in three rounds and received something like $7600 for the trouble,After leaving Frisco I received an injury that came near putting me out of the fighting game for good. In fact, it was the first serious hurt I ever had.

Why Cardiff Lasted

During an exhibition bout in Minneapolis, Jan 18, 1887, I met Patsy Cardiff. We were to go six rounds. In the opening minute I let drive my left, but found that I had gauged my man wrongly. The blow struck him in the middle of the forehead just as he was ducking. I felt a sharp twinge in my arm, but I kept on going. In a few minutes I discovered that I had broken one of the bones in my arm, and it was already beginning to swell. Despite this injury I fought out the other five rounds, and was given the decision.

"Why didn't you knock him out?" yelled some fellow derisively from the crowd.

I hurried to the Hotel Nicolet and sent for two surgeons to look at my arm. I was suffering the most excruciating pain and my arm had swollen until It was almost double its natural size. By the time the doctors decided What to do it was 3 o'clock in the morning. They finally sent for some splints and decided to set the arm, as they had found where the bone was broken. The radius bone, I believe, they called it .

Things got to such a pass that I began to be alarmed for fear that I might lose the arm. They wanted me to see a surgeon in Chicago, but I made up my mind to come straight to New York and see Dr Louis Sayers, whom I regarded as one of the greatest surgeons in the world. Dr Sayers immediately called his two sons. He told them to hold the muscle of the bicep as well as the forearm.

He then took hold of my hand as if to shake hands with me. In a flash he broke the arm, and for a minute he had me scared stiff. After resetting it he locked the arm in a plaster cast. I carried it in that position for five weeks. At the end of that time it was well and I could go back to fighting.

When my arm was well enough to resume sparring exhibitions I went back to my old home in Boston. On Aug 8 a grand testimonial benefit was given me at the Boston Theatre. It was on that occasion that I was presented with the diamond belt which came to be known all over the world. The one I got from the Police Gazette and sent back was like a dog collar alongside this one.

Proud of His Belt

The belt given me at Boston was of solid gold and set with 397 diamonds. This belt was made In Maiden Lane, New York, and is said to be the greatest and nicest piece of workmanship of its kind that was ever presented to a champion. The belt is my own personal property. It is 48 inches in length and 12 inches in width and is the largest piece of flat gold ever seen in this


It was about 12 Inches square when started, and weighed about 2800 (?) penny-Weights. It took about three months to complete It. It contains a center plate, two boxing panels, an eagle panel and a harp panel. These panels are studded with diamonds. My name on the belt is composed of 250 stones. There are enough of us Sullivan’s to repel an army, and we're always ready.

There are Sullivan’s enough to fill every position you may name. Do you want brawn ? Look at the Sullivan in Boston, who is 6 feet 8 ½ inches tall, working as a longshoreman for $1.80 a day.

Do you want brain? Look at another Sullivan in Boston, 5 feet 6 inches short, working as president of a railroad at a salary of $25,000. There are Sullivan’s of all grades in between these two samples, and I hope someday to see the family reunited — if there is any place big enough to hold us all. Let all the Sullivan’s take hold and help this thing along. I propose that a society be formed under the name of the Amalgamated Sullivan’s, If this is done we can control everything in the land. We are certainly the balance of power. I'd love to join such a family reunion, and I'll make a side bet that when It is pulled off the whole country will sit up and take notice. As for the Sullivan women they are the prettiest, the wittiest of any, and they raise families large enough, too.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 22

Since I began the preparation of this book I have been asked to explain in detail several incidents in my checkered career which have for years afforded fight fans material for argument. It would be impossible for me to give the facts about all of my deeds and misdeeds, as in many cases I did not remember having done such things and had to rely on my friends for news of my own doings. But there is one question that I can answer and will.

"Mr Sullivan, why did you refuse to fight Mitchell in New York on March 30, 1884?" That is the question that was sent me.

I will admit that for one time I failed to fight when called upon. I was caught napping, as it were, and if I had gone in the ring that night I might have come out without honors being heaped upon my shoulders.

The truth of the matter is that I did not prepare for the contest, because I had been led to believe the Capt. Williams of the police would refuse to allow the fight to take place. I was notified of this while in Boston. I immediately quite taking care of myself and ddrank more than I pleased at times. To be plain about it I “Cut Looseâ€.

When the day of the fight arrived I was suddenly notified that Capt. Williams would allow the match to go on, and I was caught in the middle of a bad fix.

Refused The money

I knew that I had to make good with the public in some manner, so I appeared at an exhibition. As soon as I got in the ring the crowd knew that I was in no condition to fight, and my explanation was entirely unnecessary. I made a short talk however in which I excused myself to the public. I immediately left the hall and went to my room.

A little later Al Smith sent me over my share of the gate receipts which amounted to around $1000. I refused to take the money on the grounds that I was not entitled to it. Smith refused to take it back, and we settled it by giving the money to charity.

This drinking question is one for profound consideration. Sometimes I contend that no man can be successful and drink, and then suddenly wake up and discover that I am mistaken.

On the other hand, if we look over the pages of history we find that many of our greatest men liked drink now and then. Daniel Webster liked his tipple. Henry Clay was always ready to take just one more. Calhoun was fond of his old fashioned toddy. George Washington took his straight, without water on the side, and regular too. Thomas Jefferson would not run away from a drink . King Edward of England has played the drink thing across the boards. He knows how to do it too.

Trip To England

While I never expect to take another drink as long as I live, I have none of those hard feelings against a man who does. If a man can take a drink and get away with it, so much the better, but yours truly has found long since that whiskey is not for him. I am against prohibition though. I think it an abridgement of personal liberty.

On the morning of Oct 27, 1887, I boarded the Cunard liner Cephalonia and set sail for England. I was going abroad on a mission of money, glory and revenge. I wanted to get Charley Mitchell and Tug Wilson, and in addition to that I was going after Jeff Smith, who was then posing as the Champion of England.

Harry S. Phillips, a well known sporting man of Montreal was my manager. Accompanying us was Jack Ashton, the Providence fighter, and Mr. John Barnett, a personal friend, who acted somewhat in the capacity of travelling companion, adviser and secretary.

We arrived in Liverpool on Nov. 6 at 2 o’clock. It was Sunday afternoon and there was an immense crowd on hand to greet me. I was a little bit shy about entering this foreign country, but when I saw all these friendly faces I knew that somebody would be on hand to help me out of difficulties. Among those who greeted me at the pier were Arthur Magnus, Alf Greenfield and Johnny Curran.

As I stepped from the tender the crush was so great I had difficulty in reaching a carriage. The crowd finally got so enthusiastic over the “American Champion†that they started to take the horses from the carriage and pull me to the hotel themselves. The police interfered and stopped that and after considerable waiting I finally reached the hotel in safety.

Made Speech From Window

I made a speech from the window of a newspaper office in which I thanked the people and promised them that I would show them what I could do as a “Knock Out†before the end of the week. I gave an exhibition on the Wednesday night following and was introduced with Jem Smith the champion of England.

The place was packed and the crowd immediately began to yell “Speech, Speechâ€. “I thank you†I said. “And all I’ve got to say is that here is one fellow I came over to lick†pointing to Jem Smith. They looked at me rather strangely as I said that, but I added;

“I want to lick him just as much as he wants to lick meâ€. My manager later told me that I should have said “ I want to best this manâ€, they didn’t appear to get the word “lick†at first.

We started on a trip around the country, and one of the most interesting places I visited was Cardiff, Wales. There my reception was one of the most enthusiastic ever tendered a visitor.

Called It A Dog Collar

“You don’t attach much importance to the diamond belt in the possession of Jake Kilrain ? “ was asked of men in Cardiff. “No†I replied.â€It is only a dog collar given by the Police Gazette. It’s real value is about £30 ( $150), and if I win it I intend to offer it for competition among the New York bootblacksâ€.

I had a little opportunity to meet all comers in Wales and England, because they wouldn’t fight. I repeatedly issued the challenge, but the people over there are not as quick to take a chance as they had been in America. I did meet one fellow in Cardiff – Samuels , I think his name was, - but he didn’t know much about the fighting game.

We sparred for a second and I unbelted one that caught him on the jaw and he went down for what looked like the count. He was not out however for he raised up and said “Quits,quitsâ€.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 23 – final chapter

As I near the end of my story I must take time to pay tribute to a man whom I regard as one of the greatest men this country ever produced. The man I refer to Ira D. Sankey, the evangelist. He is one of the few men who over called my bluff and made me think a long time about what he said. If I had listened to his advice I would be a rich man today and would be able to set a better example to the youth of the country than I have done.

Boys, when a man garbed as a minister calls on you I want you to listen to him with a great deal of attention. He knows a bit more about the world than you think.

I was in my room in a Buffalo hotel about 15 years ago when a bellhop came in and said that a stranger had called and wanted to take up some of my time. "If you don't say for him to come up," said the boy," said the boy, "he says he will come up anyway." "You tell that fresh fellow if he wants to take a chance on going down faster than he came up to come up," I said.

In a couple of minutes a dignified man, attired as a preacher, appeared in the doorway. "My name is Sankey," he said. in way of introduction. "Well, I wouldn't feel bad about that," I replied with a look that was intended to put the visitor out of business. "What do you want with me?

“I want you to change your way of living and set a different example for the youth of the countryâ€, was his opening remark. !Huh, Huh†I replied with some astonishment. "You have no right to squander your strength in wild living'," he went on without flinching-. "It was given you for a different purpose." "I don't squander anybody's money but my own," I replied, "and I do a lot more good with mine, I’ll bet you, than you do with yoursâ€.


Didn't Heed Old Advice

"Now, Mr Sullivan," he went on, "don't make the mistake of thinking that I don't know anything about the world and the things to which you refer. I've been pretty close to them in more countries than one, and I'm here to ask you to do something for the growing boy’s by setting a good example. These are the people we want to start in the right channels. By showing them the proper way to live you can do as much for saving these young people as I can."

We sat there and talked for an hour and he soon got it through my head that I was wrong and that he was right, Still, I had had so much of that kind of advice offered me that I did not heed it. He certainly made a great try and he went a long distance out of his way to force something upon me that I needed. I wish I had taken that advice.

In my concluding chapter I want to impress upon the boys and young men of this country the importance of doing something. The boy who sets his aim at a life of detail will never do much. He will be a good, handy man to have around, but you will never see his name in the papers.

The principal thing in life is to create something. To improve, on what others have done is all right, but the main idea is to go out and do something yourself. Do something different from what the other fellows have done.

Dig up something new.

Some years ago a young fellow came to my training camp on Long Island to make some drawings of me and to write a story of how I trained. I tried to help him all I could, but all the time I was talking to him I could see he had something in his mind that was his own. He was different from all the other artists I had seen before.

The next day I picked up the paper and saw that, his drawings were entirely different from what I had suggested to him. He was Frederick, the famous artist. Pie was then about 21 years old. Look what he did. The editor who sent him out to see me that day never imagined that Remington's pictures some day would be selling for thousands of dollars.

Managers Don’t make Fighters

I have often heard it said that managers are generally responsible for the success of fighters. That is all bosh. They can help a lot by attending to the details, but it is the fighter who makes the name for himself.

William Brady is a big theatrical manager, and I have no doubt that he cons himself into believing that he made James J. Corbett champion. Perhaps he never would have received a hearing as a manager if he hadn't been lucky enough to hitch up with the pompadour boy from California.

Tom O'Rourke was a stair builder before he got hold of George Dixon. I'll wager that O'Rourke can put up quite an argument to show that he made Dixon a success and caused him to pile up money for a dozen years. Of course Dixon has no comeback, because he is dead.

I am now well past 50 years, my hair is white and my weight is around 300 pounds. I take the most excellent care of myself. I never use intoxicants in any form whatever. I spend the greater part, of my time in my room. When I am not busy writing letters I take a deck of cards and amuse myself for hours playing solitaire.

A friend has already sprung a joke on me in advance. He says it would not be strange for some purchaser to ask his dealer for a scrapbook and be given the "Life of John L. Sullivan" by mistake.

additional info

Ira D. Sankey (August 28, 1840 – August 13, 1908), known as The Sweet Singer of Methodism, was an American gospel singer and composer, associated with evangelist Dwight L. Moody.[1]

Ira David Sankey, son of David Sankey, known as the father of Lawrence County, and Mary Leeper Sankey, was born August 28, 1840, in Edinburg, on the outskirts of New Castle, Pennsylvania.[2]

When Sankey was 16, he was converted at a revival meeting at the King's Chapel United Methodist Church, which was about three miles away from his home.[2]

When he was young, Sankey served in the Civil War.[2] Afterward, he took employment at the IRS,[2] and also the YMCA. He became increasingly well known as a Gospel singer, and eventually attracted the attention of noted evangelist Dwight L. Moody. The two men met at a YMCA convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, in June, 1870.[1] Several months later, Sankey attended his first evangelistic meeting with Moody. Shortly thereafter, Sankey resigned his government position.

Sankey married Fanny V. Edwards, one of his choir members, in September 1863. They had three sons.

In October 1871, Sankey and Moody were in the middle of a revival meeting when the Great Chicago Fire broke out.[2] The two men barely escaped the conflagration with their lives. Sankey ended up watching the city burn from a rowboat far out on Lake Michigan.

On June 7, 1872, Sankey and Moody made the first of several joint visits to the UK.[1] Sankey's hymns were promoted by the famous London Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, long afterwards. While in Edinburgh, they raised £10,000 for the purpose of building a new home for the Carrubbers Close Mission. During their time in Edinburgh, the foundation stone was laid and the building remains one of the few on the Royal Mile which today serves the same purpose for which it was built.

When Rev. Moody was asked by a local pastor what he felt was the primary contribution that a gospel singer and song leader such as Ira Sankey brought to his meetings he replied, "If we can only get people to have the words of the Love of God coming from their mouths its well on its way to residing in their hearts."

Sankey wrote several hymns and songs, composed and arranged music for many more, and collected over 1,200 in the popular volume Sacred Songs and Solos which is still used today. From 1895 to 1908, he was president of the Biglow and Main publishing company. He was blind from glaucoma the last five years of his life, and no doubt found a kindred spirit in his friend and music-making partner, blind hymnodist Fanny Crosby. Stories of his hymn compositions seem a fitting way to conclude this biography. His first and most famous composition was The Ninety and Nine. Sankey and Moody were en route from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland, in May, 1874, as they were to hold a three-day campaign there. This was at the urgent request of the Ministerial Association. Prior to boarding the train, Sankey bought a weekly newspaper for a penny. He found nothing of interest but a sermon by Henry W. Beecher and some advertisements. Then, he found a little piece of poetry in a corner of one column that he liked, and he read it to Moody, but only received a polite reply. Sankey clipped the poem and tucked it in his pocket. At the noon day service of the second day of the special series, Moody preached on The Good Shepherd. Horatious Bonar added a few thrilling words and then Moody asked Mr. Sankey if he had a final song. An inner voice prompted him to sing the hymn that he found on the train. With conflict of spirit, he thought, this is impossible! The inner voice continued to prod him, even though there was no music to the poem, so he acquiesced. As calmly as if he had sung it a thousand times, he placed the little piece of newspaper on the organ in front of him. Lifting up his heart in a brief prayer to Almighty God, he then laid his hands on the keyboard, striking a chord in A flat. Half speaking and half singing, he completed the first stanza, which was followed by four more. Moody walked over with tears in his eyes and said, "Where did you get that hymn?" The Ninety and Nine became his most famous tune and his most famous sale from that time on. The words were written by Elizabeth Clephane in 1868. She died in 1869, little realizing her contribution to the Christian world.

Ira D. Sankey died August 13, 1908 in Brooklyn.

In 1979–80, the Gospel Music Association recognized Sankey's prodigious contributions to gospel music by listing him in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

3 part article in longform

John L. Sullivan Revisited: Part 1

By Thomas Hauser

Next month will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of John L. Sullivan.

In recent decades, Sullivan has faded from memory. To many, he’s now more myth than reality, a sporting Paul Bunyan. In a way, that’s fitting because, in his era, Sullivan was a near-mythic figure as large as Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali were in their prime. He was America’s first mass-culture hero and the most idolized athlete who had lived up until his time.

Good writing about Sullivan is hard to find. His autobiography (like much of the contemporaneous writing about him) is unreliable. The best book on the subject is John L. Sullivan and His America by Michael Isenberg (University of Illinois Press, 1988). Isenberg mined the mother lode of Sullivan material and crafted a work that’s superb in explaining the fighter as a social phenomenon and placing him in the context of his times. Twenty years after publication, it’s still the standard against which Sullivan scholarship is judged.

More recently, Adam Pollack has contributed John L. Sullivan (McFarland and Company, 2004); an exhaustive review of contemporaneous newspapers, magazines, and other primary sources as they relate to Sullivan’s fights. Various ring histories, most notably The Manly Art by Elliott J. Gorn (Cornell University Press, 1986) also contribute to the archival heritage. Reading their work, an outline emerges.

The Irish potato famine of the 1840’s led to a flood of immigration to the United States. One of those arriving in America was a young man named Mike Sullivan, who settled in Boston circa 1850. In 1856, he married Catherine Kelly, whose family had also come to Boston from Ireland.

Mike Sullivan was a small man, 5-feet-2-inches tall. His wife was considerably taller and weighed 180 pounds. On October 15, 1858, in the Roxbury district of Boston, she gave birth to a son, John Lawrence Sullivan.

The Irish, in the mid-eighteenth century, were largely scorned in America. They were manual laborers and household domestics, shackled by ethnic prejudices and anti-Catholic sentiment. Mike Sullivan was a day laborer, who dug trenches, laid bricks, and took whatever other work was available to him.

John Lawrence’s formal education ended when he was fifteen. Thereafter, he drifted from job to job as a plumber’s apprentice, tinsmith’s apprentice, and mason. He was physically strong and had his mother’s size, weighing close to two hundred pounds by the time he was seventeen. More significantly, he was athletically gifted and, from time to time, played baseball in local semi-professional games.

Prizefighting was introduced in the American colonies by British sailors during the Revolutionary War. But it never took hold and, by the time Sullivan was of fighting age, it was banned in all thirty-eight states. More significantly, the law was largely upheld, particularly in urban areas. Thus, boxing was a vagabond sport. Word of a forthcoming bout would pass quietly from mouth to mouth, after which the combatants and spectators would travel on short notice to the designated site.

The London Prize Ring Rules were the standard for prizefighting in America. Those rules provided that:

(1) A fight would take place on turf in a 24-foot-square enclosure.

(2) A mark would be drawn in the center of the enclosure as the “scratch line.” Areas large enough to hold a fighter and two seconds for activity between rounds were enclosed by other marks in the turf in opposite corners.

(3) A fight consisted of an undetermined number of rounds. A round ended when a combatant was down on at least one knee.

(4) Once a combatant was down, his seconds had thirty seconds to revive him. “Time” was then called and the combatant had eight seconds more to come to scratch or lose the fight.

(5) Eye-gouging, hair-pulling, head-butting, blows below the waist, kicking, falling without receiving a legitimate blow, and striking a combatant when he was down were grounds for disqualification at the referee’s discretion. Beyond that, the rules were pretty much “anything goes” (including wrestling and throwing an opponent to the ground).

Growing up, Sullivan had been involved in fights in the schoolyard and at work. In 1878 (at age twenty), he took things to a higher level. At a local entertainment show at the Dudley Street Opera House, he was challenged by a man named Jack Scannell, who’d heard that John had a bit of a reputation. Sullivan and Scannell went onto the stage. Each man shed his coat and rolled up his sleeves.

In a matter of seconds, Sullivan obliterated his foe. Thereafter, he began to spend time around the prizefight crowd and made the decision to prepare himself to fight for money. Isenberg writes, “He already had accumulated a history of arguments and disputes ending in challenges to fight. He could see a grim future in the model of his father. A choice between fame in the ring and sweating through twelve-hour days in dank ditches was not hard to make. And above all, boxing gave him what plumbing, tinsmithing, and masonry never could – a sense of importance and self-esteem. Once he heard the cheers, once he had a sense of his ability to dominate other men, he never looked back.”

But as Isenberg notes, “Sullivan could not have been attracted to pugilism because it offered him a living. No one could see that this chosen walk of life would produce anything more than facial scars, scrambled brains, and trouble with the law. No one in American history – no one – had ever made a living as a prizefighter. Some of them owned or worked in saloons. Others moved from odd job to odd job. Nor did the calling afford a chance to rise in the world. The social stigma against prizefighting ran broadly and deeply through American life. Prizefighting was against the law, and prizefighters were considered the dregs of society.”

The one glimmer of respectability that was attached to boxing related to a new code of conduct for matches. In 1866, Henry Sholto Douglas (the eighth Marquis of Queensberry) had authored what were known as The Queensberry Rules. These rules provided that:

(1) Fights would be contested in three-minute rounds with a minute rest in between each round.

(2) A man who was knocked down had ten seconds to rise unassisted by his handlers or be declared the loser by knockout.

(3) Wrestling, grappling, and throwing were forbidden.

(4) A fight could be contested as a fight to the finish or for a pre-determined number of rounds.

(5) The combatants would wear gloves.

At the time Sullivan turned to fighting, gloved “exhibitions of skill” were permitted in some states as long as they didn’t turn too unfriendly. Often, the police were stationed at ringside and intervened if they believed that the fighters were throwing punches “with intent to injure.” But sometimes (particularly when financial inducements were offered to the authorities) actual fights under Queensberry Rules were allowed to proceed until, in the judgment of the police, one of the fighters was badly hurt and in danger of being more seriously incapacitated.

Various record books and scholarly studies are at odds regarding Sullivan’s ring record. The discrepancies come from the discovery of previously-unknown matches and inconsistencies as to whether certain bouts are recorded as prizefights or exhibitions.

What’s clear is that Sullivan preferred to ply his trade with gloves. He wore them in all but three of his recorded fights and fought all but five of his fights under Queensberry rules. By early 1880, he’d established a following with a series of exhibitions in Boston and New York. Then, on April 6, 1880, in Boston, he had what Isenberg calls his first “fight” – an event publicly styled as an “exhibition” against American heavyweight champion Joe Goss (who was preparing for a May 30 bout against challenger Paddy Ryan).

In front of 1,800 spectators, Sullivan knocked Goss down and battered him for three rounds. On June 28, also in Boston, he knocked out an experienced fighter named George Rooke. On December 24, he journeyed to Cincinnati and, fighting under the London Rules for the first time (albeit with skintight gloves), disposed of John Donaldson in ten rounds.

The following spring, Sullivan won his “break-out” fight. On May 16, 1881, fighting on a barge that had been towed up-river and anchored off Yonkers to avoid New York law enforcement authorities, he vanquished John Flood in eight rounds. That conquest, conducted under the London Rules with skintight gloves, paid him a purse of $750.

Two months later, under the auspices of Billy Madden (his first manager), Sullivan began a tour of the northeast and midwest, during which he sparred with all comers and offered fifty dollars to anyone who could last four rounds with him under Queensberry rules.

Boxing in Sullivan’s day was crude and unskilled compared to what came later. Regardless, those foolish enough to challenge him on the tour (for the most part, they were novices) were quickly disposed of. Sullivan had sloping shoulders, massive forearms, and enormous fists. He was blessed with size, strength, and agility. In Pollack’s words, he was “a vicious slugger with huge power and very good speed. He knew how to land his punches and land them well. He had an underrated ability to avoid being hit and absorbed the blows he did receive very well.”

Contemporary descriptions of Sullivan’s fighting refer to his “bull-like rushes” and “sledge-hammer right hand.” He was “quick as a cat . . . a whirlwind of activity . . . What he lacks in science is fully made up by his tremendous strength and hitting power coupled with a quickness of action not often found in big men . . . So rapidly are his blows delivered that parrying them is an impossibility.”

Sullivan’s 1881 tour gave him a reputation outside of Boston. But more importantly, it established him as the next logical challenger to Paddy Ryan (who had defeated Joe Goss subsequent to Sullivan boxing an “exhibition” against the American heavyweight champion).

The term “champion” was loosely applied in those days. As Isenberg explains, “Champions were made and unmade in the press as often as in the ring. Essentially, a ‘champion’ was he who won a noteworthy fight and kept winning, particularly over those who had styled themselves similarly.” Indeed, Ryan had only one serious victory to his credit (his May 30, 1880, triumph over Goss).

But Ryan had a powerful backer. In 1876, an Irish-born American named Richard Kyle Fox had assumed editorial control of the National Police Gazette and, focusing on crime and sex, established it as a journal for the masses. Then Fox discovered boxing and styled the Gazette as “the leading prize ring authority in America,” lifting its circulation to 400,000.

Fox and Sullivan didn’t like each other. They’d met for the first time in New York in spring 1881. Sullivan considered Fox a pompous bore, and Fox resented the fighter’s refusal to act in an appropriately obsequious manner to gain favorable coverage in the Gazette.

In May 1881, Paddy Ryan authorized Fox to serve as his emissary in arranging a title defense pursuant to the London Rules and said that he’d fight anyone for the winner’s share of the purse plus a $5,000 side bet ($2,500 per side). Fox put up Ryan’s $2,500 share. Sullivan found backers for his end.

Ryan’s partisans took heart in the fact that their man had won the title by defeating Joe Goss in a bare-knuckle contest that lasted 87 rounds contested over 84 minutes. Sullivan, by contrast, had never participated in a bare-knuckle fight and the longer of his two matches under the London rules had lasted only ten rounds. Thus, the challenger’s stamina and the strength of his hands were in doubt.

What Ryan’s backers failed to consider was that Sullivan, even then, was probably the greatest fighting man who had ever lived.

The match was made for February 7, 1882. Because prize fighting was illegal throughout the United States, it was to be contested at a site “within one hundred miles of New Orleans.”

At 5:00 A.M. on February 7, Ryan, Sullivan, and more than a thousand fight enthusiasts boarded a special train that had twelve passenger cars. Three hours later, they arrived in Mississippi City. A ring was pitched. Ryan is believed to have weighed 192 pounds. Sullivan had trained down to 182 pounds and was in the best condition of his life, having readied for a long grueling fight.

The battle began shortly after noon. Thirty seconds later, Ryan lay on the ground, felled by a series of blows to the ribs followed by a vicious right hand to the jaw. At the end of nine rounds, his handlers threw in the sponge. Less than eleven minutes of fighting had elapsed. Bob Farrell (a ring veteran who helped prepare Sullivan for the bout) said afterward, “I never saw such work as Sullivan did. He went at Ryan as you would chop a log of wood and broke him all up from the start.”

Ryan acknowledged, “I never faced a man who could begin to hit as hard. I don’t believe there is another man like him in the country. He spars as well as the general run of pugilists, and he can hit hard enough to break down any man’s guard. Any man that Sullivan can hit, he can whip.”

The New Orleans Times-Democrat reported, “Sullivan cared nothing for Ryan’s blows, and his own hitting is so tremendous that it seems beyond the power of a man to recover from the shock of one of his hands let out from the shoulder. His style of fighting differs from that of any pugilist that has entered the ring of late. He is a skillful wrestler and a good in-fighter, quick to dodge and always on the alert for any opening that an opponent may leave. He is a rusher, and it is this quality and his tremendous hitting powers that make him a great pugilist. Against his sledge-hammer fists, the naked arms of a man are but poor defense.”

After the fight, the National Police Gazette gave Sullivan his due. Richard Kyle Fox had previously labeled the match as being for “the championship of the world” (the first time that designation had been used). “As much as any other single event,” Elliott Gorn writes, “the fight fostered the development of modern sports coverage. The National Police Gazette presses rolled for days with an eight-page illustrated special. All of the major dailies sent reporters, stimulating and fulfilling the demand for news.”

Still, after Sullivan’s conquest, there was little to distinguish him from his predecessors. A series of exhibitions and fights against unskilled opponents followed.

Then things began to change. Sullivan discovered that, trading on his notoriety, he could make money outside of boxing. He was paid five hundred dollars a day to tour with a variety-show. Next, on May 28, 1883, he pitched in a semi-professional baseball game at the Polo Grounds in New York. Four thousand spectators attended. Sullivan gave up fifteen runs and committed four errors in a 20-to-15 triumph. His fifty-percent share of the gates receipts amounted to $1,585.90.

As a man of newly-acquired means, Sullivan also became more attractive to women. One of them whom he began spending time with was Annie Bates Bailey.

Sullivan was on familiar terms with more than a few prostitutes. Annie had a reputation as “a loose woman.” She was a year older than he was and, like his mother, a tall woman who weighed in the neighborhood of 180 pounds. After Sullivan won the championship, she traveled with him as his “wife” for about a year. On May 1, 1883, they were married.

Meanwhile, in due course, Sullivan was called upon to resume the business of serious fighting. Prior to his beating Ryan, there had never been a recognized “gloved” champion. Sullivan created that role.

“They said that I was only a glove-fighter and that I was afraid of the bare knuckles,” Sullivan had said after winning the championship. “For that reason, I consented to fight Ryan as I did. Now anyone who wants to tackle me will have to do it in my fashion.”

On March 23, 1882 (six weeks after defeating Ryan), Sullivan issued a public challenge, declaring, “I am willing to fight any man in this country in four weeks from signing articles for five thousand dollars a side; or any man for the same amount at two months from signing; I to use gloves and he, if he pleases, to fight with bare knuckles. I will not fight again with bare knuckles as I do not wish to put myself in a position amenable to the law. My money is always ready, so I want these fellows to put up or shut up. John L. Sullivan.”

On May 14, 1883, pursuant to that challenge, Sullivan fought Charlie Mitchell of England (his most credible opponent since winning the championship). Their bout at Madison Square Garden was labeled an “exhibition” to stay within New York law. But the ten thousand spectators who attended understood that it would be something more. Mitchell knocked Sullivan down in the first round; the first time that John L. had ever been floored. But the champion rose and battered his opponent around the ring until the fight was stopped by the police in the third round. Sullivan’s share of the gate was roughly $12,000. An August 6, 1883, third-round knockout of Australia’s Herbert Slade, also at Madison Square Garden, was equally profitable.

Sullivan was now gathering increasing attention. “Other boxers begin by sparring,” Irish-born novelist John Boyle O’Reilly (then editor of a Boston newspaper called The Pilot) wrote. “Sullivan begins by fighting, and he never ceases to fight.”

To that, Sullivan added, “When I started boxing, I felt within myself that I could knock out any man living. I go in to win from the very first second. And I never stop until I have won.”
But greater heights lay ahead. On September 18, 1883, Sullivan announced a venture of unprecedented proportions. He intended to embark upon an eight-month national tour, during which he would visit every region of America.

Sullivan was accompanied on his Grand Tour by heavyweight boxers Herbert Slade, Jem Mace, and Steve Taylor, and also by two lightweights (Pete McCoy and Mike Gillespie). Frank Moran (a friend of Sullivan’s) served as the master of ceremonies. Al Smith (Sullivan’s new manager) was the advance man. Jack Menzinger handled the finances. Annie Bates Bailey Sullivan was the final member of the group.

The tour wouldn’t have been possible without recent advances in communications (most notably, the telegraph) and rail travel. It lasted from September 28, 1883, through May 23, 1884. Sullivan visited twenty-six of the thirty-eight states, five territories, the District of Columbia, and British Columbia.

Every major American city west of New York was on the tour. So were dozens of small communities, whose residents had never seen a boxing exhibition let alone come face-to-face with a person of renown. Sullivan made 195 appearances in 136 cities and towns over the course of 238 days. No one, not even a presidential candidate, had undertaken such an ambitious tour before.

Each stop on the Grand Tour centered around forty-five minutes of gloved sparring by the fighters. Rounds were three minutes long. Sullivan explained the concept to his audience as follows: “We are giving exhibitions of what can be done in the art of boxing. Two of these gentlemen fought me in New York and I done them up, but they are my friends now and I am their friend. Though we hit hard, we suffer no injury. We do no fighting, but it would be terrible punishment if a novice had to take it. We are simply giving these exhibitions that the people may see something of the art of boxing.”

Sullivan was warmly received in virtually every locale he visited. Isenberg recounts a typical welcome: “At the railroad station, official greeters including the community’s leading men. At the hotel, punctilious service. In the streets, crowds of men and boys eager to get a look at the Boston marvel. Audiences were composed of a mix of the better sort and riff-raff. Occasionally, some women attended.”

Sullivan had the look of a champion. He was the first famous person that most of the onlookers had ever seen. And there was one more enticement to come see the show.

To heighten interest in the tour, Sullivan agreed to fight any man at any stop and pay $250 to anyone who lasted four rounds with him under Queensberry Rules. “John L.” Isenberg writes, “was literally challenging all of America to fight.”

No one accepted the offer. Thus, the prize money was raised to $500. The first taker was a man named James McCoy, who challenged Sullivan in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and lasted twenty seconds with him. By the end of 1883, only four men had been willing to step into the ring with the champion; each of them a novice who lasted a matter of seconds. Thus, the bounty was increased to $1,000. The first taker was a transplanted Texan named Fred Robinson, who challenged Sullivan in Butte, Montana, and was knocked down fifteen times over the course of two rounds.

Sometimes, challenges were halted by the local police. But as a rule, if a challenger got in the ring and the bell rang, the battle (such as it was) didn’t last long enough for the police to intervene.

In Oregon, on February 1, 1884, Sullivan faced a challenger named Sylvester Le Gouriff; a giant of a man who weighed more than three hundred pounds. Before the bout, Sullivan surveyed his foe and proclaimed, “The bigger he is, the harder he’ll fall.” Twenty seconds after the bell for round one rang, Le Gouriff was unconscious. “I break wood and fences with my fists,” he told Sullivan afterward. “You break stone.”

Five days later, Sullivan was in Seattle, where more than two thousand spectators saw a strong well-conditioned man named James Lang vie for the thousand-dollar prize. As reported in the Seattle Daily Post-Intelligencer, “It took a little less than seven seconds to make Mr. Lang aware of the fact that he had business elsewhere. In that time, he was knocked from side to side as if he were a child, battered to the floor, and forced to quit. It was simply impossible to withstand the rain of blows and the force with which they were delivered.”

Other descriptions of Sullivan’s ring prowess were equally chilling:

* “For a big man, he is a marvel for activity and precision in delivering a blow. He swings the right across about as quick as most men can shove out the left hand. He will pound a man about, regardless of size, the same as he would handle a sandbag or punching ball. No man can stand up to his hurricane work.”

* “Sullivan is a marvel of strength, skill, and agility. If there is another man on earth who is equal, certain it is that that man has never been publicly known. The force with which he delivers a blow is simply appalling to ordinary people. There is nothing comparable to it, unless it be those guns holding several charges, which are discharged one after another. He is wonderfully agile, and his motions resemble those of a tiger in the act of springing on its prey. No ordinary man has any chance at all before him, and it is idle, foolish, to talk otherwise.”

* “He is such a prodigy in the fistic world that there seems to be no rule, whether physical or mental, that can apply to him. He is a phenomenon. It is his nature to fight. He is as lithe as a panther and his rush is like an avalanche.”

* “Even in imagination, the ancients never conceived such a hitter as Sullivan. No man that ever lived can evade Sullivan if he is well and strong. He is the quickest big man that ever fought in the ring. When he gets an opponent in the ring, that is the end of that man’s chances.”

On March 6, 1884, in San Francisco, Sullivan faced his first serious challenger on the Grand Tour; a professional prizefighter named George Robinson, who had defeated Herbert Slade a year earlier. Twelve thousand spectators watched the contest. Robinson survived, but only through cowardice. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that he fell to the canvas to avoid blows sixty-six times in four rounds.

Meanwhile, in addition to making money, Sullivan was using the tour as a pedestal upon which to preach the gospel of his profession. “Why is it that people raise such a cry against boxers?” he asked during an interview in Minnesota. “Aristocratic gentlemen in Europe, and sometimes in this country, go out with a couple of friends and try to kill each other with swords or revolvers at twenty paces. Why don’t they settle the question with their fists? There would be no loss of life and it would be equally effective in determining who is the better man.”

“I claim to have worked a revolution in the public sentiment by substituting gloves for the naked fists,” Sullivan told America. “Fist-fighting [bare-knuckle] days are over for me. I have introduced the new rules of the fight into this country, and I intend to stand by them. It will ere long not be considered a disgrace to be a boxer. It will not be long before the best people in the country will attend boxing contests.”

For eight months, America embraced its champion as it had never embraced a common man before. “No matter where I go,” Sullivan told a reporter, “there is a multitude of people who seem to know me and consider it an honor to shake my hand. I am gazed at by everybody, and at first this overawed me. But I have gotten used to it. It is an innocent request to satisfy, and I don’t mind them a bit.”

But there was a problem. A big one. Sullivan was a drunkard. He had grown up in a drinking environment and, by his early twenties, was an alcoholic.

After Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan to become champion, the public became aware of his drinking. John L. acknowledged that he was “no temperance man” but claimed to “never carry drinking to excess.”

The number of brawls that he was involved in and the number of public appearances that he showed up for “under the weather” indicated otherwise.

Often, Sullivan would drink himself into a stupor in a saloon and boast, “I can lick any son-of-a-bitch in the house.” He had a hair-trigger and frequently pulled it when he was drunk.

On the Grand Tour, Sullivan’s drinking was a problem from the start. He denied it. “I don’t drink much,” he told a reporter for the National Police Gazette. “Say, five or six glasses of ale a day and a bottle for dinner if I feel like it.”

That would have been too much, and it understated the matter. As the tour progressed, the champion’s drinking spiralled out of control. With increasing frequency, when he performed before the public, he was drunk. Only one exhibition is known to have been cancelled because of it. But as Isenberg notes, “This meant that audiences throughout the country were often treated to a shambling drunk rather than a muscular advocate of the manly art crisply showing his stuff.”

In later years, Sullivan claimed to have fought fifty-nine challengers during the Grand Tour. More likely, the number was twelve. Estimates of his earnings vary. The champion said he made a profit of $145,000 ($3,187,000 in today’s dollars) after the deduction of $42,000 in expenses from gross receipts of $187,000. Isenberg places the profit at between $80,000 and $90,000. Regardless, no professional athlete (indeed, no common man) had earned anything close to that amount of money before. And more significantly, more than 100,000 Americans had seen Sullivan in the flesh.

Other than presidents and a few military heroes, John L. Sullivan had become the most famous person in the United States.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

John L. Sullivan Revisited: Part 2

By Thomas Hauser

Throughout American history prior to John L. Sullivan’s ascent, most recreational activity had a practical side. Horse racing was the nation’s most popular spectator sport, but hunting and fishing were far more prevalent.

In Sullivan’s time, games that were games began to spread. They were sport for its own sake and for the entertainment of others. Casual play was augmented by professionalism in baseball, football, and other sporting endeavors. A class of professional athletes rose to prominence within organized business structures. At the same time, a national popular culture fueled by advances in transportation, communication, and journalism emerged. Sullivan was at the vortex of all of these trends.

“His name, his face, and his deeds were now known throughout the land,” Michael Isenberg writes. “He was constantly before the public in newspapers and magazines. The lithograph and the photograph produced images that heretofore had been private or the property of a limited circle and spread Sullivan’s likeness far and wide. The flood of likenesses rapidly saturated the masculine world, no saloon being complete without the champion on display. Every avenue of communication tieing together the popular culture brought his name before the public. The sporting press and respectable metropolitan dailies carried his exploits into practically every literate home in America. Crowds would wait hours just to glimpse him or, even better, shake his hand. He was instant history, a living epic, a public symbol like none had seen before.”

“Sullivan’s popularity,” Isenberg continues, “transcended class barriers and raised him to a level reached by no previous sporting figure. His most rabid following was among his fellow Irish-Americans. But to identify John L.’s following with immigrants and working-class men only is to ignore his standing among many American males regardless of background. He was arguably the most popular man in the United States.”

Sullivan revelled in the spotlight. Virtually nothing about his life was private. No public figure (let alone, a member of a looked-down-upon ethnic and religious minority) had been the subject of such constant attention. Other than those occasions on which the attention was called to his drinking, he seemed to like it.

But the drinking remained a problem. “And lest his public be disposed to forget,” Isenberg writes, “John L. was disposed to provide a flagrant new lapse every few months or so. His public career was a veritable parade of drunken escapades, most of them fully reported by the nation’s press. Loud boisterous behavior was the least of it. In practically every city in the Union, he drank, quarreled, came to blows, and often ended up standing sheepishly before a magistrate and paying a fine. He did it all so publicly. When he was drunk, people saw it. He was one of the greatest exemplars of unrestrained vice the nation had to offer. John L. Sullivan had become big business, a celebrity, and a public disgrace all rolled into one.”

As a counterbalance to his drinking, Sullivan had redeeming personal qualities. When sober, he was usually polite and considerate toward others. He was honest and generous. Much of his money was poorly spent on jewelry and expensive clothes (he was a flashy dresser, frequently in poor taste). Too often when drinking, he paid the night’s tab for everyone in the saloon. He lived lavishly and “loaned” money to friends who had no intention of paying it back. But he also supported his parents, bought them a nice house, gave generously to other family members, and donated large sums to charity.

In April 1884, Sullivan’s wife bore him a son. But their marriage was in shambles. Rumors were spreading that he beat Annie when he was drunk. Several months after John Jr was born, she moved back to Rhode Island (from whence she’d come). In February 1885, she sued for divorce, accusing her husband of cruel and abusive treatment and “gross and confirmed habits of intoxication.”

Sullivan contested the divorce, and the case was dismissed. The marriage remained in tact as a matter of law for another twenty-three years. But as a union of two hearts, it was over.

Meanwhile, although it hardly seemed possible, Sullivan’s drinking worsened. He was involved in numerous street-fights and saloon brawls and, at one point, was criminally charged with kicking a carriage horse three times in the underribs and striking the horse with his fist.

The first major ring appearance scheduled for Sullivan after his Grand Tour was a “sparring session” to be conducted under Queensberry rules at Madison Square Garden on June 30, 1884. The opponent was Charlie Mitchell, who had knocked Sullivan down before succumbing in three rounds in their previous encounter. Five thousand fans paid between two and twenty-five dollars each for the show. Sullivan arrived three hours late, staggered to the ring dressed in a black suit, and told the crowd, “Gentlemen; I am sick and will not be able to box.” It was clear that he was drunk; a fact that was reported in newspapers across the country.

Al Smith quit as Sullivan’s manager after the Mitchell fiasco. Thereafter, the champion followed a pattern of “Fight an unskilled foe. Binge. Fight an unskilled foe. Binge.” But despite his drinking, when he entered the ring, he won.

“Sullivan frightens his man every time,” an article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch declared. “They all lose their nerve the moment they face him.”

Biographer R. F. Dibble explained what it was like to face the champion: “The rival, looking across the ring, would see a burley menacing figure. The iron muscles bulged and swelled. Black coarse hair bristled all over the huge head. The deep thick hairy chest and sloping shoulders betokened a man of extraordinary strength. The broad face, the square pile-driver jaw, and the ominous droop at the corners of the mouth blended into a terrifying grin. There he sat, his clenched fists resting on his knees, his stony gray eyes glancing toward his opponent. Time would be called. Sullivan would rise slowly and advance, slapping his left hand against his thigh.”

Joe Choynski (a leading heavyweight of his day, who later knocked out a young Jack Johnson and fought Bob Fitzsimmons, Marvin Hart, and James Jeffries to draws) said of Sullivan, “His right arm comes across like a flash of lightning with a jerk. And if he misses, he’s so quick you can’t get your head out of range before it’s back ready for another shot at your jaw.”

“I can tell pretty well when my man is giving in,” Sullivan proclaimed. “I watch his eyes, and I know at once when the punishment is beginning to tell on him.”

But Sullivan was also firm in saying, “There is more intelligence required in this business than outsiders give us credit for. A man fights with his head almost as much as he does with his fists. He must know where to send his blows so they may do the most good. He must economize his strength and not score a hit just for the sake of scoring it. Learn to strike straight and clean. Swinging blows nearly always leave an opening for your opponent. It is always well to do your leading with the left, reserving your right for a good opening. Always watch your opponent. As soon as you see him about to lead, shoot your left into his face. The force of his coming towards you will increase your blows considerably.”

“I endeavor to hit my man above the heart or under the chin or behind the ear,” Sullivan explained. “A man wears out pretty soon if one can keep hammering away in the region around the heart. A blow under the chin or behind the ear will knock a man out quicker than a hundred blows on the cheek or any other portion of the face. I have always considered it necessary that a young man, in order to become an accomplished boxer, should have brains as well as muscle. I never knew a thick-headed fellow yet to become skillful in the manly art.”

Sullivan also took pride in the fact that he was self-taught and had learned his trade from sparring and watching other fighters. “I never took a boxing lesson in my life,” he said. “No professor of sparring can ever claim me as a pupil. What I know about boxing, I picked up from hard experience and intelligent observation. I belong to no school of boxers and have copied no special master’s style. I always fight according to my own judgment. If a man can’t train himself, no one in the world can do it for him.”

Sullivan’s contemporaries understood his ring savvy. Mike Donovan, who sparred with the champion, acknowledged, “He is the cleverest big man the ring ever saw. He can stand off ten feet and fiddle in a way that disconcerts you and breaks your guard. Then he comes at you like a battering ram, you get it on the jaw, and down you go.”

And the Chicago Herald proclaimed, “Sullivan is as clever as any man. His unquestioned ability as to being the hardest hitter has caused the overlooking of the fact that his blow is always planted where it will do the most good. The truth is that Sullivan is a careful scientific fighter.”

Meanwhile, the public remained fascinated with the champion. Popular songs such as “Let Me Shake the Hand that Shook the Hand of Sullivan” abounded. For twenty weeks, he performed as “model statuary” in a venture called the Lester and Allen Minstrel Show. For five hundred dollars a week (clad as what the National Police Gazette called “the biggest undressed heroes of antiquity”) Sullivan posed as the curtain rose and fell between him and the audience. Thus, the American public was treated to such visions as the Gladiator in Combat, the Dying Gladiator, Hercules at Rest, and Cain Killing Abel.

In 1887, Sullivan began living with a statuesque blonde named Anna Nailor, who had worked as a chorus girl in Boston under the name Ann Livingston. She was a few years older than he was, divorced, with an active romantic history. In October 1887, with Ann at his side, the champion left the United States for a tour of the United Kingdom.

Sullivan was enthusiastically received in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Although overweight and in poor condition, he sparred in fifty-one exhibitions and had one actual fight; a bare-knuckle bout under London Rules against Charlie Mitchell. After 39 rounds in the rain during which Mitchell fought almost entirely defensively, the contest was declared a draw.

The anecdotal highlight of Sullivan’s European tour came on December 9, when he was introduced to Edward, Prince of Wales. There followed twenty minutes of conversation between the son of Irish immigrants and the man who, upon the death Queen Victoria in 1901, would succeed to the throne. Sullivan is said to have closed the conversation by telling the prince, “If you ever come to Boston, be sure and look me up. I’ll see that you’re treated right.”

The champion arrived home in Boston on April 24, 1888. One witness to his return said that he weighed 280 pounds. Shortly thereafter, refusing to tolerate his drinking and abusive behavior, Ann Livingston left him.

In June and July 1888, Sullivan appeared in a show called the John B. Doris and Gray Circus that saw him spar briefly and ride a pony. Later that summer, most likely as a result of his incessant drinking, his liver and stomach lining became inflamed. The champion’s temperature rose to a dangerously high level and a priest administered the last rites. He recovered after losing eighty pounds. And for one month, at least, he had been dry.

Meanwhile, given the decreasing frequency of Sullivan’s ring combat against serious opposition, Richard Kyle Fox was seeking to anoint a new “champion of the world.” His chosen vessel was a fighter from Baltimore named Jake Kilrain.

Kilrain was four months younger than Sullivan and, like the champion, Irish-American. He was a stable family man and a pretty good fighter, having defeated some of the better competitors of his day. In May 1887, Fox had gone so far as to present him with a silver championship belt on behalf of the National Police Gazette. In response, Sullivan’s financial backers and admirers in Boston presented John L. with the most celebrated sports symbol of all time.

Their gift to Sullivan was a championship belt made of 14-carat gold. It was four feet long and weighed close to thirty pounds. The belt had eight panels with scenes depicting Sullivan in addition to various Irish symbols and the flags of the United States, England, and Ireland. The panels were separated in the middle by a large shield bearing the legend “Presented to the Champion of Champions, John L. Sullivan, by the Citizens of the United States.” Sullivan’s name was beneath a three-carat diamond and encrusted with 256 diamonds of its own.

The belt was valued at $8,000. Sullivan famously said that it made Fox’s gift to Kilrain look like a dog collar.

But Sullivan was destined to fight Kilrain. He needed the money and wanted the acclaim. On January 7, 1889, the two men entered into a contract for a fight to the finish to be held on July 8, 1889, at a site “within 200 miles of New Orleans” under the London Prize Ring Rules for a side bet of $10,000.

There were doubts about Sullivan’s fitness to fight Kilrain. Fox observed, “Sullivan has been drinking hard for several years and undermined his constitution to an alarming extent. No man can expect to drink almost continuously and not injure his health. I tell you; John L. Sullivan is not the man he once was.”

Click here to buy now
To ready Sullivan for the fight, the champion’s backers turned to a conditioner named William Muldoon. Isenberg recounts, “Muldoon liked Sullivan, was saddened by his chronic dissipation, and viewed him as an ideal test for his theories of physical fitness. For the first and only time in his life, Sullivan was training thoroughly under the guidance of a man who understood the rudiments of physical culture.”

They worked together pursuant to an agreement under which Muldoon paid all of the training expenses. If Sullivan lost, the trainer would receive no compensation. If Sullivan won, Muldoon would be paid a share of his winnings.

Sullivan despised training. "A fellow would rather fight twelve dozen times than train once,” he said. “But it has to be done."

Muldoon kept Sullivan active from dawn to dusk, chopping down trees, plowing fields, skipping rope, and eventually sparring. He built up Sullivan’s legs and wind and wrestled with him to reacquaint Sullivan with the grappling and throwing allowed under the London Rules. Of equal significance, he kept Sullivan away from alcohol. When they began working together in May 1889, Sullivan weighed more than 240 pounds, much of it fat, not muscle. During the next two months, he shed thirty pounds and, more importantly, regained his strength and speed.

As Sullivan-Kilrain neared, the national press paid more attention the fight than it had ever paid to a sporting event before. But there was a fly in the ointment. Prizefighting was illegal in Louisiana and all other states “within 200 miles of New Orleans.”

On July 7, 1889, in Marion County, Mississippi (103 miles north of New Orleans), laborers began constructing a 24-foot-square ring fronted by bleachers on three sides. They worked under the supervision of a young Mississippian named Charles Rich, who owned a sawmill surrounded by 30,000 acres of pine forest in an area known as Richburg. As they worked, three trains departed from New Orleans. The first carried Sullivan, Kilrain, and their respective entourages. After the fighters arrived in Richburg, Kilrain spent the rest of the night in Rich’s home, while Sullivan stayed with Rich’s chief clerk. The other two trains, filled with fight enthusiasts, arrived in Richburg after sunrise.

At 10:13 on the morning of July 8, 1889, John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain “came to scratch” bare-knuckled for what would be the last heavyweight championship fight ever fought under the London Prize Ring Rules.

Sullivan weighed 215 pounds and was wearing green fighting tights with white stockings. Kilrain, twenty pounds lighter, wore black tights and blue stockings. The weather was muggy, the temperature close to one hundred degrees.

Referee John Fitzpatrick (who would later be elected mayor of New Orleans) called “time.” The defining fight of John L. Sullivan’s career had begun.

Fifteen seconds into the match, Kilrain grabbed Sullivan around the neck, leveraged him over his hip, and threw him to the ground. Sullivan returned the favor to end round two. In round six, after three more falls, Kilrain drew first blood with a right hand blow to the nose. But before the challenger could survey the damage, Sullivan knocked him down with the hardest punch of the fight thus far, leaving it to the dazed fighter’s seconds to lift him up and lead him to his corner.

From that point on, Kilrain had the look of a beaten fighter. His face grew more and more disfigured. Frequently, he fell without cause in order to gain relief and end a round. His strategy was to survive; perhaps close Sullivan’s eyes with jabs; and failing that, hope that Sullivan wilted in the heat.

As the temperature rose, by some accounts reaching 114 degrees, Muldoon asked Sullivan how much longer he could stand the heat. “I can stay here until daybreak tomorrow,” Sullivan told him.

By round thirty-six, Kilrain was so tired that he had to be lifted from his chair by his seconds at the start of each round. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion. Then, five seconds into the forty-fourth round, Sullivan began to vomit.

“Will you draw the fight?” Kilrain asked.

“No, you loafer,” Sullivan told him.

The battle continued. In addition to the damage caused by blows, each man’s upper body was blistered by the sun. Kilrain’s corner began giving him large amounts of whiskey to dull the pain. He was now exhausted and barely conscious. Two hours and sixteen minutes after the battle began, he refused to come to scratch for the seventy-sixth round.

Word of Sullivan’s victory was transmitted by telegraph throughout America. Some big-city newspapers recorded it on page one. Richard Kyle Fox conceded, “By this fight, Sullivan has proved that he is a first-class pugilist in every respect. He is a stayer as well as a slugger.”

Sullivan, for his part, told reporters, “I knew after two or three rounds I was the sole master of the situation. If Kilrain had stood up and fought like a man, I could have whipped him in about eight rounds. He hardly fought fairly, going down, as you know he did, numbers of times without a blow.” But the champion added, “Jake is a good fighter. He gave me a better fight than I ever got before. He took far more punishment than I believed he would.”

Both Sullivan and Kilrain left Richburg immediately after the fight and returned to New Orleans. There, the champion was informed that a sheriff from Mississippi was searching for him with a warrant for his arrest on a charge of violating Mississippi’s law against prizefighting. He boarded a train headed north, was arrested in Tennessee, and held in jail overnight. He was released the next day but arrested again on July 31; this time in New York. From there, he was escorted under guard back to Mississippi, where, on August 16, he was found guilty of prizefighting and sentenced to a year in jail.

Sullivan made bond and was released by the authorities pending appeal. In March 1880, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned his conviction on a technicality that rendered the indictment faulty. He was re-indicted, pled guilty, and was sentenced to a five hundred dollar fine.

Kilrain was arrested in Baltimore in August. Charles Rich posted his bond. The fighter returned to Mississippi for trial in December, at which time he was found guilty of assault and battery, fined two hundred dollars, and sentenced to two months imprisonment. Under Mississippi’s prison contract system, he was allowed to serve his sentence at the home of Charles Rich.

After defeating Kilrain, Sullivan began drinking heavily again. Later that year, he announced that he would stand as a candidate for Congress. He was a lifelong Democrat, and Boston was solidly in the Democratic column. But given his much-publicized drinking and outside-the-ring brawling, the local Democratic machine wanted no part of him. He failed to get the nomination.

In 1890, Sullivan turned to acting. On August 28, 1890, he opened in the role of a blacksmith turned pugilist in a melodrama entitled Honest Hearts and Willing Hands. By this time, he weighed close to three hundred pounds.

Isenberg recounts, “Sullivan performed like a wooden Indian. He tended to entangle himself in lines and was so intent on his speeches that, when the audience interrupted a sentence with applause, he doggedly retreated to the beginning and started again.”

But audiences loved him. Honest Hearts and Willing Hands was soon on national tour.

Sullivan had no intention of fighting again. “His stomach,” Isenberg notes, “was a veritable mountain of flesh, the weight of which left him winded after the slightest exertion. He was in no condition for any kind of athletic endeavor, never mind the strenuous demands of the prize ring. Yet he could not give it up. Money filtered through his wallet like water, spent in saloons, given to friends, and in all probability lavished on prostitutes. He had to keep the money coming in. And he could not walk away from the one thing that gave him purpose, sustained his ego, and nourished his existence. All else stemmed from what he achieved in the ring. The theater crowds, the civic awards, the adoring hordes of small boys, the gaping adults at every train station and hotel.”

Inevitably, Sullivan would fight again.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

John L. Sullivan Revisited: Part 3

By Thomas Hauser

The Marquis of Queensberry Rules that John L. Sullivan proselytized for throughout his career didn’t make boxing less violent. Gloves were worn to protect fists, not an opponent’s brain. And under the new rules, a fighter could no longer gain thirty seconds of relief by falling to the ground.

But as Elliott Gorn writes, “The Queensberry Rules redrew the arbitrary border separating acceptable deviance from unpardonable vice. They sanitized prize fighting just enough to make it a legal spectator sport and changed the social composition of the crowd and the environment in which fights were held. The ring continued to call forth images of primitive brutality, of lower-class and ethnic peoples venting their violent passions. But gloves and new rules appeared to curb the animality sufficiently to allow a titillating sense of danger inside safe and civilized boundaries.”

Nowhere was this change more evident than in New Orleans. In 1890, the New Orleans City Council voted to allow fights that were contested under Queensberry Rules as long as those fights were not held on a Sunday, no liquor was served, and the promoter contributed fifty dollars to charity. One year later, the New Orleans Olympic Club (one of several athletic associations in the city) mounted a successful court challenge to Louisiana’s statute against prizefighting insofar as it related to gloved fights.

The New Orleans athletic associations spearheaded the modernization of boxing. Fighters were divided into six weight classes. Club employees were trained as referees and empowered to stop fights if a combatant was hurt and unable to properly defend himself. Of greater significance from a commercial point of view, the clubs built indoor arenas and began to contract for fights under a system in which they chose the fighters and supervised every aspect of a promotion. On September 7, 1892, John L. Sullivan put his imprimatur on this new world.

By 1892, more than two years had passed since Sullivan had entered the ring against Jake Kilrain. Criticism of his reluctance to fight was mounting. And he needed money. Hence, in early March, he issued a public challenge that read in part, “This country has been overrun by a lot of foreign fighters and also American aspirants for fistic fame and championship honors, who have endeavored to seek notoriety and American dollars by challenging me to fight. I hereby challenge any and all of the bluffers to fight me either the last week in August or the first week in September at the Olympic Club, New Orleans, Louisiana, for a purse of $25,000 and an outside bet of $10,000, the winner of the fight to take the entire purse. The Marquis of Queensberry Rules must govern this contest, as I want fighting, not foot racing.”

One of the fighters whom Sullivan mentioned by name in his challenge was James Corbett.

A native of San Francisco, Corbett, like Sullivan, was the son of Irish immigrants. He was not a particularly strong puncher. But he was fast, quick, and a skilled counter-puncher with exceptional stamina. At age fifteen, Corbett had been let into Mechanics’ Pavilion in San Francisco free of charge by a compliant ticket-taker and seen Sullivan in the ring during the champion’s Grand Tour. Two years later, when Sullivan returned to San Francisco to fight Paddy Ryan for the last time, Corbett attended the fight.

In 1891, Sullivan and Corbett were formally introduced. The champion was in Chicago, performing in Honest Hearts and Willing Hands. Corbett, by then, was twenty-four years old and a fighter of some renown. After Sullivan’s performance, the two men went drinking together, with Sullivan doing most of the drinking. They met again in June of that year and “sparred” together at a benefit in San Francisco. But Sullivan insisted that they wear formal dinner attire for the occasion to negate any hint of competition.

After reading Sullivan’s public challenge, Corbett and his manager (William Brady) traveled to New York and raised the money for the $10,000 side bet. On March 15, 1892, a contract was signed. Sullivan-Corbett would be fought at the New Orleans Olympic Club on September 7, 1892, as a fight to the finish under Queensberry Rules. The fighters would wear five-ounce gloves. The Olympic Club put up the $25,000 purse. With each man posting a $10,000 side bet, the winner would receive $45,000, the largest sum in the history of prize fighting.

Sullivan was a 3-to-1 favorite in the early betting. He was John L. Sullivan. Those who thought that his hedonistic lifestyle would destroy him had learned their lesson when he defeated Jake Kilrain. Kilrain, who’d lost to both men, predicted a Sullivan victory.

But Sullivan had been inactive as a fighter, binge-drinking, and over-eating for three years. He was just shy of his thirty-fourth birthday, whereas Corbett was twenty-six. Moreover, Corbett had begun serious training for the fight in early June at a fit 190 pounds. Sullivan didn’t go into training until July. When he did, he weighed more than 240 pounds. His workouts were light, and there was no conditioner to oversee his training.

Future heavyweight champion Bob Fitzsimmons voiced the concern of many when he observed, “From what I have heard of Sullivan, he will not do his work like a man who is going to meet a good and clever boxer. It may be that Sullivan will underestimate Corbett. If he does that and will not train, he will be beaten, for Corbett is a remarkably clever man and can hit a hard blow.”

Corbett, for his part, paid tribute to the champion, acknowledging, “The man I am going up against is the best that has ever lived. I don’t know as I will win. But I will be in the ring on September 7 and, if I am defeated, will go the way of many other good men.”

However, that bit of humility was offset by the declaration, “I think that I can defeat him. I always thought that I could. Ever since we boxed a friendly bout together in San Francisco, I have had my mind made up that I could whip him. No man who has lived the life that Sullivan has lived can beat me in a fight to the finish.”

As the fight neared, New Orleans was consumed by Sullivan versus Corbett. Thousands of boxing enthusiasts, hustlers, prostitutes, and legitimate entrepreneurs descended upon the city. The Olympic Club built a new arena, replete with electric lights, that could hold ten thousand spectators.

The bout was more eagerly anticipated than any sporting event ever up until that time. Word of its outcome would be transmitted instantaneously by telegraph across the nation. In New York, two beacons were mounted on top of the Pulitzer Building. A red one would be lit if Sullivan triumphed; white if Corbett prevailed.

A flood of “smart money” on fight day dropped the odds to almost even. Sullivan entered the ring at 212 pounds; Corbett weighed 187.

The bout began shortly after 9:00 PM. At the start, Sullivan stormed across the ring in his usual manner, slapping his left hand against his thigh. For the first few rounds, Corbett evaded the champion’s blows. In round five, he landed a solid left that brought blood gushing from Sullivan’s nose.

From that point on, the challenger beat up the champion. “Sullivan is big and strong,” Corbett said afterward. “But I knew that he could not hit me. I kept my right in reserve and cut him down with my left. When I saw I had him safe, I ended it as soon as possible. I won by whipping him, not by keeping away.”

By round seven, Corbett was landing hard blows to the body. Sullivan found it increasingly difficult to even lift his arms as the challenger danced around him, raining down blows. By round fourteen, Corbett was landing virtually at will. The champion kept coming forward. It was the only way he knew how to fight. Now and then, when Corbett landed a telling blow, Sullivan acknowledged, “That’s a good one, Jim.” But he was powerless to retaliate in any meaningful way.

The end came in round twenty-one. Michael Isenberg describes the scene: “The iron constitution and raw energy that had served John L. Sullivan so long and so well could do no more. The tree-trunk legs were barely holding him up. His arms ached, hanging straight down at his sides. He could barely see through puffed-up eyelids. Dazed, he hardly knew what was happening around him. But he would not fall. Wavering, he stood helplessly in his corner as Corbett advanced, at last determined to go for the kill. Corbett feinted, then slammed home a right to the jaw. Sullivan dropped to his knees; then incredibly, slowly raised himself to his feet. There he stood, completely defenseless, waiting for the inevitable.”

An account in the New York Sun tells what happened next: “The blood from Sullivan’s face flowed in torrents and made a crimson river across the broad chest. His eyes were glassy. It was a mournful act when the young Californian shot his right across the jaw and Sullivan fell like an ox.”

John L. Sullivan, champion of champions, had lost.

Sullivan was barely conscious as his handlers carried him to his corner. There, they sought to revive him by placing ammonia beneath his nose and pressing ice against the back of his neck and head.

The crowd was cheering wildly for the new champion. Years later, Corbett would write in his autobiography, “I was actually disgusted with the crowd, and it left a lasting impression on me. It struck me as sad to see all those thousands who had given him such a wonderful ovation when he entered the ring turning it to me now that he was down and out. I realized that some day they would turn from me when I should be in Sullivan’s shoes, lying there on the floor.”

Then, still dazed, Sullivan rose from his stool and lurched toward the ropes. Holding onto a ring post to steady his body, the now-ex-champion held up his right hand and cried out to the crowd. “Gentlemen, gentlemen.” The crowd grew silent. “All I have to say,” Sullivan continued in a wavering voice, “is that I came into the ring once too often. And if I had to get licked, I’m glad I was licked by an American. I remain your warm and personal friend, John L. Sullivan.”

Later that night, having gathered his senses more fully, the defeated champion acknowledged, “He hit me whenever he wanted to. I tried in every way to hit him, but I couldn’t. I am gone now. I can’t fight anymore, and that settles it. I could, at that fellow’s age, have licked any one of them in the world, but that time has passed.” Then, on a more defiant note, Sullivan added, “Let him go through what I have. Let him knock them all out for twelve years and then see if he can do any better than I did.”

Click here to buy now
Sullivan-Corbett marked the first transfer of the gloved heavyweight championship of the world. There was a new king. But Sullivan had reigned for ten years. He was still famous. And in defeat, he refused to leave the public stage.

For the next fifteen years, the former champion continued to make money by going on theatrical and vaudeville tours. “The monologue was his bread and butter,” Isenberg recounts. “John L. would walk slowly from the wings to center stage, where he would plant both feet and not budge for the remainder of his routine. Clad in full dress suit, he would slip his left hand into a trouser pocket and use the once-lethal right for gestures. And off he would ramble. Drunk or sober, he was seldom a disappointment for the confirmed fan. And on his good nights, he could be positively enchanting.”

Unfortunately, many nights were bad. After Sullivan was beaten by Corbett, boxing was no longer in the back of his mind, which meant that there were no constraints whatsoever on his drinking. A series of embarrassing incidents followed.

In 1893, Sullivan was indicted for assault and battery after beating up a one-armed man on a train. Settlement of the resulting civil suit and legal fees (civil and criminal) cost him $1,200. In 1894, he was arrested after assaulting a carriage driver. In 1896, he was arrested and fined after beating up a streetcar conductor and assaulting a police officer. That same year, in a drunken stupor, he fell off a moving train while trying to urinate onto the tracks. He was knocked unconscious and suffered an eight-inch gash on the back of his head.

There were frequent hospitalizations for drinking-related ailments. Along the way, pressed for cash, Sullivan pawned his championship belt. Decades later, the diamonds having been removed, the belt was melted down and sold for its gold content.

In 1902, at a matinee performance of his monologue in Detroit, Sullivan staggered out in front of the audience dead drunk, almost fell through the backdrop, and resisted efforts to forcibly remove him from the stage. After a struggle, he was taken back to his hotel, went out on another drinking binge, and wound up in jail for eight hours.

And so it went.

On March 1, 1905, Sullivan was on tour in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Several recent theatrical appearances had been cancelled because drinking had rendered him unfit to appear onstage. Badly in need of money, he agreed to step into the ring against a young fighter from Texas named Jim McCormick.

Sullivan was forty-six years old. He weighed 273 pounds and had not fought competitively in more than twelve years. He knocked McCormick unconscious in the second round.

Four days later, Sullivan was in Terre Haute, Indiana. The previous night, his theatrical performance had once again been cut short because heavy drinking rendered his monologue unintelligible. After being led back to his hotel, he’d slept until noon.

It was March 5, 1905. Sullivan walked into the hotel bar, ordered a glass of champagne, poured his drink into a spittoon, and declared, “If I ever take another drink as long as I live, I hope to God I choke.”

Perhaps the victory over McCormack had released the demons within him. Maybe he’d simply had enough. He never drank in public again and his anti-social behavior came to an end.

Meanwhile, backed by religious reform groups, the temperance movement was gathering strength nationwide. Sullivan personally opposed the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, believing that drinking was better addressed as a matter of education and conscience. He also cast a jaundiced eye at “reformers,” noting, “In all my years of wild spending, I never heard of nobody refusing to take the money of John L. Of all the money I gave for churches, schools, and other charities, I can’t remember a single cent being flopped back to me because it was earned by biffing some chap on the jaw.”

Nonetheless, after going dry, Sullivan became a sought-after lecturer and powerful symbol for advocates of prohibition. “If I had not quit drinking when I did,” he told his audiences, “there would be somewhere in a Boston suburb a modest tombstone with the inscription on it, ‘Sacred to the memory of John L. Sullivan.’ There is only one way to get the best of John Barleycorn, and that is to run away from him. There are men who say about liquor that they can take it or leave it. But those are the ones who always take it. And in the end, it gets them. I say to the young men of the United States, ‘Leave liquor alone.’”

Sullivan’s transformation earned him praise in high circles. Theodore Roosevelt (then President of the United States) observed, “John’s best fight was made after he lost to Corbett. I mean his whipping John Barleycorn. That was a real victory, and I’m proud of him for having made it. Since then, he has been the most effective temperance lecturer I have known of. He has been effective because he could appeal to classes of men and boys others could never hope to reach.”

Thereafter, Roosevelt and Sullivan established a friendship of sorts, and Roosevelt told biographer John Leary, “Old John L. has been a greater power for good in this country than many a higher respectable person who would scorn to meet him on terms of equality. I know that his former profession is not a very exalted one. But he has profited by his travels and he is better informed on most matters than most men who have had no better opportunity in school work than he had. He was a good fighter and clean. He never threw a fight. In his way, he did his best to uphold American supremacy. He has been my friend many years, and I am proud to be his.”

After Sullivan renounced liquor, he began spending time with a woman named Katherine Harkins, six years younger than he was, who he’d known since childhood. In 1908, he sued Annie Bates Bailey Sullivan (who was still living in Rhode Island) for divorce. At the hearing, he told the judge, “When a man ain’t lived with a woman for twenty-five years, he don’t want to call her his wife. I’ve always fought shy of divorce courts on account of my religion. But there’s a time when the torture is too strong. I don’t want that woman to have my bones.”

The divorce was granted. The only child of their marriage, John Jr, had died of diphtheria twenty-three years earlier.

Sullivan and Harkins were married on February 7, 1910, and moved to a small house twenty miles south of Boston. The following year, he retired from the stage. They lived together in contentment until 1916, when “Kate” died of cancer.

During the last few years of his life, Sullivan suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and was almost totally deaf in his left ear. His weight fluctuated between 270 and 320 pounds. At a 1917 banquet held in his honor in Boston, The Great John L. told the admiring crowd, “If the good Lord shall call me right now, I may say that I have seen it all. I know the game of life from A to Z, from soda to hock.” On February 1, 1918, he suffered a heart attack and died.

Evaluating Sullivan through the haze of history is a complex task.

Late in life, James Corbett declared, “It is very hard to tell, as you gaze down the list at all the defeated champions of the past, which was supreme. And all argument as to their respective merits is foolish and futile.”

Be that as it may; Sullivan was likely the best fighter ever under any rules of boxing up until his time. He was an honest fighter with enormous physical gifts. Shortly before his thirty-fourth birthday, his body a shell of what it once was, he remained standing into the twenty-first round against James Corbett (who was in his prime). That alone showed extraordinary courage and heart.

Sullivan made fighting under the Marquis of Queensberry Rules acceptable to the fight crowd. That led to the acceptance of boxing among the higher classes of society and under the law. By his insistence on adhering to the new rules, he modernized boxing. And by his persona, he popularized it.

The most significant blot on Sullivan’s ring record was his refusal to fight a black opponent. “I will not fight a negro,” he said on more than one occasion. “I never have and never shall.”

The best defense of that stance (and it’s a poor justification) is that a man must be judged by the standards of his time. Sullivan had been born into a world in which slavery was the bulwark of the economy in a substantial portion of the United States. Throughout his life, separation of the races was law in much of the land. In drawing a color line, he was reflecting values he’d been taught as a child and saw all around him.

That said; more than anyone else, Sullivan created modern boxing. Without him, the sport would have evolved in an entirely different way. Before Sullivan, there were title claimants. He founded a line of kings who were universally recognized heavyweight champions of the world. He brought new value to the championship and paved the way for a more businesslike approach to the sport. He gave boxing a new foundation to build on.

As for Sullivan the person, Elliott Gorn sums up, saying, “He was a hero and a brute, a bon vivant and a drunk, a lover of life and a reckless barbarian. He cut through all restraints, acted rather than contemplated, and paid little regard to the morality or immorality of his behavior. He was totally self-indulgent, even in acts of generosity, totally a hedonist.”

But his most endearing personal quality, the one that made him loved, should not be forgotten. Sullivan, it was said at the peak of his reign, “modestly accepts plain citizens as equals and friends.”

American novelist Theodore Dreiser (then a young newspaperman) met Sullivan shortly after the fighter’s ring career ended. Later, Dreiser recalled, “John L. Sullivan, raw, red-faced, big-fisted, broad-shouldered, drunken, with gaudy waistcoat and tie, and rings and pins set with enormous diamonds and rubies. Surrounded by sports and politicians of the most rubicund and degraded character. Cigar boxes, champagne buckets, decanters, beer bottles, overcoats, collars and shirts littered the floor. And lolling back in the midst of it all in ease and splendor, his very great self. What an impression he made!”

I've Got to get Adam Pollack's book on the Boston Strongboy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this