Chapter Summary - Chapter One, from the book "When Boxing Mattered."
America was entering the “Gilded Age” with Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Edison and of course, the Boston Strongboy, John L. Sullivan, the bareknuckle heavyweight champion of America. On the other side of the equation, there were lynchings, diseases, Jim Crow, slums, and a huge gap between the gentrified upper class and the rest of America. Baseball had just been invented and it and boxing were America’s two favorite sports. It was the 1880’s.
An Irish-American, John L Sullivan won the bareknuckle championship in 1882 besting another Irishman, Paddy Ryan by stopping him in the ninth round in Mississippi City, Mississippi. From all accounts, Sullivan dominated, forcing Ryan’s corner to stop the contest.
He defended twice against English boxer Charlie Mitchell and then defended against Jake Kilrain in a 75 round epic encounter in Richburg, Mississippi in 1889. Kilrain’s corner, fearing for his life, stopped the fight after 2 hours and 16 minutes. . It was the last bareknuckle heavyweight championship fight. Sullivan stands as the link between the bareknuckle era and modern gloved era. Other outstanding boxers of the 1880’s include the great middleweight champion Nonpareil Jack Dempsey and lightweight king Jack McAuliffe.
More excerpts from this book in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!