Subj: The BAWLI Papers No. 50
Date: 99-01-29 17:21:12 EST
The BAWLI Papers
(Boxing As We Liked It)
By J Michael Kenyon
Issue Number 50
Monday, February 1, 1999
New York City, New York, US of A
IN THIS ISSUE: FROM JOHN L. SULLIVAN TO JACK JOHNSON -- HEAVYWEIGHT HISTORY
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Readers are welcome to submit interesting and otherwise noteworthy articles
concerning professional boxing's long and storied past. The emphasis,
generally, should be on the foremost fighters, managers, trainers and
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HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING HISTORY (excerpts)
By Don Sibrel
In the mid 19th century, St. Louis, New Orleans, and other cities in the
western territories became centers of boxing in America due to the enforcing
of laws against prize fighting in the eastern cities.
1866 in England: The Marquis of Queensberry, a prominent figure in British
sporting circles, laid down a set of rules for glove fighting: fighters will
wear gloves no wrestling three minute rounds one minute rest period ten
seconds to recover from a knockdown Although today these rules are followed by
a large number of countries, they were not quickly accepted. The change from
bare-knuckle boxing was gradual.
Boxing in America didn't really get started until after the Civil War. At that
time there was no great fighters, few honest people in boxing, and most fights
were controlled by hoodlums. Boxing in America was saved by the Marquis of
Queensberry rules and John L. Sullivan.
John L. Sullivan, the "Boston Strong Boy", was born in 1858. He became
America's first great sports hero. He was an honest fighter who only wanted to
fight, anyone, anywhere, with bare fists, skin-tight or padded gloves, under
any rules. "I will fight any man breathing. Always on the level, yours truly,
John L. Sullivan". This was not quite true. He would not fight a black. He
lived high and liked bright lights. He knew nothing of ring science, but had a
knockout punch. He was 5'10" and 195 lbs when in shape.
May 1881 on Hudson River: Sullivan fought John Flood "the Bullshead Terror" on
a moonlit barge towed a few miles up the Hudson, outside the jurisdiction of
the New York City police. The match was fought with skin tight gloves in front
of the usual crowd of working-class men, urban dandies, and professional
gamblers. Sullivan easily won the fifteen minute fight by knocking or throwing
down his opponent in each of the eight rounds. This lead to a championship
fight match with Paddy Ryan.
February 5, 1882 near New Orleans: Sullivan fought the American champion,
Ryan. The challenger threw his hat in the ring first, then sat waiting for
twenty minutes, wrapped in a blanket, until the champion arrived. Next the
fighters' umpires haggled over the selection of a referee, finally
compromising with two men. Ryan won the toss for choice of ground and made
Sullivan face the sun. The champion then offered the Boston Boy a side bet of
one thousand dollar. Sullivan covered the wager. The fighters then stripped,
shook hands, and toed the scratch. The fight only lasted nine short rounds.
Sullivan was much too strong and "hit me like he held a telegraph pole", said
Paddy. Ryan's seconds threw in the sponge after their fighter was knocked
In 1883 in Madison Square Garden, New York: Sullivan fought Charley Mitchell,
who claimed the British championship. This was a gloved bout. The police
stopped the fight when Mitchell started taking a bad beating. Later, Sullivan
went on tour and offered $1,000 to anyone who could stay four rounds with him,
Queenberry rules. No one had ever done anything like that before. This made
him very popular. He fought in theaters, dance halls, and armories. Few
opponents lasted more than one round.
In 1887 John L. traveled to England and fought several times. Then to France
where he fought Charley Mitchell for what many called the bare-knuckle world
championship. The fight was fought in a downpour, which was stopped after 30
rounds, all in Sullivan's favor. The ring had become a quagmire.
In early 1889 Sullivan signed to fight John J. Kilrain, who also claimed the
world bare-knuckle championship. Sullivan at that timed weighed a flabby 240
lbs. He had two months to get himself in shape.
July 2, 1889, 200 miles from New Orleans: Sullivan fought Kilrain. At that
time boxing was illegal in all 38 states. Kilrain, whose second was Bat
Masterson, was the same height and age(31) as John L., and weighed 195 to
Sullivan's 205 lbs. Kilrain's plan was to avoid the sweeping punches of John
L., jab, close, and they wrestle him for a fall. Under the bare-knuckle rules,
a fall in this manner could do as much damage as a knockdown. In the early
rounds, Kilrain was fairly successful. But as the fight wore on, John L's
great strength began to take its toll in the 104ø heat. Soon all the falls
became clean knockdowns by Sullivan. After the 50th round, Kilrain was clearly
an exhausted and beaten man. He quit after 76 rounds. After fighting two hours
and sixteen minutes, Sullivan challenged Charley Mitchell, who had watched the
fight at ringside, to enter the ring and have it out. This Kilrain fight was
the last bare-knuckle championship match. Sullivan did not fight again for
three years. At this time, England and Australia did not recognize Sullivan as
world champion. They each had several fighters who claimed the title. Sullivan
wrote in several of the largest newspapers that he would fight anyone in the
world for a purse of $25,000 and a side bet of $10,000. At this time,
America's best fighter was probably a man who had never fought bare-knuckled,
Jim Corbett. Corbett was one of a new breed of gloved fighters who stressed
skill, science, and speed rather than brute power. He was from San Francisco
and was good in many sports: a sprinter, gymnast, and baseball player. His
brother played in the major leagues. He joined the Olympic Club at age 17. He
was a great amateur and sparred with leading professionals. No one studied the
science of boxing like Corbett. At an even six feet, 180 lbs, he always kept
himself in top shape. He turned professional in 1889.
1890 in New Orleans: Corbett fought Kilrain. At age 23, Corbett fought this
six rounder. By jabbing, hooking, and moving he easily won the match and made
Kilrain look foolish.
1891 in San Francisco: Corbett fought the Australian champion. He was the
black, Peter Jackson. Both were master fighters. After more than four hours of
fighting and 61 rounds, both were exhausted. The judges ruled it a draw. This
was probably the height of Jackson's career. He was five years Corbetts
senior. A month after this fight, Sullivan agreed to a public sparring match
with Corbett. But he would only consent to do it wearing formal attire. This
was held at the San Francisco Opera House. They later agreed to fight for the
world championship under Queensberry rules using five once gloves. This was
the first heavyweight championship fight under the "new" rules. The stakes
were $20,000 with a purse of $25,000.
September 7, 1892 in New Orleans: Sullivan defended "title" against Corbett.
John L. weighed in at 212 lbs. He still had a paunch from having weighed 230
lbs. two months before. Corbett weighed 178 lbs. For the first part of the
fight Corbett jabbed and easily avoided the lunges and roundhouse swings of
Sullivan. As the fight went on, Corbett became more aggressive, and started
fighting more toe to toe. He was beating the much slower man to the punch and
doing it easily. In the 20th round John L. almost went down. He was knocked
out the next round. Sullivan never tried to fight for the title again. He went
on the stage and lectured on the virtues of prohibition. Corbett was never
well liked by the boxing public. He had disposed of an idol. He toured the
country in a play written especially for him. He was a good actor and became
somewhat a matinee favorite.
January 25, 1894 in Jacksonville, Fl: Corbett fought the British champ,
Charley Mitchell, who was 33 years of age and weighed 160 lbs. Corbett knocked
him out in the third round. The America's now had the first truly world
September 7, 1894: Corbett KOed Peter Courtney in an exhibition held at the
Edison Laboratory in Trenton, New Jersey. This was the first fight to be
recorded on film. The rounds were limited to two minutes and time between
rounds exceeded two minutes because of limited film time and reloading. The
next fighter to win the heavyweight title was one of the most unique fighters
of all time. Robert Fitzsimmons was born in England and moved to New Zealand
at age nine. At age 18 he weighed 140 lbs. He worked as a blacksmith, was six
feet in height, and had very muscular arms and shoulders, but very thin legs.
He was a heavy weight from the waist up. Sullivan called him a fighting
machine on stilts. He wasn't fast, but crafty with a solid punch in either
hand. In 1890 at age 28, Fitz came to California to pursue his boxing career.
Weighing 150 lbs. he won the welterweight title in 1891.
March 17, 1897 in Carson City, Nevada: Fitzsimmons fought Corbett for the
heavyweight title. This was the first championship fight recorded on film.
Sheriff Bat Masterson stood at the entrance and collected 400 guns from the
paying customers. Another sheriff, Wyatt Earp, stood in Corbett's corner with
a six gun as protection. Fitz, now age 34 and weighing 156 lbs would fight the
30 year old champion. In the early rounds, Corbett easily avoided solid blows
from Fitzsimmons by jabbing and moving. In the 6th round Fitz was hit by a
hard right to the jaw and took a nine count. At this point in the fight Fitz
was behind, but this was to be the high point of the match for Corbett. Fitz
now seemed to get stronger and more of his punches were finding their mark. By
the 12th round it was a very hard match indeed. In the 13th, Fitz caught
Corbett with a hard right to the heart followed by and even harder left hook
to the stomach. Down went Corbett, the wind knocked out of him. He never made
it up. Thus was born the "solar plexus" punch. Jim Jeffries, who had been a
sparing partner to Corbett before he lost the title, was to become the next
champion. He was six feet two inches and weighed 220 lbs. when in top
condition. He was a good athlete running the 100 yard dash in eleven seconds.
Born in Ohio in 1875 he moved to California as a boy. He was not a natural
fighter, but developed a crouching stance with his left arm extended.
Opponents had difficulty penetrating his defense. Tex Richard, who promoted a
number of fights of future heavyweight great Jack Dempsey, called Jeffries the
heaviest hitter he ever saw.
June 9, 1899 in New York: In Coney Island, Jeffries fought Fitzsimmons for the
title. Although Fitz was 13 years older than Jeffries , the champion was a 3
to 1 favorite. The much smaller man was never able to get to Jeffries due to
his style and long arms. Most of his blows landed on the challenger's
shoulders and the top of his head. In the second round a left downed Fitz. In
round five, a left to Fitz's right eye cut him bad. Fitz landed a hard left
hook to the stomach of Jeffries, the kind that had won him the championship,
but the much stronger Jeffries just blinked. In the 11th round with his cut
bleeding badly, Fitz was knocked out with two short left jabs followed with a
terrific right to the jaw. After this fight, Fitz continued his fighting
career, later winning the light heavyweight title at age 41. This was his
third title. He fought until he was 52. Jeffries was a fighting champion,
taking on all commers. That is, all white comers.
November 3, 1899 in New York: Jeffries decisioned Tom Sharkey in 25 rounds at
Coney Island. Sharkey, a native of Dundelk, Ireland, gave the champion all he
could handle. The fight was held for the first time under artificial lights
for filming. The heat was intense. Jeffries lost twenty pounds due to the heat
and dislocated an elbow. Sharkey suffered two broken ribs, a badly cut face,
and could hardly stand at the end of the fight. Sharkey had clearly been worn
May 11, 1900 in Coney Island, New York: Jeffries fought Corbett in what was
probably Corbett's best fight. Corbett made the champion look bad for the
first 15 rounds. But eventually Jeffries strength was too much, and he knocked
Corbett out in the 23rd round.
November 15, 1901 in San Francisco: Jeffries stopped Gus Ruhlin in five
July 25, 1902 in San Francisco: Jeffries KOed Fitzsimmons in the 8th round.
This was a much tougher fight than their first one. For the first seven rounds
Fitzsimmons had cut both cheeks and broken the nose of the champion. But
Jeffries kept pressing the attack, and finally downed the challenger with a
left to the stomach followed by the KOing right to the jaw.
August 14, 1903 in San Francisco: Jeffries KOed Corbett in the 10th round.
Corbett then retired from boxing and became an actor.
August 26, 1904 in San Francisco: Jeffries KOed Jack Munroe in 2nd round.
Jeffries retired in 1905 primarily because there was little money to be made.
The attitude in America was that amateur boxing exhibitions were fine, but
prize fighting brought in the criminal element.
July 3, 1905 in Reno: Jeffries refereed a bout between Jack Root and Marvin
Hart. Hart, a stocky Kentuckian weighing 190 lbs. blind in one eye, was strong
but awkward. Earlier that same year he had won a 20 round decision over future
champion Jack Johnson. Root was a clever boxer but not a heavyweight. He had
become the first light heavyweight champion in 1902. Boxing Historian Nat
Fleischer rated Root the fifth best light heavyweight of all time, but he
rarely weighed more than 165 pounds. For 11 rounds Hart charged Root, swinging
wildly. Root evaded most of the punches and effectively scored counterblows.
The 96ø temperature had its effect on Root, and he was knocked out in round
12. Only 5,000 people saw this bout. Jeffries proclaimed Hart the new world
February 23, 1906, Los Angeles: Hart, in his first title defense, fought Tommy
Burns for the championship in a bout refereed by Jeffries. Burns, a barrel
chested Canadian, was a professional hockey and lacrosse player. He was 5'7''
175 lbs, strong, fast, clever, and could hit hard with either hand. Burns won
easily, being content to outbox his opponent for an easy decision.
Burns then fought a number of less talented fighters. He KOed Bill Squires of
Australia in one round, Fireman Jim Flynn in fifteen and Joe Grim "the India
Rubber Baby" in three. He drew with Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, but beat him
easily in twenty rounds in a return match. He then embarked on a world boxing
tour, acting as his own manager. In London he KOed both the top two British
fighters, Gunner Moir and Jack Palmer. On St. Patricks' Day, 1908, he beat the
Irish champ Jem Roche in one minute and 28 seconds of the first round. This is
still the record for the shortest heavyweight title match. In France and
Australia he also knocked out their champions. He was now clearly recognized
as world champion. His fights are as follows: October 2, 1906: Burns KOed Jim
Flyn in 15th round in Los Angeles. November 28, 1906: Burns fought 20 round
draw with Jack O'Brien in Los Angeles. May 8, 1907: Burns decisioned O'Brien
in 20 rounds in Los Angeles.
July 4, 1907 in Colma, California: Burns fought Australian Bill Squires. Jim
Jeffries was the referee. Squires, the taller and heavier fighter, fought
aggressively from the opening bell. He wanted to trade punches and used no
defensive tactics what so ever. He crowded Burns and lunged at him several
times, but Tommy, much the quicker fighter, easily danced away. All at once
Burns throw a right that caught Bill solidly between his left eye and ear and
down he went. He rolled over and quickly rose and continued fighting. He
should have taken the full count and tried to clear his head. As it was, he
never really recovered from this first knockdown. A lump the size of a
pigeon's egg appeared on the left side of his face. He still chased after
Burns swinging wildly. He even caught Tommy with a couple of punches, but he
was clearly hurt. Squires then threw a sweeping left hook to the body that was
six inches short. Burns countered with another right, this time to the check,
and down went Squires for the second time. He again arose but his legs were
jerky and he evidently could not see his opponent. Burns awaited for an
opening then landed two more rights to the head and down went Squires for the
third and last time. He was out and made no attempt to get up before the count
of ten. Referee Jeffries handed Burns $10,000 which was the side bet.
December 2, 1907 at the National Sporting Club in London: Burns fought the
Britisher Gunner Moir. Six hundred Englishmen in evening dress filled the tiny
auditorium to watch the fight. American newsmen were not provided seats so
that more money could be made from ticket sales. Moir, a huge tattooed man,
was a head taller and 14 lbs heavier than Burns. Tommy Burns won the fight
easily with a knockout in the tenth round. Most people who saw the fight
thought that Burns could have won any time he wished after the third round. As
round ten started Gunner was bleeding from several cuts about the face and was
groggy from the beating he was taking about the head and body. Early in the
round Burns feinted a few times and then landed a left hook to the midriff of
Moir who sank slowly to the canvass. He wearily made it up before the count of
ten. Burns then feinted a few more time then landed a hard right to the jaw
that knocked the Britisher down and out. At fights end, Moir was a badly
beaten fighter with many cuts and bruises while Tommy Burns was hardly marked.
February 10, 1908 at the Wonderland Club in London: Burns fought Britisher
Jack Palmer. The 2,000 spectators saw their local hero fight a wretched fight
from the start. Burns was much too fast and clever for his opponent. Tommy
knocked his opponent down a number of times. The fight ended in the middle of
the forth round when a Burns hook over the heart forced Palmer to lower his
guard and then Jack was sent to the floor with a left hook to the head. Palmer
to his credit attempted to rise but just couldn't do it. Throughout the fight
Palmer was kept busy trying to cover up and was not able to launch much of an
attack of his own. The match was for a side bet of $2,500 and 75% of the gate
March 17, 1908 at the Theater Royal in Dublin: Burns fought the Irish champion
Jem Roche. After sparring a few seconds, Tommy landed a light punch to the
head of Roche. Burns then landed a light left followed by a hard right to the
chin of Roche who fell hard to the stage and lay squirming. He staggered up at
the count of nine but clung dizzily to the ropes and was counted out at 1:28
seconds of the first round. Roche shortly cleared his head and offered to
continue the fight. Burns agreed, but the referee awarded Burns the victory.
The five thousand spectators were amazed at how inept their champion appeared.
April 18, 1908: Burns KOed Jewey Smith in 5th round in Paris. June 13, 1908:
Burns KOed Bill Squires in 13th round in Paris. August 24, 1908: Burns KOed
Bill Squires in 13th round in Sydney.
September 2, 1908: Burns KOed Bill Lang in 6th round in Melbourne. During this
tour, the American black fighter, Jack Johnson, closely watched Burns and
publicly challenged him to fight for the title. Jack Johnson was born in 1878
in Galveston Texas. As a young man he hung around fight gyms in Chicago, New
York, and Boston where he spared with veterans. He was to became, when in his
prime and in shape, one of the best fighters of all time. He was a genius in
the ring. A flawless boxer with an almost perfect defense. He was a superb
counter-puncher with power in both hands. He lived life to the limit with
flashy cloths, drove yellow racing cars, and was constantly in trouble with
the law. In many of his fights he was not in the best of shape. Johnson had
challenged Jeffries in 1904, but the champion would not defend his title
against a black fighter. He did fight a match against Marvin Hart. Johnson was
leading the match in the early rounds, but tired in the later rounds and lost
a decision. In April 1906 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Johnson fought the other
great black fighter, Sam Langford, of Nova Scotia. Johnson, out weighing his
opponent by 35 lbs., easily won a 15 round decision. In July 1907, in
Philadelphia, Johnson fought the 44 year old Fitzsimmons. Johnson was declared
the winner in the 2nd round after knocking the old ex-champion down three
times.In 1908 Johnson was not considered a great fighter by most people.
Marvin Hart had won a twenty round decision over him, and Joe Choynski had
knocked him out in three rounds. Burns needed money. He was promised the
unprecedented sum of $35,000 to fight Johnson. Burns had seen Johnson fight
and relised how good a fighter he was. He didn't think he could beat Johnson,
but stated that "I could give him the fight of his life".
December 26, 1908 in Sydney, Australia: Johnson fought Burns for the
championship. At this time, Australia was one of the worlds boxing centers.
Unlike the United States, Australia's largest cities welcomed prize fighting.
At the outset of the fight, Burns was the aggressor. He rushed Johnson with
the hope of a quick knockout. But Jack's long, quick left jab not only kept
Tommy at a distance but jarred him many times. It was estimated that Burns
probably weighed 175 lb and Johnson 200 lb. Johnson was just too big, too
strong, too quick, and too good a boxer for the champion. But the slugging at
times was terrific and brought many cheers from the 25,000 spectators. Both
fighters drew blood from their opponents. But the fight was pretty much all in
the black fighter's favor. In the 14th round Burns was clearly a beaten man
and it looked like he could go down at any time. The Police stopped the fight
in the middle of the round, an the referee declared Johnson the winner. Jack
London, then a popular novelist covering the fight for a New York newspaper,
wrote, "The battle was between a colossus and a pygmy. Burns was a toy in his
hands. Jim Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove the golden
smile from Johnson's face. JEFF, IT'S UP TO YOU."
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