EVERY sport celebrity has had some colorful happening in his career that stands out as his greatest performance. The superlatives of sport are ever interesting. The greatest game of the various major league pitching stars, the greatest play of the All-America football stars and the greatest shot of the golf champions always carry a thrill.
It was only natural that I should ask Jake Kilrain what fight he regarded as the greatest of his career. He hesitated some time before replying, as if going over the many high spots of his ring record. "Three events in my fight career hold about an equal place for real thrills as far as I was concerned."The first came when I engaged in the initial big test of my career, my bout with Joe Lannon. The second was my 106-round fight with Jem Smith in France and the greatest of all, when I met John L. Sullivan in our now historic battle of 75 rounds.
"I came from Baltimore to Boston to battle Lannon. It was rumored the bout would be stopped by the police. I was told to stand at the corner of Charles and Beacon streets at 8 o'clock and that a cab would come along and pick me up. In that same cab was Lannon. "I had no idea where the bout was to be held. We rode a considerable distance and finally stopped at a spot near Watertown, Mass. The audience was very exclusive, 11 men each paid me $100 for my end of the purse. I won the bout in 10 rounds. That was the first big thrill of my career. "My meeting with Jem Smith in France was my second thrill. The purse was for $10,000, a mighty big one in those days, 1887.
"At that time I claimed the championship of the United States. John L. Sullivan had broken a bone in one of his arms and was unable to accept my challenge. I, in turn, claimed the title because of his refusal to meet me. That was more or less customary then. Didn't mean much."Smith at the time was the European titleholder, so the match was billed as the championship of the world with a $5,000 side bet, real money, too. "It was a terrific battle, staged under most unusual conditions, the bout being held in the open on a cold winter's day. At the end of the 106th round it was stopped by the referee, who declared it a draw.
"My bout with John L. Sullivan, then the champion, was of course the greatest battle of my career from any angle that you consider it. Here I was meeting the world's greatest fighter for the heavyweight championship and the fame and money that goes with such a title.
"This bout was staged at Richbourg, Miss., and was the last American prizefight. Shortly afterwards the Marquis of Queensbury. rules supplanted those of the London prize ring code. "Sullivan won this bout when my seconds tossed the towel into the ring as the bell rang for the 75th round. Both of us
were very weak. Had my second not acknowledged defeat, there is no telling what the result might have been. I will always think my chances were as good as Sullivan's. "There you have the three big thrills of my career as a,fighter." .