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The Boxing Biographies Newsletter

Volume 2- No 3                  19th January 2008

The Fort Wayne Sentinel

28 May 1910

The Rise of John L Sullivan

Paddy Ryan held the honor he had wrested from Goss for nearly two years without finding another claimant to it. Then, in 1882, "Billy" Madden brought forward his young phenomenon, John L Sullivan, who serenely had been putting away all comers and was already known as the hardest hitter ever seen inside the ropes.

Sullivan was the one great product of the fourth  period of the  fistic history, which came to an end with his career and which was only lifted from a  dead level of mediocrity by his astounding achievements. His personality completely dominated the prize ring for ten years, during which he imposed his own peculiar methods upon the sport, sweeping away once for all the teachings of the first great tactician, Mendoza, which had influenced pugilism more or less directly throughout the second, third and fourth periods.

Tactics;' strategy, accepted plans of campaign were all thrust into the dust heap when Sullivan hammered his ruthless, undeviating way to the front His style, bluntly, was a return to primitive principles. He fought as Broughton himself fought in the dawn of pugilism, and because no one who ever handled fists could approach him at that game he stands as the most powerful out and out fighter the ring has known.

Comparison is of little use in placing the great "John L" As a popular idol in his day he might be bracketed with "Tom" Cribb. His easy nature, his taste of a certain social triumph at the height of his fame, his subsequent position as a kind of semi-public character and dignitary of the sporting world offer further points of resemblance with "the Ould-Champion."

As a boxer he was something like "Jack" Slack, less like Morrissey and most like a Roman siege tower armed with two gigantic, straight levering catapults.

John Lawrence  Sullivan was born near Boston October 15, 1858. and is thus the first world's title holder who was an American by birth, unless John C. Heenan be counted as one in a double, championship through his draw with "Tom" Sayers. His parents came from county Kerry, Ireland. His mother must have been a notable woman. He frequently has said that his prowess descended to him from her, his father being a little, wiry man, under the average height.

John L. Sullivan received a fair education, and at the age of sixteen fastened his ambition upon professional baseball, when a trifling incident gave it another turn. He had a care free way of leaving his employment suspended in mid air when a good baseball game came on a pleasant afternoon. His boss conceived objections to this plan and undertook to impress his views forcibly upon Young Sullivan. Sullivan hit him once, whereupon he took an extended vacation and Sullivan sought pastures new.

For some years after this Sullivan took part in amateur boxing contests about Massachusetts, where he earned the sobriquet of "the Boston Strong Boy." It was understood thoroughly by all concerned that If any one got In the way of that clubbed forearm the Decision went then and there to the “Strong Boy”. At the age of twenty one he was five feet ten and a half inches tall, weighed 175 pounds and was built like a gorilla . His muscular power was enormous. No Prize Fighter of them all through the recorded history possessed such tremendous development of arms, back, shoulders and loins. Bristly black hair, a broad, large boned face and a truly terrifying grin as a fighting expression completed as formidable a makeup as could well be imagined.

At this time Sullivan had a clearly defined theory of the boxing game. His way was to plant himself on the flat of his feet as if nailed to the floor and defy gods and men to come within reach of his fists. This was good so far as it went, but Sullivan would have had difficulty in winning a championship with it if he never had carried it further. His explanation was that the desirable thing was a steady base of operations and that no one could upset him as long as he held his position, two points which could hardly be disputed.

Among young Sullivan's early exploits was his brief meeting with "Joe" Goss in 1879, when the old fellow was champion. Goss took a benefit in Boston and indulgently polished off  several local aspirants. Sullivan went on in his turn for four rounds, but began by thumping "Joe" on the neck and the veteran became slightly indisposed. This and many similar happenings having come to the ears of "Billy" Madden, who was looking for material to promote, that astute manager hunted up John in 1880. He saw the youngster box, if Sullivan's customary procedure could be called boxing, and then and there declared he had found the next champion.