John L. Sullivan


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An Irish-American born in Boston who is acknowledged as the last bare-knuckle heavyweight champion (under London Prize Ring rules), and the first champion of gloved boxing. Sullivan's career was a reflection of the expansion of the transport system and the urge for spectator entertainments—with betting providing the economic basis. He was a big draw on exhibition tours and won many hundreds of fights in hundreds of US cities in this context, when there were no formal titles. Sullivan was recognized as the first world heavyweight champion, in 1888 or 1889, though one of these decisive fights, in France, was still scheduled as an 80-round bout. Sullivan was featured on cigarette cards in the 1880s, and launched boxing as a source of celebrity and wealth, becoming the first US sportsman to earn a million dollars. He lost his title to Gentleman Jim Corbett in 1892 under the new Queensberry Rules, engaging in celebrity baseball umpiring, sport reporting, stage acting, and running a bar after retiring from the ring. His distinctive attire in the ring has been said to have given the name ‘Long Johns’ to men's long underpants or nightwear, though these undoubtedly existed before Sullivan donned them in public.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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