Jack Burke

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Jack Burke

Name: Jack Burke
Alias: The Irish Lad
Born: 1861-09-10
Birthplace: Lambeth, London, United Kingdom
Died: 1897-06-30 (Age:35)
Hometown: London, United Kingdom
Height: 5′ 6½″   /   169cm
Boxing Record: click

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Career Overview

Jack Burke, known as "the Irish Lad," was an exceptionally popular fighter of the late nineteenth century. Among his noteworthy opponents through his sixteen year career were Charley Mitchell, Jake Kilrain, John L. Sullivan, Nonpareil Jack Dempsey, and Peter Jackson.

For his prize fighting debut in London, England on January 10, 1878, Burke knocked out the otherwise unimpressive Harry Edwards. Just five fights later he won a bout billed as being for England's middleweight championship with a seventh round knockout of Jem Gaiger. In 1881, undefeated in eleven bouts, he took on future hall-of-famer Charley Mitchell for England's welterweight championship. After twenty-five rounds and seventy-seven minutes of bare-knuckles fighting, the fight was interrupted by police and both men were jailed for six weeks. Two years later he participated in a tournament of England's best fighters, losing in the finals to Alf Greenfield, who went on to fight world heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan as a direct result of that victory.

Following the loss to Greenfield, his first defeat, Burke moved to America where he fought Charley Mitchell twice more in 1884, both bouts ending in draws. Also that year, he fought to a draw with Jake Kilrain, another highly regarded boxer of the era. A victory over Captain James Dalton was followed by a rematch with Greenfield, this time ending in a win for Burke. A third fight with Greenfield ended in a draw.

Burke's popularity attracted the attention of Patrick Sheedy, manager for John L. Sullivan, and led to a bout with Sullivan in Chicago on June 13, 1885. Sullivan, at an out-of-shape 230 pounds, outweighed his opponent by sixty pounds. He used his size against Burke in the first two rounds, using wrestling, throwing, and rabbit-punching tactics that were technically against modern Marquess of Queensberry rules. Burke attempted to move and counterpunch in order to keep the larger man off of him but was only partly successful until round three, when he landed a good blow to the champion's chin. Sullivan, apparently afraid that police would stop the fight if it got too rough, failed to retaliate. Tiring by the fourth round, Sullivan started punching, landing a terrific body shot that put his opponent down. Burke rose bravely, but was quickly knocked down again. Again Burke made it to his feet, but when Sullivan came at him to fight some more, the Irishman intentionally fell to the mat without being hit. Told to get up, he did so but only to pull the exact same trick when Sullivan came back at him. When the challenger continued to employ this tactic into the fifth round, referee Sherm Thurston stopped the fight and declared Sullivan the winner. "Burke was a mere boy in my hands," mused the champion afterwards.

Despite the one-sided loss to Sullivan, Burke continued to campaign successfully, even holding the original Jack Dempsey, America's middleweight champion, to a draw in 1886. By the dawn of 1889, he had lost just four times in sixty-four outings, but he was clearly beginning to fade. He lost back-to-back bouts against younger fighters Frank (Paddy) Slavin and Peter Boland in 1889 and, two years later, was knocked out in seven rounds by Ted Pritchard in a bout for England's middleweight championship. Burke retired in 1894.

Isenberg, Michael T. John L. Sullivan and His America

Exhibition bouts: