Jake Kilrain vs. John L. Sullivan

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1st round action

John L. Sullivan swept into the full tide of his popularity after his decisive defeat of “Paddy” Ryan. For the next five years he toured the country, meeting ambitious youngsters ostensibly for "exhibitions" and demolishing them regularly with the terrible right-hander which ranks historically among such lethal instruments as the battleaxe of the Lion. Heart and the sleeping potion of the Borgias, partaking of the nature of both. His offer of $1,000 to any one who would knock him out was the standing joke of the time.

Several fighters of promise and reputation were also matched against him, for if Sullivan met the contemporary sporting demand as a hero he was not without enemies who would have liked nothing quite so well as to see him beaten.

"Anything and anybody to whip Sullivan!" was the word in certain circles of the world of sport. His failure to stop "Tug" Wilson in four rounds was a ray of light to this contingent. It expected great things of Herbert A. Slade, the Maori. Its hopes were pinned again to "Paddy" Ryan in 1886, but Sullivan simply crushed his old antagonist. Its persistent assertions that the champion's day had passed found some ground the following year, when Sullivan broke his left arm in the fight with "Patsy" Cardif. Finally, in 1888, it took heart from the draw with "Charley" Mitchell.

Sullivan's prestige undoubtedly suffered a decided, if temporary, setback from this affair. Mitchell was a skilful and a wary boxer. He met the champion for $5,000 and the title at Chantilly, Prance, and dodged himself through thirty-nine rounds in safety, following "Tug" "Wilson's tactics. The event was hailed as Sullivan's Waterloo." It was declared that he had always been greatly overestimated and that he must fall before the next first class fighter to face him. Here at last was the great John L. brought low. It needed but one more trial to remove him from the honor. "Jake" Kilrain was chosen to do the removing. He had been importunate with his challenges since the Cardiff fight, and Sullivan at length accepted him.

IT was a great day for such as love to count themselves wise beyond the run. It was this way, they figured, Sullivan never had the courage to fight a mouse more rounds than he could count upon his fingers and would be worthless if carried any distance, Kilrain was fast, clever and sure to prolong the interview, being best at the fag end of a1 lone battle. Ergo, Kilrain must win, greatly to the profit and satisfaction of the sapient. But other points of wisdom wore eagerly whispered about the crannies of New Orleans, where the fight loving had gathered on July 7, 1889. The champion had been living well, altogether too well, it appeared. In training he had seemed actually to be swathed in flabbiness. Moreover, that broken left arm had never properly been tried out since the accident two years before. Again, time and place gave promise of in tense heat, which could not fail to be irksome to the heavy Sullivan and sapping to his strength. Still again, Kilrain had been trained by "Charley" Mitchell, who had stalled off the big fellow so successfully. And last, Sullivan never did amount to much anyway. So there you were.

Of the reasons so laboriously collected by the knowing ones, the most attractive had to do with the brevity of all of Sullivan's fights. It was an indisputable fact that up to the Mitchell sprinting race at Chantilly no one had ever stayed more than nine rounds -with the champion. And it was quite possible that if an opponent could manage to keep clear of that clubbed right until Sullivan was blown and weary the greatest hitting fighter the ring has ever seen might henceforth be powerless. It was possible because no one was In a position to prove the contrary.

Meanwhile the great majority of boxing enthusiasts throughout the country, including most of those fortunate enough to be on hand at New Orleans, held fast by their faith in John L. Sullivan. They did not believe that the man to succeed him had yet appeared. If be had they were confident that he did not exist in the person of the present claimant.

"Jake" Kilrain was born at Greenpoint, L. I, February 9, 1859. He was of Irish parentage and his real name was John Joseph Killion. Having begun his muscular training in a Boston rolling mill, he first became known to the sporting public as a crack amateur oarsman. In 1883 he won the junior single scull championship of America, and soon afterward turned to new worlds to conquer. He had always been handy with his fists and began to attract attention when he made a serious bid for fame by defeating "Joe" Lannon, a fighter of some note, for a rather vague title, the championship of the East.

By the time Kilrain was ready to issue his series of challenges to Sullivan in 1887 he was known as a hardy, courageous and really first class boxer. But before the defiance bore fruit he gained still further in reputation by a venture to England. This was the first time since the days of “Jem” Mace that the championship of England had been disputed by an aspirant to the world’s title.Mace, with whose career the two honors ceased to be synonymous , had regained the greater in 1870, subsequently Relinquishing it here. since then the boxing game had fallen into evil repute across the water until the national title was revived by “Jem” Smith, who defeated “Jack” Davis in 1885.Kilrain challenged Smith and a match was made .After a terrific battle for $10,000 and the championship of England a draw was declared on account of darkness,106 rounds having been fought under the London prize ring rules.


Kilrain's stock went booming after this exploit. He made himself at least half a champion, and that in the home of pugilism. When he entered the ring he would carry with him the equivalent of the best claims England could make.more than all else he had proved that he could keep going for a battle of great length, that he possessed endurance as well as gameness. he was hailed as the next logical opponent of Sullivan, and the champion who had not paid much attention to him before, had to meet the demand. Their articles, which were shortly signed, called for a $10,000 a side and the belt.

Two special trains filled with fight followers left New Orleans on the morning of July 8. Elaborate preparations had been made by the authorities to prevent the meeting, and the militia were stationed along the route of the Queen and Crescent system at every station. Even after crossing the Mississippi troops were found in readiness, until the hamlet of Richburg was reached, where the coast was conveniently clear. This point had been secretly selected some time before. A twenty foot ring, with stakes five feet nine Inches in height, had been pitched on a bit of hard, level turf. A second ring sixty feet square had been roped off for the privileged spectators, and beyond this, on three sides, tiers of seats had been erected. Some three thousand persons were present, including many of the best known sporting men of the country.

At ten o'clock the fighters and their attendants approached the ring, "shying their castors" inside the ropes in traditional style. Among those in Kilrain's corner were "Mike" Donovan and "Charley" Mitchell, while Sullivan's advisers included "Billy" Muldoon and "Mike" Cleary. "Bat" Masterson and "Tom" Costello were the timekeepers. After the usual wrangling Captain John Fitzgerald was named as referee.

Kilrain won the toss and chose the east corner, giving Sullivan the sun. this was no small consideration, For the day was cloudless, intensely bright and hot. What air was stirring failed before preparations were complete and the breathless crowd sweltered on the grill in a temperature that held prospect of suffering for the fighters. At stripping Kilrain stood forth in black knee breeches, white stockings and black laced shoes; Sullivan in green breeches, white stockings and black shoes.

Keen observers looked upon the stalwart figure of the challenger with approval, if without conviction of superiority in any point.he was massively built upon a heavy frame, with a deep chest and good reach, with bunched muscles that played and rippled softly under firm skin.his legs were good, with trim lithe lines that promised speed .in height he was the equal of the champion 5 foot 10 ½ , a sound clean, thoroughly trained fighting machine.

But the condition of Kilrain attracted only passing glances and scant attention when Sullivan appeared in the buff. There was truth in the reports circulated among the knowing ones. The champion had been living at his ease, had but a few months before taken to himself much padding for which he had no use. Now, as he made ready for battle, the wonderful Fighter showed that he possessed one more remarkable faculty, that of getting back into shape. His splendid physique was apparently untouched by excesses. His tremendous spread of shoulder, the phenomenal development of his arm, back and upper body muscles, his marvelous biceps and solid loins had the exact contour of perfection, with nothing added and nothing lost. A great shout went up as the crowd noted his visual reputation of rumour that would have had the champion advanced in fatty degeneration. It was still the great John L. Sullivan they greeted, the invincible John L. The champion responded to the applause with his customary grin, already hardened into the ferocious fighting grimace which he had struck terror into the hearts of many opponents before a blow had been struck. Kilrain also received a generous welcome and at the call of the referee the two men stepped to the handclasp at the center.


The fight began with a rush, whether Kilrain had not yet conceded the wisdom of “Charley” Mitchell’s teachings or whether he was so wrapped up in the notion of his own superiority that he believed them superfluous, he had clearly decided to attempt a lead from the signal. They faced each other an instant watchfully, the next Kilrain leaped forward, feinting With his left at the head, then diving in under Sullivan's guard to a close clinch. The champion was taken a trifle by surprise and the challenger won a favorable hold, hurling Sullivan heavily to the ground fifteen seconds from the call of time. The quick and clever move stirred great enthusiasm among Kilrain's backers, and the champion was visibly chagrined as he sought his comer.

Both were up promptly for the second round, and Sullivan, Irritated by the sudden check, slammed in hard with a thumping left swing to the ribs, charging right on into a clinch.they stamped and tore about the ring for a brief struggle, then went down with Sullivan on top. It was the turn of the champions friends to cheer and the volume of sound indicated how the sympathy of most of the spectators lay.the session had lasted but thirty seconds.

Kilrain was eager at the opening of the third round and rushed immediately through a rapid whirl of fists, closing and catching Sullivan about the neck.with a heave and a plunge of his driving right Sullivan twisted away hammering a short chopping blow to the neck. Kilrain held after him and in a fast exchange shot through a low left drive.to many of the watchers the blow looked like a foul and a storm of hisses arose, but the referee shook his head and the men mixed it fiercely . in the bustling mill that followed the swung and lunged rather wildly without damage until Kilrain went down under a light tap to the neck.

By the time the challenger apparently thought better of his earlier plan to take the upper hand from the start and he came to the mark for the fourth round in cautious attitude. the men joined for the sparring which had been overlooked at the introduction, and there was some good play for an opening. This was Kilrain's opportunity to show what he was worth as a scientific boxer. But his exhibition when viewed four years later in the light of Corbett handling of the same situation was mediocre. He could feint and he could run in imitation of the tactics of “Tug” Wilson and “Charley” Mitchell, but he could not better either of them as general. Something more than merely slippery moves was necessary to make head against the tremendous strength and determination of Sullivan. Kilrain was to much under the influence of Sullivan’s own methods to break cleanly with them and adopt the widely different course by which an antagonist could meet the rushes of the champion.

After some rather ponderous maneuvering Sullivan feinting repeatedly with his right and both wary. Kilrain let go a high swing and ducked into a clinch. The champion was ready for him this time. tucked him fairly under his right arm, thrust his own hip back of the others and obtained a perfect cross buttock hold. But Kilrain by a desperate effort wrenched free just as Sullivan heaved and hopped away with a stinging right hook to the jaw. The champion went after him hard and in several exchanges got his left lightly to the neck, pressing on in a slashing attack until Kilrain went down to avoid punishment.


Sullivan opened the fifth round feinting left. Kilrain retreated hastily and when Sullivan followed missed a lunge at the head.Sullivan let go one of his terrific right swings, but missed, and Kilrain countering lightly to the neck, went down to save himself. In the next session after some sparring and chasing on the part of the champion, Sullivan smashed his left swiftly to the jaw.they clinched and fell heavily, Sullivan on top. Kilrain was carried to his corner by his seconds, but Sullivan refused assistance. Kilrain's friends were now anxiously expectant of some demonstration on his part, and the challenger waded into the seventh round ready to give it to them.after some play he threw himself to a clinch and then fought out of it with clever short arm work to the ribs .drubbing Sullivan two for one and stopping Sullivan’s clumsy returns . Side stepping a desperate drive, he swept back with a ripping right to the right ear, laying it open and drawing first crimson before he went down to avoid trouble .it was a minute and a half round, Kilrain's all the way.

7th round action

The champion bore his fearsome ogre grin as he rushed for the eighth round. streaked with red from the last blow, his bristling black hair on end and his lips drawn back savagely he presented a terrifying spectacle. an effect of which he was fully aware. He came at Kilrain like a mad bull, delivered his pounding left like a sledge hammer upon the others guard, broke it and drove a merry dance Kilrain was hard put to it to avoid the raging danger and tripped a heart breaking measure as Sullivan come on whirling out repeatedly with his left.

9th round action

Kilrain finally made a plucky attempt to stand and Sullivan was on him like a cyclone, snapping his guard again with the terrific, chopping left and hurtling through with one of his irresistible right drives that caught Kilrain full on the mouth and sent him weaving and staggering to fall- near the ropes. It was the first knockdown blow of the battle, after two minutes of fighting, and was duly recorded to his credit, while the crowd went wild with yelling. This was what most of them had come to see; this was Sullivan at his best, a terror of the ring, an offensive hitter such as the game never knew before. The severe lesson was not lost on Kilrain, and from this point on, except for rare flashes of aggression, be fought the shiftiest way he knew, avoiding that terrible right as he would destruction. In the next session, which lasted only thirty seconds, he did little but run around the ring dropping to escape another charge. he came up for the tenth with a very serious face and Immediately dodged away from the scratch before a blow was delivered. Sullivan, grinning wrathfully, shouted after him. "Stand up and fight like a man. I'm not a sprinter, I'm a fighter.” The taunt and the jeers from the crowd brought the challenger back and Sullivan made a pass at him, falling short. Kilrain countered fairly to the body, but his heart was not In the blow. Sullivan sprang upon him as he began another retreat and they clinched against the ropes where the champion worked a slashing right on the ribs. Kilrain finally planted a back heel and won the fall, landing on top.

It was Sullivan to the fore again in the eleventh round, leading with a long drive to the chin Kilrain met him with a tap to the neck and a vicious swing to the body, which he followed by rushing into grips.he fought out of the clinch with a reaping slash to the ribs, but Sullivan had his distance and clubbed right to the neck that sent Kilrain spinning.


Sulliavan did some remarkable fast footwork pressing his advantage and getting in with a second right swing to the same place .the challenger made desperate efforts to escape but Sullivan was in full career and backed him around the circle with flailing arms until cornering Kilrain he was again able to send his right forearm smashing through like a gigantic club to the side of the neck. Kilrain was swept of his feet and showed signs of distress as he was borne to his corner. Sullivan unhurt save for the cut on the ear, though a trifle winded, emphasized his readiness in characteristic fashion by refusing to sit down in his corner and watching the frantic efforts of Kilrain’s attendants with a mocking leer.

Kilrain bustled through a brief mix up in the twelfth session and tried to hug, but Sullivan fought him off with a rocking smash to the side of the head .the challenger seemed to have a better chance. The champion refused as long as possible and kept lashing out with his right, Kilrain cleverly ducking the blows and pressing in until he succeeded in catching his hold. After a vain attempt to score a fall he broke unexpectedly and reaped a snappy left to the head, then closed again. They wrestled hard and went down together, Sullivan on top, with his left arm locked about his man's throat.

That invaluable aid to Sullivan's peculiar tactics, his temper, was now at its customary long leash, lending verisimilitude to his bogeyman make-up. He opened the thirteenth by jamming through his right to the ribs, taking a light jolt to the body. In a rally Kilrain spiked Sullivan on the foot. The sharp pain set Sullivan raging, and he was all over Kilrain to a mad rush, hammering repeatedly to the chest arid ribs with. straight driving smashes. Kilrain blocked fast and- gave ground until, as Sullivan wrenched around and over with the spent force of futile swing, he sprang into the opening with his best blow of the fight thus far, a crashing right swing to the neck. The check was determined and staggered Sullivan for,an instant. As he recovered and came on again Kilrain met him in a hot rally and went to grass to save himself.

In the fourteenth round Sullivan forced the pace, Kilrain hitting him low on retreat and taking a hard smash to the neck. When Kilrain clinched Sullivan slipped and went down under ,the ropes. Kilrain began his sprinting again in the fifteenth, and Sullivan again called him to come and fight. The challenger came up missed a pass at the stomach and took a thumper to the ribs. As Sullivan tried again, driving a hard right Kilrain dodged and, rushing low, forced the champion against the ropes, without damage Sullivan, regaining his balance, whirled with right and left at his man, backing him into his corner and around again, while Kilrain continued to duck and run away. "Why can't you fight like a man ?" was Sullivan's reiterated complaint, until Kilrain, came back with a plucky rush, meeting left and right to ribs and jaw and fighting into a short arm melee, where Sullivan so decisively mastered him that he fell to escape.

Kilrain opened the nest session by leading neatly to the ribs and skipping away, which moved Sullivan to remark, "You fight just like Mitchell." After some slow sparring Kilrain slammed a snappy one to the body and they mixed at half arm wildly. Kilrain broke away and retreated, Sullivan rushing to a clinch and winning the fall. When the champion opened the seventeenth with a feint Kilrain showed his respect by skipping clear across the ring. Sullivan followed and they came to grips. Kilrain was able to lay Sullivan's right cheek open with a clever uppercut before they fell together.


In the next round Kilrain hurriedly slipped down before a blow was struck, but a claim of foul was disallowed. He threw himself to close quarters at opening the nineteenth and hugged desperately, which led the champion to taunt him again. "You're no fighter, you're a wrestler," snarled Sullivan, whereat Kilrain broke and sent in a crashing right to the ribs. Sullivan flailed at him with the right, but "Jake" was not there, and the champion, in a flare of anger, charged after him, driving him around the ring. Kilrain went down under a grazing swing- to save himself.


For the next six rounds Kilrain was busy hopping around the ring and seeking grass at the first opportunity, perfectly legitimate tactics under the rules after a blow had been struck, but not at all to the liking of the crowd or of Sullivan, who thundered scorn and defiance. The heat was terribly oppressive and the men blistered in the sun, but the champion showed no slackening. Beyond some distress of wind -he had not suffered, while Kilrain was considerably battered and appeared to lack his earlier spring. In the twentv- sixth round he made a sudden spurt, checking his usual retreat with a flashing parry and right drive that smacked hard to the body. The blow stopped Sullivan's advance and Kilrain ran to grips, throwing Sullivan for a heavy fall, while his backers, who had long been silent, cheered again.

Kilrain opened the next session well, jamming another jarring drive to the ribs and clinching. The champion fought him off and launched a half circle that caught Kilrain at the back of the neck as the challenger twisted away. Sullivan then swept a reaper to the ribs, took a light tap to the head and cross-countered heavily to the neck, knocking Kilrain down.

For the next three rounds Kilrain got down as soon as possible, and in the following four he was knocked down. He was putting up a great fight and a clever one, landing shrewdly and freely. But no blow he could land seemed to bother Sullivan in the least, and the champion forced consistently, boring and flailing without remission. In the thirty-fifth round Sullivan threw him, and in the next knocked him down again.

In the thirty-seventh Kilrain sent a light tap to the head and ran away to the ropes. Instead of pursuing Sullivan folded his arms at the scratch and waited, while the crowd jeered and hissed Kilrain. This was rather unfair to the challenger, who was proving himself the gamest, most courageous and skilful opponent Sullivan had ever faced. He came back under the taunts, jabbed again and again skipped away. Sullivan still waited at the scratch, calling to him. until Kilrain jumped into a clinch, drubbed John's ribs and was overborne in his own corner.

In the thirty-eighth session, which lasted four and a half minutes, Kilrain continued to retreat until the referee, acting on repeated appeals from Sullivan, told the challenger that he must stand up and fight. He had no authority to issue this command under the rules, and Kilrain. was plainly within his rights. Sullivan had no just grievance. If he could not catch his man the burden was on him. But Kilrain showed his spirit again by acting as best he could on the order, in spite of the discouraging hostility of the crowd. He fought into a clinch and went down. The tide continued Sullivan's way for the next five rounds, claims of fouls on both sides being ignored.

Sullivan's stomach, his one weak spot, failed him in the forty-fifth round as the result of the heat and terrific strain, and Kilrain would have spared him, as he appeared to be helpless. Kilrain even offered to call the battle a draw. Sullivan's answer was an index to his ruthless, unyielding nature. He sprang at Kilrain as they stood near the scratch and knocked him down with a tremendous drive to the body, in the next session Kilrain led heavily to the neck and went down under a rib searcher. A determined claim of foul was made here by Kilrain's attendants, who declared that Sullivan had jumped on Kilrain as he lay helpless. Many in the crowd backed this assertion, but the referee ordered the men to proceed.

The next round was very brief. In the forty-seventh Kilrain rallied again and planted a smashing right to the stomach. But he lacked the strength to" follow up and Sullivan threw him easily. From the forty-eighth to the sixty-seventh Kilrain continued to run and shift, getting down whenever Sullivan reached him. In this period he and his friends pinned their lessening hopes to the earlier belief that Sullivan could not last a wearing fight. But the belief faded and finally disappeared as the struggle drew on. Sullivan was somewhat blown and weary, but his lead over Kilrain increased steadily. While Kilrain still got through good blows occasionally they lacked steam, and the champion was pounding steadily on with his drives and crushing clubbed swings.

In the sixty-eighth round Kilrain dodged away and Sullivan followed closely, hammering at the ribs. Kilrain stood and Sullivan feinted. Kilrain was falling to save himself when Sullivan caught him a staggering uppercut that lifted him away, to collapse helplessly. It was the final blow to Kilrain's chances, but for seven more rounds he tottered and fumbled through the motions, prolonging his brave effort to the utmost limit of endurance. When he went down under, a light rap in the seventy fifth round he could do no more. Mitchell went over to the champion's corner and once more proposed a draw. On Sullivan's scornful refusal "Mike" Donovan walked to the centre and tossed up the sponge in spite of Kilrain's weak protests. The act was wise and met with the approval of the crowd, which gave Sullivan an ovation to the extent of Its remaining lung power.

Thus ended the last championship fight with bare knuckles under the London Prize Ring rules. It left John L. Sullivan champion under those rules, an honor never wrested from him.

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