John L. Sullivan vs. Dominick McCaffrey

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Sullivan stands over McCaffrey.

John L Sullivan 208 lbs beat Dominick McCaffrey 168 lbs by PTS in round 7 of 6

  • Date: 1885-08-29
  • Location: Chester Drving Park, near Cinncinati, Ohio, USA
    • Promoter: George Campbell
    • Referee: William C. Tate
    • World Heavyweight Title (Vacant inaugural title)


    • Many boxing historians, including those at The Ring and Cyber Boxing Zone Encyclopedia, consider this fight to be for the inaugural World Heavyweight Championship under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. However, some dispute that claim for various reasons, including the short distance of the bout, McCaffrey's small size and the fact that both fighters were Americans. At that time, Tom Lees was heavyweight champion of Australia and so would have just as much right to claim the new vacant world's championship. Patsy Cardiff, who was by birth a Canadian, would have had an equal right to proclaim himself Marquess of Queensberry champion as he was unbeaten and considered Northwest Champion at this date.
    • Sullivan entered the fight as the American Bare-Knuckle Heavyweight Champion. He won the title from Paddy Ryan in Mississippi City, Mississippi, on February 7, 1882.
    • Sullivan and McCaffrey boxed a three-round exhibition in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 13, 1884.
    • McCaffrey earned a shot at Sullivan by winning a four-round decision against Charley Mitchell, an outstanding English boxer, at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 13, 1884.
    • Sullivan and McCaffrey had been scheduled to fight in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 2, 1885, but Mayor William B. Smith refused to allow the bout. Both fighters were arrested and placed under $5,000 bond apiece. Ticket receipts had to be refunded.
    • After the cancellation in Philadelphia, the bout was moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of the fight's promoter, George Campbell.
    • On August 28, the day before the fight, Sullivan was arrested at the behest of the Law and Order League under a municipal statute that authorized citizens to call on a constable or police officer to arrest the principals of a planned prizefight. McCaffrey went into hiding when he heard of the arrest. Sullivan appeared before a judge and said only a sparring exhibition was planned. He was released after he posted $1,000 bail. The morning of the bout, the judge ruled that a bout with gloves was not a prizefight and could continue.
    • At 5 feet 10½ inches tall, Sullivan was 1½ inches taller than McCaffrey.
    • Sullivan weighed 208 pounds, 40½ more than McCaffrey. For his previous fight—a five-round decision win against Jack Burke on June 13, 1885—Sullivan weighed 238.
    • The fighters wore three-ounce gloves.
    • McCaffrey was very confident. "I'm ten times the boxer Sullivan is," he bragged to reporters.
    • The Milwaukee Daily Journal reported the following on April 31, 1885:
    The popular feeling to-day as yesterday is unanimously in favor of McCaffrey. Prize-fighters and pugilists are almost to a man sympathizers with Sullivan. They say if McCaffrey had stood up and fought he would have been knocked out in the third round. Nearly all the reporters here counted seven rounds, and the few who made six rounds say that the third round was split into two rounds by someone not authorized calling time, which mistake was corrected. Peter J. Donahue, the timekeeper, says this was all a mistake, but in the fifth round, when McCaffrey was down, Murphy, Sullivan's friend, called time, thinking he had lain ten seconds, when he had been knocked down but seven seconds, whereupon the referee put the men in their corners. The last he says he added the last round. The there is the misapprehension about the grounds of the award of victory of Sullivan. The masses supposed McCaffrey would be declared the winner if he stood up during six rounds, which he did magnificently. But the fact is the decision had to be outside of fighting rules to be within the laws of Ohio. It was ostensibly an athletic contest with gloves, and under Ohio laws this had to be decided in favor of the man who made the most points to keep it out of the category of prize-fighting. Sullivan gets all the net receipts. The gross receipts are said to be about $10,000, of which Chester park management gets a small per cent.
    • The April 31, 1885, edition of the Milwaukee Daily Journal also reported Referee William C. Tate's opinion of the fight: "He says the match was a regular farce, and that Sullivan displayed the most science, and as McCaffrey did nothing but dodge to escape punishment, he passed his decision on each man's merits."
    • The Weekly Commercial Herald reported on September 4, 1885, that Sullivan was awarded the decision by the referee after six rounds, but "opinion gives the battle to McCaffrey."
    • The following is from Michael T. Isenberg's 1987 book John L. Sullivan and His America:
    For the first three rounds Sullivan pressed forward in his usual style, pushing and slugging the smaller man all over the ring. John L. kept banging his opponent into the ropes. McCaffery went down several times and was groggy at the end of round three. Both men, despite their training, were witting in the August heat. By round five McCaffery had gained a second wind and managed to spar, although he was floored once and was back on the ropes most of the time. The challenger was bleeding from under the right eye and the corner of his lip. At the start of round six Sullivan wrestled him to the deck and pinned him. At this artless and illegal move, Tate stopped the fight and gave the decision to John L. When William Muldoon, the master of ceremonies, announced the decision, the highly pleased crowd rapidly disintegrated into fevered arguments over the merits of the two pugilists. Dominick's brother John tried to pistol whip Arthur Chambers at ringside, and the exhausted boxers had to combine to break it up.
    Both fighters bragged after the fight, but for McCaffery it was no payday at all, and his supporters groused about Billy Tate's decision for months. Sullivan took home almost six thousand dollars, about 60 percent of the gross. For two days everyone celebrated in Cincinnati, John L. and his opponent attending a National League game between the Red Stockings and Pittsburgh. Campbell eventually gave McCaffery a gift of one thousand dollars, and the Pittsburgher boasted that he had stayed in the ring with Sullivan longer than any man before him—which was true, although Flood had lasted eight rounds, Ryan nine, and Donaldson ten under the London Rules. Sullivan, momentarily content with the fat payday, would not fight again for over a year.