John L. Sullivan
The “Boston Strong Boy” ruled as heavyweight champion from 1882 to 1892. The hard-hitting, hard-drinking boxer became the country’s first sports superstar and Irish-American hero as he ushered boxing from its outlawed bare-knuckle days into the modern gloved era.
Richard K. Fox
Equal parts Don King and Rupert Murdoch, the National Police Gazette publisher was Gilded Age boxing’s premier matchmaker. Spurned by Sullivan, Fox spent years and thousands of dollars in a futile quest to dethrone the champ.
The “Trojan Giant” was the reigning heavyweight champion until a young phenom named John L. Sullivan knocked him out in a bare-knuckle title fight on February 7, 1882, in Mississippi City, Mississippi.
The elusive English fighter, derided by Sullivan as a “bombastic sprinter,” was a constant thorn in the champion’s side, particularly during their 39-round draw in Chantilly, France, in 1888.
Under a scorching sun in the backwoods of Mississippi on July 8, 1889, the Irish-American heavyweight traded bare fists with Sullivan for 75 rounds before finally succumbing in history’s last bare-knuckle title bout.
The premier wrestler of the 1880s, “The Solid Man” brought a rusty, doughy Sullivan to his Belfast, New York, farmstead in the summer of 1889 and whipped him into shape for the Kilrain fight.
James J. Corbett
“Gentleman Jim” ended Sullivan’s decade-long championship reign with a knockout win in New Orleans on September 7, 1892. A resentful Sullivan feuded with Corbett for the next 20 years.
Annie Bates Bailey Sullivan
She married the champion in 1883, and rumors of spousal abuse and gossip about their tempestuous union broke into public view during a sensational divorce trial two years later.
The showgirl with a traveling burlesque company became Sullivan’s mistress and nursed the champion back to health following his near-death experience.
Kate Harkins Sullivan
The champion’s quiet, prim second wife settled down with Sullivan on a farm outside Boston and helped him stay on the path to sobriety.
With Cameos By
Sullivan’s kindred spirit and political hero shared a passion for boxing and despised “mollycoddles.”
The hatchet-wielding temperance crusader had Sullivan’s saloon in her crosshairs on a 1901 visit to Manhattan.
King Edward VII
While Prince of Wales, the future monarch hosted a private boxing exhibition starring Sullivan in 1887. “I shook his flipper and wished him well,” the champion said of the royal audience.
The preeminent investigative journalist of the nineteenth century paid a visit to Sullivan’s training ground in 1889 and got the champion to open up on everything from his bathing habits to his earnings.
The Wild West gunslinger served as Kilrain’s bodyguard and timer for the 1889 title bout with Sullivan.