John L. Sullivan: Big, Bad and Badder Still

Who is the baddest mother f%$&er out there? Surely many men deserve the honor and the answer varies from generation to generation, but in Boston, in the early 1880s, it was face punching, no nonsense, Irishman, John L. Sullivan. The “Boston Strongboy” was born in 1858 to poor Irish immigrants.

He stood 5’10” and weighed 196 pounds. His basic disrespect for authority coupled with an uncontrollable rage found a profitable home in the illegal and bloody world of bare-knuckle boxing. He was the last of the great ones, and the first gloved boxing world champion.

Considered by many to be the first American ‘sports star,’ Sullivan reveled in his new role and toured the United States fighting in matches and performing in theaters. He kept his title of heavy weight champion of the world from 1882 to 1892 when he lost it to Jim Corbett in the very first heavyweight boxing championship to be fought with gloves.

Devastated at the loss of his prestige, one account claims that he spent the entire night in his dressing room sobbing and drinking heavily. He had more than a bit to cry about as in addition to the loss of his hard-earned title, he got no money from the fight for he had insisted on the stipulation that the “winner takes all.” Ten days later, he was able to recoup some of his losses ($6,000) in an exhibition match with Corbett in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

His defeat by Corbett was the first in a twenty-seven year career, and Sullivan remained in the game for a few more years, although he was never the badass he had been before. He became an early advocate for the prohibition of alcohol and died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1918. Buried in Boston, his nemesis, Jim Corbett, served as an honorary pallbearer.

John L. Sullivan was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Although many badasses have followed in his shoes, whether they have been able to fill them is another story.

Would he have been as popular and successful today? In all likelihood, you could probably bet your ass on it!

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