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Articles of 2005

The Great John L. Sullivan

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When people used to say “shake the hand which shook the hand which shook the hand of The Great John L.” it really meant something. During his reign as heavyweight champion of the world from 1882-1892, and for many years thereafter, John L. Sullivan was iconic, larger than life, a touchstone embodying excellence in a nation just beginning to manifest its destiny.

But nowadays no one knows much about John L.

John L. Sullivan was a pivotal figure in the history of the fight game. He started fighting while boxing was illegal. He was the last bare-knuckle heavyweight champ. He was the first gloved heavyweight champ. He was America’s first sports celebrity.

John Lawrence Sullivan was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, on October 15, 1858 to proud Irish roots. His father Michael was from Tralee in County Kerry and his mother hailed from Athlone in County Roscommon. Michael Sullivan was a tough guy always itching for a fight, but he was, alas, a short fellow, only 5'3″ tall, whereas John L.’s mother, at 5'10” and 190 pounds, was built like a battleship.

John L. Sullivan took after his mum and dad.

To bestow honor on the Sullivan name, and at his mother’s insistence, John L. decided to become a priest. He gave it his best shot, but his best shot was not good enough. The priesthood was not for John L, nor was being a hod carrier, assistant plumber or tinsmith.

Like any Irish lad with a few quid in his pocket, Sullivan liked drinking, carousing and fighting, followed by more drinking, carousing and fighting. John L. would stride into bars and proclaim: “I can lick any man in the house.” Only masochists in their cups begged to differ.

John L. Sullivan had prodigious strength and prodigious appetites and swaggered and blustered with the best of them. But he wasn’t just a thug. He was also athletic. Sullivan played semi-pro baseball in Boston and was offered a contract by the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the nascent major league to play pro ball, but the directionless John L., with no other prospects in sight, turned the big leagues down flat.

Sullivan began a fledgling career as amateur fighter giving boxing, wrestling and weightlifting exhibitions. He was a bit of a nobody on the fringe, a roustabout with power, a hard-nosed, hardheaded, hard-fisted Irishman still finding his way in the world.

Fate intervened in the life of The Great John L. at Boston’s Dudley Opera House during an evening of light entertainment in 1877. The stage show featured a sparring session where a heavyweight boxer named Tom Scannel challenged all comers in the audience, daring anyone to last three rounds. Most of the men that rose from the crowd were shills who were in on the ruse, which was poor training to fight a young unknown named John L. Sullivan.

At the urging of the audience, Sullivan stood, removed his jacket and tie, rolled up his sleeves, and strode up the steps up to the stage. According to legend, John L. walked over to Scannel for a collegial handshake. Scannel reeled back and sucker-punched Sullivan with a left to the cheek. Sullivan countered with a right to Scannel’s jaw, knocking the showman into the orchestra pit. According to Sullivan, “I didn’t know the first thing about boxing then, but I went at him for all I was worth and licked him quick. It wasn’t much of a fight, and I done him up in about two minutes.”

John L. had four fights in 1878, including a bout with John “Cocky” Woods. Woods was no slouch, but Sullivan stopped him with a straight right, scoring a fifth round TKO.

In 1880 Sullivan fought and defeated Joe Goss, the former American champ, in three rounds. John L. had two more fights that year, kayos over George Rooke and John Donaldson in Boston and Cincinnati.

That same year Sullivan boxed an exhibition with the noted fitness freak and boxing trainer Professor Mike Donovan. Donovan wrote that John L. knew nothing about boxing, “but he was the most savage fighter and hardest hitter that ever lived.” Sullivan “scorned to study the methods or copy the style of anyone. He had a natural genius for fighting. He never stepped back.” Donovan also described what it was like being hit by Sullivan’s punches: “It was like being kicked in the head by a runaway horse.”

“When I started out boxing,” Sullivan wrote some years later, “I felt within myself, as I do now, that I could knock out any man living.”

John L. Sullivan had seven fights in 1881, including a bare-knuckle barnburner against a New York thug and enforcer named John Flood, aka The Bull’s Head Terror, on a barge anchored in the Hudson River near Yonkers. Sullivan knocked Flood down eight times en route to an eighth round knockout.

Sullivan kept fighting. Sullivan kept winning. He had eight fights in 1882, all of them with gloves, except for his title fight with the American bare-knuckle champion Paddy Ryan on February 7, 1882 in Mississippi City, Mississippi. Sullivan controlled the action and floored Ryan with a right in the ninth. The Great John L. Sullivan was heavyweight champion of the world.

The champ had seven fights in ‘83, ten in ‘84, four in 1885, including a bout on August 29 in Cincinnati against Dominick McCaffrey for the vacant Marquis of Queensberry heavyweight title. It took Sullivan six rounds to finish McCaffrey.

The Great John L. had four fights in the next two years. Then he met Charlie Mitchell in Chantilly, France on March 18, 1888 on the rain-soaked estate of Baron Rothschild. The two men fought without gloves, under the provisions of the London Prize Ring Rules, to a thirty-nine round draw. Sullivan was still the champ.

On July 8, 1889, in Richburg, Mississippi, Sullivan met Jake Kilrain in the last bare-knuckle heavyweight championship fight in history. Sullivan dropped thirty-five pounds to get in shape for the bout – and it’s a good thing that he did. After seventy-five rounds, in a fight that lasted two hours and sixteen minutes, and with John L. taunting “You’re a champion, eh? Champion of what?” Kilrain could take no more. Sullivan retained his crown.

The next day the New York Times, as pro boxing then as it is today, ran a headline which blared: THE BIGGER BRUTE WON. Sullivan countered by saying, “if Kilrain had stood up and fought like a man I think I could have whipped him in about eight rounds.”

John L. Sullivan was now more famous than fame itself. The man who used to boast “I can lick any man in the house” now crowed “I can lick any son of a bitch in the world!” Everything he said, everything he did, was fodder for a hungry public. They could not get enough of The Great John L. And Sullivan played it to the hilt. He drank. He gambled. He whored. John L. also took a three-year hiatus from fighting. Instead of defending his title, he defended low art by touring in a play called Honest Hearts and Willing Hands, a tearjerker at which some jerks shed tears.

“I don’t want to sound egotistical,” Sullivan said at the time. “But I hope someday to be as great an actor as Booth . . . I’ve just begun this business now and of course I’m not up on all points. But they’ll come along, all right . . . None of the great actors had to study much.”

Sullivan was mistaken. Actors study. As do prizefighters. And one of the game’s great students was an athletic young bank clerk from San Francisco named James J. Corbett.

Sullivan and Corbett’s first meeting was at the Grand Opera House in SF while the heavyweight champion was on his theatrical tour. Corbett answered a public challenge and the men engaged in four polite rounds of gloved sparring in eveningwear before a select audience. It was, needless to say, more of a clown show than a fight.

Corbett had been challenging Sullivan for years to no avail. It was like a fly pestering a colossus at the stroke of midnight.

Sullivan agreed to meet Corbett on September 7, 1892 in New Orleans and it was a coup in the squared circle. The men wore gloves, in accordance with the Queensberry Rules, and which would forever be the custom, and Jim Corbett toppled a legend. John L.’s lumbering charges and roundhouse blows were ready-made for Gentleman Jim. In the third round Corbett broke Sullivan’s nose, which bled for the rest of the fight. Corbett jabbed and danced, jabbed and glided, feinting, moving, scoring combinations to Sullivan’s head and body for round after round after round.

In the twenty-first round Corbett landed a right which dropped Sullivan. He staggered to his feet and Corbett landed a perfect one-two combination. John L. Sullivan sank to his knees. He fought to beat the count, but it was not to be. The Great John L. was great no more. The new heavyweight champion of the world was Gentleman Jim Corbett.

That was John L. Sullivan’s last hurrah as a pro. He quit the game with a record of 50-1-4 (35 KOs). He resumed his acting career, gave occasional boxing demonstrations, had a conversion and stopped drinking. The Great John L. used his fame and notoriety to become a lecturer on the temperance circuit. He spoke to prim and proper ladies, teetotalers and dry drunks about the evils of demon rum.

Sullivan retired to his farm in Massachusetts, penniless but content, and died on February 2, 1918.

The lessons John L. learned in life are summed up in his memoirs and are as applicable today as they were a hundred years ago: “It is very much better for the young, as well as the old, to possess the knowledge of the manly art of self-defense than it is to have them resort to knives and guns.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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