Sullivan, John Lawrence, 1858–1918, American boxer, b. Roxbury, Mass. After gaining a local reputation in amateur boxing, the Boston Strong Boy, as Sullivan came to be called, toured New England cities and after 1878 boxed professionally. Sullivan, with a devastating right-handed punch, was successful from the start and in 1882 won the bare-knuckles heavyweight championship by knocking out Paddy Ryan in nine rounds in Mississippi City, Miss. The "Great John L." met all comers. Sullivan's prowess in the ring and his swashbuckling personality won him many friends and made him the idol of American sports fans. He fought and won the last bare-knuckles championship bout (1889) by subduing Jake Kilrain in 75 rounds at Richburg, Miss. Fighting with gloves under the Queensberry rules for boxing, Sullivan was defeated (1892) by James J. Corbett in New Orleans. He retired from the ring in 1896, still in possession of the bare-knuckles crown. In 1905, Sullivan, dramatically renouncing his old way of life, became a temperance advocate.
See E. J. Gorn, The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America (1986).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.