JOHN L. SULLIVAN (1858 - 1918) - THE WORLDS FIRST HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION

SHEFFIELD - 25th November 1887

THE HAND THAT SHOOK THE WORLD - "John L. Sullivan was an extraordinarily popular figure in the late nineteenth century, a living hero whose prowess in the ring brought him lasting fame. Sullivan remains well known even today, over one hundred years after his last fight."

There is an excellent account of John's life and career by Jack Anderson, who lectures in law at the University of Limerick on the Irish Identity website. It gives a marvellous account of his career and travels but does omit the day that Jack came to Sheffield.

A large crowd gathered at the Midland Station in Sheffield on the afternoon of 25th November 1887 to see the World Champion arrive. One report remarked that of all the boxing celebrities that had visited Sheffield in the last 25 years, none had received so an enthusiastic welcome. The visit to Sheffield was part of a tour of Britain John undertook in the autumn and winter of 1887-88. The main reason for the tour was in modern parlance "promotional" but it also gave John the opportunity to visit the land of his ancestors, Ireland.

The venue for the boxing exhibition was the the Circus in Tudor Street. The exhibition was held in the evening  - there were a number of warm-up bouts to begin with and these were then followed by a vaulting horse display by members of the Sheffield Gymnastics Club. The main attraction of the night was an exhibition against another American boxer Jack Ashton of Providence, Rhode island. Ashton accompanied Jack throughout his tour. Reporters said that Jack was over three stones heavier than his regular fighting weight but he impressed the packed crowd with his agility and speed of movement. In fact such was the demand he gave another display the following night. The local paper noted that

"At the close the opinion was a universal one that the display was the best ever witnessed in Sheffield and that without doubt Sullivan is the pugilist par excellence of the present day"

Nobody in Sheffield took up Sullivan's offer to fight for any amount up to 2,000 and so he left the city, for the next leg of his tour, in Birmingham.

This I believe is the one and only time that a Heavyweight Champion of the World has visited and actually fought in Sheffield

Notes

Irish Identity website

Wikipedia

Sheffield Star and Telegraph 1887 - 1987 Part1 Tuesday 13 January 1987

1911 Britannica Encyclopaedia

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This page was last updated on 05/12/11 12:15