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Topics in Chronicling America - John L. Sullivan, The Boston Strong Boy

America’s first heavyweight hero, John L. Sullivan, is brute force incarnate—his size and power are mythical. The “Boston Strong Boy” elevates bare-knuckle boxing to a mainstream sport and becomes the first great American boxer. He is the last world champion bare-knuckle boxer and the first glove boxing champion. Read more about it!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection ( Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.


Jump to: Sample Articles

Important Dates:

  • February 7, 1882. Sullivan knocks out Paddy Ryan in a bare knuckle match in Mississippi City, MS.
  • November 13, 1886. Sullivan and Ryan meet again in the ring. Sullivan wins the gloved match in just three rounds.
  • March 16, 1888 Sullivan fights Englishman Charley Mitchell to a draw in Chantilly, France.
  • April 24, 1888 Sullivan returns home and announces his willingness to fight any man in the world for “any part of $10,000.”
  • December 1, 1888 Jake Kilrain issues a challenge to Sullivan for a $5,000 bare-knuckle match. June 1889 Newspapers speculate about the outcome of the Sullivan v. Killrain bout.
  • July 8, 1889 A crowd of 3,000 gathers in rural Mississippi to witness John L. Sullivan defeats Jake Kilrain. The fight gained national coverage and Sullivan was crowned champion. Sullivan declares that he will never enter the ring again.
  • September 1889 Sullivan announces his intention to run for Congress. September 7, 1892 Sullivan loses his heavyweight title to Jim Corbett. Sullivan immediately retires.
  • 1915 Sullivan begins to publicly advocate for temperance and speaks of his own struggles with alcohol.
  • February 2, 1918 John L. Sullivan dies. He takes his heavyweight bare-knuckle title to the grave.

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] John L. Sullivan, pugilist, boxer, boxing
  • It is important to use a specific date range if looking for articles for a particular event in order to narrow your results.

Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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