"I am John L. Sullivan, and I can beat any man alive."
— John L. Sullivan
John L. Sullivan fought his way to the heavyweight championship and charmed his way to truly national celebrity. The bare-knuckle prizefighter personified the masculine, aggressive spirit of the era, and the fans who loved him vastly outnumbered his detractors.
After capturing the 1882 championship, the "Boston Strong Boy" toured the world defending his title and burnishing his image. This son of poor Irish immigrants rose above the prejudice of his day, and his celebrity demonstrated a national shift towards the acceptance of Irish Americans.
Though boxing was illegal in most states, the press-savvy Sullivan won fans from every walk of life, including the president of the United States. At the high point of his career, Sullivan's supporters bought him a diamond-encrusted belt which was presented to him by the mayor of Boston. "The Great John L." lost only one of his nearly 50 career fights, falling to James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett in 1892.
Name: John Lawrence Sullivan
Born: Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1858–1918