John L. Sullivan | Boston Strongboy | (1858 - 1918)
“Let me shake the hand that shook the hand of John L. Sullivan”
The most famous (and last known of record) heavyweight, bare-knuckle boxing champion is Boston's John L. Sullivan (1858 - 1918).
While growing up in Boston's South End neighborhood, Sullivan's Irish immigrant parents had committed their aspirations to his ascension into Roman Catholic priesthood. Instead, Sullivan turned to baseball after a short session at Boston College. As a semi- professional baseball player, Sullivan earned $40 per week and claimed to have been offered a contract with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, though unsubstantiated. Through baseball, Sullivan drifted into pugilism. At the time, Boston tendered an illicit culture of violence and gambling in the underground boxing scene and was incredibly popular. Sullivan was arrested several times in areas where the sport was outlawed and often traveled paying people to fight him. With friends like Teddy Roosevelt and fans like Jesse James, Sullivan was one of the most popular figures in American pop culture at the turn of the 20th century.