John L. Sullivan, contrary to what most people believe, did not fight most of his matches bare-knuckle. Not only did he wear gloves in most of his fights, but he published a public challenge, stating that he would wear gloves to protect his hands, but he didn’t care if his opponent were bare-fisted or not. He also preferred Marques of Queensbury Rules, rather than London Prize Fight Rules, as the London rules were more brutal and allowed limited grappling. According to a biography I just read, John L. never studied boxing. In fact, he never even practiced boxing. The only times he trained was when his weight would balloon up to 240 or more and he had to lose weight. Training routines in those days were a joke. John L’s training, before a title fight, consisted largely of long brisk walks and vigorous rundowns. His training diet consisted of beer and mutton. Once, in order to prove that he was the best, and to make some money, he went on an 80 day tour of the US and parts of Canada, fighting all-comers. He went completely undefeated. In those days there were no weight limits and the average fighter was 160 pounds, considerably smaller than John L Who fought between 190 and 250. Today, a tour like that would be impossible. There is a kid you’ve never heard of, in a random town in Iowa who could beat a UFC champion if it was the right day of the week. Fighting and fighters have really come a long way since the late 19th Century.
His reputation as a bare-knuckle boxer most likely stems from the fact that he was declared the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing. This moniker came from his 1889 epic battle with Jack Kilrain, which lasted 77 rounds. This was both the last title fight fought under London Prizefighting Rules and also the final match ever held for the bare-knuckle championship of the world.
William Muldoon, one of the great wrestlers of the catch-as-catch-can days trained john L for this fight and he was in the best shape of his entire career. Muldoon was a visionary and pioneer in the field of physical fitness. He had John L. eating a high protein, low carb diet and abstaining from alcohol. Under Muldoon’s tutelage, John L. dropped about sixty pounds, weighing in at 190, a weight he hadn’t fought at since he was in his late teens.
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
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