REGION – On February 2, 1918, boxer John L. Sullivan died at age 59 at his home in Abington. The cause was believed to be heart disease.
Called the “Boston Strong Boy” by the press, the Roxbury native is acknowledged as the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing, although formal titles did not exist in his era. He was also considered to be the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing.
The son of Irish Catholic immigrants, his parents had expressed hope he would become a priest. He began making his living with his fists at 18, after briefly attending Boston College, and then having a short career as a professional baseball player.
Sullivan is believed to have won more than 450 fights in his career. Many of these bouts were on promotional tours throughout the United States where he offered to box anyone, for a prize of $250. He knocked out 11 men on a single tour during 1882-1883. His official professional record was 47 wins, 1 loss and 2 draws, with 38 wins by knockout.
After losing his title to “Gentleman Jim” Corbett in 1892, Sullivan retired from boxing. He then dabbled in various careers, including acting, sports reporting, and owning a bar. Towards the end of his life, he beat his addiction to alcohol and lectured in favor of Prohibition.
In 1990, more than 70 years after his death, Sullivan was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.