James J. Corbett vs. John L. Sullivan: “The Battle of New Orleans”

john l sullivan23.03.07 - By Sam Gregory: One of the most elaborate and important programs staged in boxing history was the three- day “Carnival of Champions” held at the Pelican Athletic Club in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1892. Several events were held over the three day festival; among them were title bouts between the two highest ranked lightweights. Undefeated lightweight Jack McAuliffe maintained his unbeaten streak against Billy Myer.

There was also a featherweight boxing title fight in which George Dixon defeated Jack Skelly to maintain his six year reign as featherweight champion of the world. Jim Corbett even held a wrestling match exhibition against Jim Daly during the three day program. The highlight of the event came to be known as “The Battle of New Orleans.” The fight marked the end of one era in boxing and the beginning of a new one. It will be remembered for a rule that changed the course of boxing forever. A heavyweight championship bout was held that was the last fight ever fought by John L. Sullivan.

It was the crowning of the new heavyweight champion of the world “Gentlemen Jim” Corbett. It also marked the end of the “Bare-knuckle” era and the beginning of *“The Queensberry” era, the era with a rule that stated heavyweight fighters must wear boxing gloves in a championship bout.

Since boxing hadn’t become a legal sport at the time of this event, there were bare-knuckle bouts recorded throughout the world during the Queensberry era. However in America and the U.K. “The Queensberry” era had become the way championship fights were fought, wearing gloves. After “The Queensberry” era started at this event, the sport of boxing would never be the same.

Even though he was outweighed by 34 lbs., Corbett knocked out “The Boston Strong Boy” John L. Sullivan with relative ease wearing 5 oz. boxing gloves in 21 rounds (one hour and twenty minutes.) The headline in the Police Gazette read, “The title passed from America’s most popular gladiator to the lithe, handsome youth, the ‘California Dandy’ whose fistic prowess flowered to full bloom on the sun-kissed slopes of California. Coincident with the crashing of the premier pugilistic idol from his pedestal, that the bout definitely set the seal of public approval of the use of gloves in heavyweight championship contests as opposed to the bare knuckles and rough mauling of the London Prize Ring.”

Other headlines throughout the country including The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Sullivan appeared over-weight and slowed down by age and fast living. His old traditional slugging methods were doomed to defeat when matched with the much younger, faster Corbett.” The press continued, “The young, active, and brainy Corbett stepped jauntily around the massive hulk of what had once been a great fighting man.”

Under the Police Gazette headlines that read, “Science Replaces Force” it was written, “James J. Corbett lifted boxing out of the barroom slough, the evil influences of its habitués, and started it towards its moral revolution.”

James Corbett was given credit by the press throughout the U.S. for this revolution in boxing history. He had become popularized not only as the man who revolutionized the new style of boxing but for winning the support of a better class of patrons for the sport. He created that link between the “Beer swilling gamblers” and high society that included the Hollywood elite and politicians that all turned out to see Corbett and his well taught, educated style of boxing.

The actual name of the rule was titled the, “Marquis of Queensberry” rules with boxing gloves. The event completely dominated headlines across the country. It was written that, “The game was destined henceforth to rise to recognized respectability as a means of entertainment for all classes of both sexes, and ultimately to attain the commercial ratings which culminated in the establishment of the 20-million dollar gate.”

Richard K. Fox, editor and publisher of the Police Gazette made some bitter enemies with “Old School” boxers and fans alike. Fox popularized the custom of presenting championship boxing belts to division winning boxers. Sullivan and his fans not only looked at this as supporting many of John L.’s foes but saw the whole idea as a catastrophe. The Battle of New Orleans was to Sullivan and his fans as “Waterloo was to the French.”

As a side note; the Police Gazette was to boxing in the late 19th and early 20th century as Ring magazine is today. The Ring magazine has held that status for over eighty years to this day.
*Marquess of Queensberry Rules

1. To be a fair stand-up boxing match in a 24-foot ring, or as near that size as practicable.
2. No wrestling or hugging allowed.
3. The rounds to be of three minutes' duration, and one minute's time between rounds.
4. If either man falls through weakness or otherwise, he must get up unassisted, 10 seconds to be allowed him to do so, the other man meanwhile to return to his corner, and when the fallen man is on his legs the round is to be resumed and continued until the three minutes have expired. If one man fails to come to the scratch in the 10 seconds allowed, it shall be in the power of the referee to give his award in favour of the other man.
5. A man hanging on the ropes in a helpless state, with his toes off the ground, shall be considered down.
6. No seconds or any other person to be allowed in the ring during the rounds.
7. Should the contest be stopped by any unavoidable interference, the referee to name the time and place as soon as possible for finishing the contest; so that the match must be won and lost, unless the backers of both men agree to draw the stakes.
8. The gloves to be fair-sized boxing gloves of the best quality and new.
9. Should a glove burst, or come off, it must be replaced to the referee's satisfaction.
10. A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes.
11. No shoes or boots with springs allowed.
12. The contest in all other respects to be governed by revised rules of the London Prize Ring.

Article posted on 24.03.2007

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