Tuesday, Nov. 27, 1883: John L. Sullivan’s slugging show

Posted on January 11th, 2007 – 7:44 PM
By Ben Welter

In November 1883, heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan brought his touring band of “noted pugilists” to St. Paul’s Market Hall for an exhibition of man-size action. Sullivan made quick work of a St. Paul man who had the courage to challenge the Boston Strongboy for a $500 prize. The Daily Minnesota Tribune reported that the fighters wore stockings, knee breeches and gaiters — but didn’t mention gloves:


The Sullivan “Slugging” Show.

John L. Sullivan
John L. Sullivan

An immense crowd gathered in Market Hall last night to witness the boxing exhibition given by [John L.] Sullivan and his company of noted pugilists. The audience was of the mixed variety that usually greets such a performance, ranging from the prominent business man down to the “rag-tag and bob-tail.” Frank Morden was master of ceremonies, and first introduced Mike Gillespie of Boston and Taylor, “ex-champion of the world.” The contestants were dressed in regular ring costume with white stockings, knee breeches and gaiters. Above the waist they wore bare.

The next set-to was not on the program, and was an unexpected treat to those present. It consisted of a contest between Morris Hasey and Sullivan, the former having expressed a desire to stand up four rounds before Sullivan for the standing prize of $500. Sullivan appeared in fine condition, strong, active and wiry as a squirrel. He was dressed in pink knee breeches, white stockings and gaiters. He turns the scales at 226 pounds. Hasey, a resident of St. Paul, a six-footer weighing 195 pounds, muscular and well formed, but bearing no comparison to the champion. He is a stationary engineer by trade. Time was called and no sooner had Hasey toed the scratch than Sullivan stretched out his arm and Hasey fell on the stage as if struck by an axe. He exhibited nerve, however, and desired to test his powers again, but as soon as he got within reach the champion knocked him over like a flash. He fell against the stage, and uttered a gasp or two and it was evident that he had had sufficient. Sullivan then addressed the audience and told them that Hasey had been boasting about how long he could “stay” with him. “You see how long he has done it,” the champion slugger said.

The next contest was between Herbert Slade, the Maori, and Pete McCoy, the lightweight champion. The four rounds were characterized by quick hitting and fine sparring. Following this came a set-to between Steve Taylor and “Prof.” Donaldson of Minneapolis. Taylor made short work of Donaldson, vanquishing him in the first round. Taylor then boxed four rounds with Sullivan, during which much science and nerve was displayed. A contest between McCoy and Gillespie followed and the entertainment wound up with a four-round set-to between Sullivan and Slade, during which much pretty work was done, although it was evident that Slade was no match for Sullivan.

Boxing 1880s style
I couldn’t find a photo of John L. Sullivan’s 1883 appearance in St. Paul. Here’s a fair substitute: Two men boxing at a Minnesota Boat Club picnic at “Crosby’s Bottoms” — perhaps Crosby Lake in St. Paul? — in about 1890. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

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