HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This week marks the quasquicentennial, or 125th annivesary, of one of the greatest moments in boxing history and it happened right here in the Pine Belt. The world championship bout between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain on July 8, 1889 marked the end of officially-sanctioned bare-knuckle brawling. Some would say it also created America's first sports superstar.
"It was the first sporting event covered by all the media in the United States and actually, had world-wide coverage," said George Stevens, president of the Lamar County Historical Society. "There were actually newspaper accounts of it in New Zealand," he said.
The fight, which was set to take place in the New Orleans area, was illegal, and ended up happening just outside Hattiesburg on land owned by local businessman Charles Rich. Prize-fighting was just as illegal in Mississippi, but local officials looked the other way.
Trains brought 2,000 fans to the site.
After 75 rounds in the intense summer heat, Kilrain called it quits.
"Back then they threw up the sponge instead of throwing in the towel, and that was the end of the fight, Kilrain couldn't go anymore," said Stevens.
After the match, a new fight began and this one was in the courtroom.
"Both (Sullivan and Kilrain) were arrested and taken back to Mississippi and were tried," Stevens said. "Sullivan was able to get off without serving any time and Kilrain was actually convicted and had to serve time. But, one of the organizers of the fight let him work it off. It was at Mr. Rich's place, where the fight took place," he said.
Although Kilrain lost the fight, he'd outlive Sullivan by almost 20 years and would even serve as a pallbearer at his funeral.