Sullivan, Kilrain battled in last bare-knuckle championship on July 8, 1889

Sullivan, Kilrain battled in last bare-knuckle championship on July 8, 1889
Photo Credit WDAM
Photo Credit WDAM

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Saturday was the 128th anniversary of the last officially sanctioned, bare-knuckle world heavyweight prizefighting championship.

It featured champion John L. Sullivan and challenger Jake Kilrain and occurred near Hattiesburg on July 8, 1889 at the farm of Charles Rich.

Sullivan won the fight, which lasted 75 rounds.

"The fight lasted over two hours and 18 minutes," said George Stevens, president of the Lamar County Historical Society. "It was as hot (then) as it is today, they said about 103 degrees, so it was a tough fight."

Prizefighting was illegal in 1889, so arrangements had to be made in secret.

"Even though it was supposed to have been secret, they didn't build the ring until the night before the fight, and the trees were felled the night before the fight, people from all over South Mississippi knew about it and they were (there)," Stevens said.

Nearly 3,000 people attended.

Newspapers across the world featured stories about the fight.

"There was a lot of cutthroat journalism of the day." said Stevens. "Some people, as soon as they got the lines out, cut the telegraph wires. People used carrier pigeons to get the story out. The White House was waiting on the results of the fight. In San Francisco, there was over $1 million waged from people in that town, when laborers made about .25 a day."

Both Sullivan and Kilrain were tried for prizefighting.

Kilrain served a short sentence working on Charles Rich's farm, while Sullivan's case was thrown out on a technicality.

Sullivan died in 1918. Kilrain was a pallbearer at his funeral.

Kilrain died in 1937.

The Lamar County Historical Society has placed at marker at the site where the fight took place.

It is at the intersection of Sullivan-Kilrain and Richburg roads.