John L Sullivan
Recognised as the first heavyweight boxing champion of the world, John Lawrence Sullivan was born in Boston, USA, in 1858. Son of a quick-tempered Boston Irishman, he at first attempted to learn a trade, being for a while an apprentice plumber, tinsmith and stonemason. However, as some journeymen colleagues of Sullivan painfully found out, John L’s personal attributes and ego were in fact perfect for prize fighting. On the 7th of February (Super Mario’s birthday) 1882, Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan to become the first world champion, in front of an audience containing Frank and Jesse James. For the next decade or so Sullivan, despite chronic alcoholism, easily held on to his title, defending it nearly thirty times. These fights were predominately arranged around Sullivan’s great tours of the United States in 1883-4 and 1886-7, whereupon at each stop John L. made his standard offer of one thousand dollars to any man who could last four rounds. He rarely had to pay out for he could "lick any man alive". Finally, on 6 September 1892 in New Orleans, Sullivan lost his title to James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett. A visibly ageing Sullivan was knocked out in the twenty-first round. He died on 2 February 1918, probably of heart failure. A massive funeral followed. Fittingly, the frozen earth had to be blasted to make his grave. In the commotion that followed, the Boston Irish finally realised that neither they, nor anyone else, would ever again queue "to shake the hand that shook the world". He is considered still by some to be one of the best heavyweights ever.