John Sullivan was born on the October 10th, 1858 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. After a brief attendance at Boston College, Sullivan entered the professional boxing scene in 1878. He fought bareknuckle style under what was called London Prize rules. To claim the 1882 heavyweight title, Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan in 9 rounds. After earning the 1889 heavyweight title against Jake Kilrain, Sullivan converted to Queensberry rules, and thus donned gloves in the ring.
He enjoyed great success as an American boxer but did not face enough international opponents to earn world champion status. Sullivan retired in 1905 with a record of 31 victories, 16 by knockout, out of 35 total bouts. Outside of the ring, Sullivan carried himself with ample swagger which earned him much public favor. An emblem of the bareknuckle boxing ear, Sullivan passed away in 1918.