At around 11pm on July 7th 1889 I board one of three trains in New Orleans paying $5 for the ticket , the train travels through the night and stops in Richburg were I alight and walk with around 3000 others to a farm nearby, in the field stands the ring which was erected in the darkness of the early hours of July 8th, as the sun rises it’s clear that it would be a very hot day.
After paying for the best ticket ($15 ) I mill around in the crowds looking for the bookmakers and checking prices on the fight , Kilrain is the favourite with all of them but my money is going on The Boston Strong boy and I find a price of 2/1 and place $100 on him to win , and $10 on him to have the first knockdown ( or throwdown ) and draw first blood , it’s just before 10am and the excitement rises to a crescendo when the two pugilists enter the ring , much has been said about Sullivan’s poor health but when he disrobes and displays a body of 215lbs in perfect fighting shape many who have backed Kilrain rush to cover their bet with a wager on Sullivan.
I am lucky enough to be just three rows from ringside and have a clear view as at 10.13 referee John Fitzpatrick calls the fighters to scratch and with them at the line he yells “ time “ and the contest begins, within 15 seconds one of my smaller bets is down as Kilrain throws the champion to the floor, the 4th round lasts 15 minutes ( longest of the fight ) ending with Kilrain knocked down by a swinging left hand blow and 2 rounds later my other 10$ bet is down when Kilrain draws blood from a punch to Sullivan’s ear.
Over the next several rounds the champion takes control of the fight and drops Kilrain with a straight right to the jaw to end the 17th round, the challenger is badly hurt and has to be helped back to his corner, rounds go by quickly and Sullivan’s foot is bleeding through his boot after his foot was caught by a cleat from Kilrains boot , after about an hour the heat is sweltering and the fighters backs are visibly sun burned, luckily I chose to wear a sturdy fedora which keeps the blazing rays off me, over the next dozen rounds Kilrain takes the ascendancy somewhat and Sullivan looks troubled, drinking tea and whiskey in between rounds to try to revive himself, in round 44 Sullivan actually vomits in his corner and Kilrain asks if he would like to call a draw , this seems to anger the champion seeming to give him a new lease of life and his resurgence swings the contest clearly in his favour.
Kilrain is the man in trouble now and most rounds are being ended with him on the floor, going into the seventieth round Kilrain is exhausted and is being lifted off his stool to take the mark, a ringside physician advises Jake and his cornermen that he is in danger of death if he continues but the brave challenger ignores the advice and battles on.
At the start of round 76, as Kilrain is staggering to come to scratch his chief second, Mike Donovan throws his sponge into the ring and the war is over, Sullivan raises him arms in triumph after over two and a quarter hours of combat , I find my bookie and collect my gains as the protagonists and their entourages head for the first train and begin the journey to New Orleans.
I go to the third train and take a window seat, I like the fighters am exhausted but cannot sleep because of the sheer nervous energy causing through me for being one of the relatively few to witness the most momentous of sporting occasions, I arrive in New Orleans and leave the train and carefully drift away from the area as police are around and looking for participants ( directly or indirectly ) in what was the greatest spectacle known at the time but also an illegal Prizefight , I am lucky enough to avoid any police attention and leave New Orleans with my betting winnings but more importantly memories of being at “ The greatest fight in history “