9. JAMES J. CORBETT KO 21 JOHN L. SULLIVAN, OLYMPIC CLUB, NEW ORLEANS, SEPTEMBER 7, 1892.
In terms of contemporary reaction, this one could appear a few places higher but measuring the level of collective public shock in the aftermath of a prize fight is an inexact science when all said and done.
Corbett, the dashing, intellectual ex-bank clerk, was one of the first major advocates of boxing as art and science over brawn and naked aggression. Sullivan, the hugely revered ‘Boston Strong Boy’ was widely perceived as unbeatable as per his immortal boast that ‘I can lick any sonofabitch in the house’
Nonetheless, a brief, lighthearted exhibition on stage earlier in the year had convinced Corbett that he had the measure of a man who bridged the bare knuckle and gloved eras as the first Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Despite the aura of invincibility, years of soft living and celebrity had blunted the edge of a once feral fighter. At 34, after 10 years at the top of the tree, Sullivan was ready for the taking.
‘Gentleman Jim’, in perfect contrast was young, capable and conditioned.