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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.

More crucially, he had a game plan.

Newspaper reports depicted an early blueprint for the boxing ‘masterclass’ as Corbett anticipated John L’s crude lunges and chastised the ageing champion with counters whilst employing that most fundamental, if previously underused, tool of the left jab.

It seems fitting to hand over the description of the conclusive 21st stanza to Corbett himself:

Summoning all the reserve force I had left, I let my guns go, right and left, with all the dynamite Nature had given me, and Sullivan stood dazed and rocking. So I set myself for an instant, put just ‘a little more’ in a right and hit him alongside the jaw. And he fell helpless on the ground, on his stomach, and rolled over on his back! The referee, his seconds and mine picked him up and put him in his corner; and the audience went wild.

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