The End of Bare Knuckle Boxing
One of the most elaborate and important programs staged in boxing history was the three- day “Carnival of Champions” held at the Pelican Athletic Club in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 5th, 6th, and 7th in 1892.
Several events were held over the three day festival. Undefeated lightweight Jack McAuliffe maintained his unbeaten streak against Billy Myer. There was also a featherweight title fight in which George Dixon defeated Jack Skelly to maintain his six year reign as featherweight champion of the world. Jim Corbett even held a wrestling match exhibition against Jim Daly during the three day program.
But the highlight of the event was “The Battle of New Orleans.” This fight marked the end of one era in boxing and the beginning of the next, ushering in a rule that changed the course of boxing forever. This heavyweight championship bout was the last fight ever fought by John L. Sullivan, and it marked the crowning of the new heavyweight champion of the world, “Gentlemen Jim” Corbett. It also marked the end of the “Bare-knuckle” era and the beginning of “The Queensberry” era. The Queensbury rules stated that heavyweight fighters must wear gloves in a championship bout.
Since boxing hadn’t become a legal sport at the time, there were still bare knuckle bouts recorded throughout the world during the Queensberry era. However, in America and in the UK “The Queensberry” era had become the way championship fights were fought.
Even though he was outweighed by 34 lbs., in The Battle of New Orleans Corbett knocked out “The Boston Strong Boy” John L. Sullivan with relative ease while wearing 5 oz. gloves—the fight lasted 21 rounds (one hour and twenty minutes).
According to the Police Gazette, “The title passed from America’s most popular gladiator to the lithe, handsome youth, the ‘California Dandy’ whose fistic prowess flowered to full bloom on the sun-kissed slopes of California. Coincident with the crashing of the premier pugilistic idol from his pedestal, the bout definitely set the seal of public approval of the use of gloves in heavyweight championship contests as opposed to the bare knuckles and rough mauling of the London Prize Ring.”
According to several other publications throughout the country, including The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, “Sullivan appeared over-weight and slowed down by age and fast living. His old traditional slugging methods were doomed to defeat when matched with the much younger, faster Corbett … The young, active, and brainy Corbett stepped jauntily around the massive hulk of what had once been a great fighting man.”
Under the headline “Science Replaces Force,” the Police Gazette reported, “James J. Corbett lifted boxing out of the barroom slough, the evil influences of its habitués, and started it towards its moral revolution.”
James Corbett was given credit by the press throughout the U.S. for this revolution in boxing history. He was lauded not only as the man who revolutionized the new style of boxing, but for winning the support of a better class of patrons for the sport. He created the link between the “Beer swilling gamblers” and high society, which included the Hollywood elite and politicians, who turned out to see Corbett and his educated style of boxing.
The Battle of New Orleans and the “Marquis of Queensberry” rules—as they were called—completely dominated headlines across the country. Notably, the introduction of these new rules were credited with significantly increasing the popularity of boxing:
“The game was destined henceforth to rise to recognized respectability as a means of entertainment for all classes of both sexes, and ultimately to attain the commercial ratings which culminated in the establishment of the 20-million dollar gate.”