Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Boxing history—Yankee Sullivan v. John Morrissey, Part IV, Morrissey

            When John Morrissey challenged Yankee Sullivan to a fight to defend his claim that he was the American Boxing Champion, it sounded like a son challenging his father to a fight—Morrissey was 18 years younger than Sullivan!
            John Morrissey was born in Ireland on February 12, 1831 and came to the U.S. with his parents when he was two-years-old.[1]
            The Morrisseys settled in Troy, NY where John attended public schools. When he became a teenager, he worked as a deckhand on various steamship companies whose ships traveled up and down the Hudson River between Troy and New York City. On the docks and on board ship, Morrissey quickly earned a reputation as a savage fist fighter. The criminal forces in Troy were impressed with Morrissey’s fighting skills and he was soon employed by them to collect gambling debts and keep order in Troy’s brothels.[2]

John Morrissey
            When Morrissey turned 17, he left home to take a job as an iron molder in New York City. His reputation as a bare-knuckle brawler traveled with him and he often defended it in gang fights on the streets of New York City.[3]
            Boxing legend has it that Morrissey became known as “Old Smoke” following a particularly vicious slugfest during which Morrissey was knocked backwards over a hot coal stove. According to the legend, the skin on Morrissey’s back was so severely burned, it continued to smoke while he hammered his opponent into oblivion.[4]
            At the age of 20, Morrissey headed for the gold fields of California and moved to San Francisco. He became a successful gambler but it was his powerful fists that earned him a quick fortune and a national reputation. Morrissey agreed to fight the California Champion, George Thompson, for a $3,000 prize, about $83,000 in today’s money, on Mare Island, about 30 miles from San Francisco, on August 20, 1852. “Old Smoke” won the fight in an eleven round, sixteen-minute fight when Thompson was disqualified for a foul blow.[5]

            Flush with his prize fighting success, Morrissey promptly returned to New York seeking a fight for the American Championship. The man who claimed the title, Yankee Sullivan, agreed to fight Morrissey for a $2,000 prize—each man was to put up $1,000 in four installments of $250. After both boxers signed the Articles of Agreement for the fight on September 1, 1853, they went into training. Morrissey trained at Macombs Dam on the Harlem River, where Macombs Dam Bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx is located today, near Yankee Stadium. Sullivan trained at the Hit-or-Miss Hotel on the Coney Island Plank Road, currently known as Coney Island Avenue, in Brooklyn.[6]
            Next, the venue for the fight, Boston Corners, NY.

[1] Paul Post, “Irish-American Fighting Legend John Morrissey’s Spa City Connection as Successful as His Fists,” The Saratogian, accessed October 3, 2014, http://www.saratogian.com; “Morrissey, John,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, accessed October 3, 2014, http://bioguide.congress.gov.
[2] “John Morrissey,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, October 7, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org; “Morrissey, John.”
[3] “Morrissey, John.”
[4] “John Morrissey.”
[5] “George Thompson vs John Morrissey 1852,” Boxing Asylum, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.boxingasylum.com; William E. Harding, ed., The Champions of the American Prize Ring (New York: Richard K. Fox, 1881), 10.
[6] Life and Battles of Yankee Sullivan (Philadelphia: A. Winch, 1854), 65.

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