The most famous fight of the 19th century prize ring becomes a "winner takes all" affair1892 John L. Sullivan vs. James Corbett Heavyweight Championship Fight Contract Addendum. It was the last stand of the mighty John L. Sullivan, a hard-drinking giant whose legendary indestructibility had established him as the brightest star of the nineteenth century prize ring. Financial hardship, and the $35,000 purse that could be its cure, had drawn the Boston Strong Boy back to competition after three years' absence, a period during which Sullivan appeared only in exhibition bouts, rightly believing that his bloody victory over Jake Kilrain in the sport's final bare-knuckle Heavyweight Championship had secured his legacy.
But this bout's status as the first World Heavyweight Championship contested under the Queensberry Rules of gloved combat is likewise only tangential to the greater shift in the tectonics of the sport. While Queensberry's rise and Sullivan's fall have etched this date in boxing's stone, it was James J. Corbett himself that heralded the new paradigm of the sport, the beginning of what we now we now characterize as "the sweet science." Corbett's shocking domination of an iron-jawed foe twenty-five pounds his superior was the opening salvo of skill over force in hand to hand combat. From this day forward, boxing would no longer be simply a tough man competition. It would be an art.
Here we present the most noteworthy artifact ever to surface from this groundbreaking event, an addendum to the long-lost contract that first set these two giants of the nineteenth century prize ring upon their collision course. The single-page document is a testament to either confidence or hubris, an agreement that only the last man standing would benefit financially from the battle. The text, in full:
Addenda to the articles of agreement entered into between John L. Sullivan and James J. Corbett, March 15, 1892.
In addition to the articles of agreement entered into by us on March 15, 1892, these stipulations are agreed to:-
First:-- The winner is to take all of the stake money.
Second:-- If either man fails to appear in the ring of the Olympic Club on the date named the man so failing shall forfeit all of the stake money.
Third:-- The date for the third deposit (July 10) falling on Sunday, the date of said deposit is changed to July 11, 1892.
The addendum is signed at the close by Corbett, his witness, and two representatives of Sullivan--his manager James Wakely and witness John McDonough. Though the absence of Sullivan's signature is unfortunate, we have uncovered a century-old article written by Corbett for a column entitled "John L. As I Knew Him," viewable in our online listing. Corbett writes, "On March 15th, 1892, the articles covering my match with John L. Sullivan were signed in New York City. The champion was unable to be on hand but James Wakely, who was managing his affairs at the time, acted in his behalf."
The main contract is reprinted within the article, dictating that "The contest shall be under Marquis of Queensberry rules, the gloves shall be the smallest the club will allow," and that "The match is to decide the heavyweight championship of the world, a stake of twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) and a purse of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000)." The offered addendum effectively adds the stake to the purse, a move the overconfident Sullivan certainly came to regret. Corbett identifies Wakely and McDonough in his article as Sullivan's representatives.
The single-page addendum is floated in a frame bearing the circa 1960 label of a New York City gallery on verso, and while the page exhibits wear, with fold line separation, the defects are minimally distracting and the signatures remain as bold as the date of application. Though the precise history of this important document has been lost over the twelve decades since its creation, our consignor reports that his great grandfather was the president of a major New York apparel firm at the time of the bout, and surmises that he had run in similar circles to the financiers of the fight. Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Full LOA from James Spence Authentication.
1892 John L. Sullivan vs. James Corbett Heavyweight Championship Fight Contract Addendum.
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