Mitchell is honored as the first man to survive the Boston Strong Boy1888 Ornate Boxing Belt Presented to Charley Mitchell after Fighting John L. Sullivan to a Famous Draw. Mitchell and Sullivan were locked in a French jail when plans for the presentation of this truly gorgeous relic of elite bare-knuckle boxing began. After a three-hour battle in the driving rain drenching the grounds of Baron Rothschild's chateau at Chantilly ended in a draw, the local gendarmes had taken the bloody combatants at gunpoint before a local tribunal, holding the pair for the better part of a day before releasing the fighters on bond.
Neither would remain in France for trial, with Sullivan explaining that, after a well-respected boxing writer covering the Jake Kilrain vs. Jem Smith fight three months earlier was killed under mysterious circumstances, he feared a similar mistreatment by the French police who took a hard stance against foreign incursions for the purpose of illegal fightmaking. Mitchell likewise donned a disguise and jumped bond for a boat back across the English Channel.
Sullivan, who had soundly defeated Mitchell five years earlier in New York City, derided his opponent in the fight's aftermath for his evasive tactics in the bout, reporting, "when the fight was over, a track like a sheep run was to be noticed all around the ring." But the fight fans of England took a decidedly alternate opinion of their man's exploits. His survival of the undefeated American, a man who outweighed Mitchell by forty pounds, was seen as a victory for David over Goliath, despite the official ruling of a draw.
Here we find one of the most spectacular relics of 19th century pugilism ever to surface in the collecting hobby, a truly breathtaking belt crafted from British sterling and velvet for presentation to Sullivan's plucky challenger. The pertinent details are artfully printed on the center plate:
"Presented to Charles Mitchell to Commemorate His Gallant Fight with John L. Sullivan for the Championship of the World on March 10th 1888 near Paris Resulting in a Draw, 39 Rounds being Fought, in 3 Hours 11 Minutes."
Framing this center plate are portraits of Mitchell and Sullivan in relief, followed by British and American flags topped by a figural lion and eagle respectively, and then further figural plates completing the design against a backing of royal red velvet. On the final plate on the left side, the interior is engraved with the names of the gentlemen who funded this quite clearly expensive token of esteem. A second such engraved plaque is affixed to interior of center panel, though we suspect it was originally attached to the final plate on right. The velvet is well worn and the silver exhibits some tarnishing and storage wear, but the aesthetics remain spectacular after nearly thirteen decades.
Length is forty-four inches (44"), and width approximately seven inches (7") at center. Weight is a hefty twelve and a half pounds (12.5 lb.).
The belt derives from the personal collection of Nat Fleischer, founder of "The Ring" magazine, and appears within the inventory of memorabilia that was included when the publication was sold in 1979 to a group of investors that included Basketball Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere. Two display cards from the presentation case of Fleischer's office are likewise included. They read:
"This is the famous $10,000 Charley Mitchell vs. John L. Sullivan belt. It brought $1,200,000 in auction sales for war wounded from 1915-1921. It is owned by Nat Fleischer."
"This is the famous solid silver [belt] that was awarded to Charley Mitchell by [Lorraine] sportsmen after he fought his 39 round draw at Chantilly, France with John L. Sullivan. This belt originally cost $10,000 and is the second most costly belt ever given to a fighter."
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