John L. Sullivan vs Gene Tunney

Discussion in 'Classic Boxing Forum' started by SailorSharkey, Aug 16, 2021.

  1. Tug Wilson Tactics

    Tug Wilson Tactics New Member Full Member

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    That's true, but Sullivan hated that LPR sh1t so I don't think he would have chose that ruleset even if he knew he benefited from them. He was a surprisingly good wrestler compared to the men he fought that trained that stuff constantly. Makes me wonder how he would do if he were transported to a UFC event circa. 1993.
     
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  2. janitor

    janitor Obsessed with Boxing Full Member

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    I agree that Sullivan would almost certainly favor a Queensbury contest.
     
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  3. djanders

    djanders Boxing Addict Full Member

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    I don't know if Sullivan would favor UFC type fights over Boxing. What I could envision is a young John L. Sullivan, coming up in 1993, starting his career in Tough Man Competitions.
     
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  4. Dempsey1238

    Dempsey1238 Boxing Junkie Full Member

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    Yeah it is a way older Sullivan, but this is the only film that gives us some hints on his style in this sesson with Corbett. I get the impressiving that he was not a mindless brawler but a guy that used hand movement and feits to trick his foes.
     
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  5. FrankinDallas

    FrankinDallas Boxing Junkie Full Member

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    Every film I've seen of Jefferies he's chewing gum. Even during fights. Strange.

    Sullivan looks like he has a 45" reach...real short arms.
     
  6. djanders

    djanders Boxing Addict Full Member

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    I think it's safe to assume that Sullivan was ahead of his time in technique. He seemed to totally dominate the competition in his era before he suffered a left arm injury in 1887. Apparently it never healed properly. In the video of him, when he was old, he seemed to stand straight. In old pictures of him fighting it looks like he fought out of a crouch at times. He sure was an interesting character.
     
  7. roughdiamond

    roughdiamond Bronsonville Full Member

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    Sullivan was a noted straight puncher. Scientific boxers of the time who saw him praised his technique. Reminder also that Sullivan was considered past prime and alcoholic before the Kilrain fight and there were doubts if he would win. Anything afterwards is straight up shot - the Corbett loss means nothing (in fact it may be a detractor to Corbett that it took him so long to win).

    In my mind Sullivan is actually one of the most premier talents in Boxing history. He really was a beast physically and mentally when on form. Still, I couldn't favour him over Tunney in the ruleset of the 1920s, but I do personally think he beats a lot of the men who came after him up to Dempsey's reign even with a ruleset disadvantage (and that isn't as pronounced as is made out, either).
     
  8. roughdiamond

    roughdiamond Bronsonville Full Member

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    First thing he does is feint the body and instantly shift to the head. The movement looks sharp and clever even as a fat old man.
     
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  9. cross_trainer

    cross_trainer Bergeron Avatar Club Full Member

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    There was a time when I thought that we could make informed predictions about how Sullivan would do in fantasy matchups, but for the most part, I no longer believe this.

    There just isn't enough consistent evidence to determine with enough accuracy either (1) how Sullivan fought, or more importantly, (2) how a boxer with an old-timey style would do against more modern competitors.

    Take the first point. Leaving aside fight reports (which don't help much -- see below), your VISUAL sources are razor thin. You've got freeze-frame photos -- of varying clarity -- depicting Sullivan fighting Kilrain under LPR. He seems to be bending over a bit more than a stereotypical fighter of the time. But that might just be the extreme heat and length of the bout. Certainly he isn't doing any Dempsey/Tyson/Patterson impersonation, but beyond that, who can tell.

    Then you've got a book by a Sullivan fanboy named James Boyle O'Reilly, who takes photographs of somebody (Sullivan himself?) throwing punches like Sullivan supposedly threw them. But he doesn't publish the photos. He publishes illustrations of the photos. They look like a slightly sloppier, and perhaps slightly more "modern," version of what you'd see in the boxing manuals of the time. More round punches though.

    And then there are the old film clips of Sullivan that others have already alluded to. He's an older man in these. He does seem to be interested in feinting more than a modern fighter. Rotates his fists, stands narrow and upright, pulls his hand back to threaten the right, which is a no-no today (unless it's intended as some sort of statement to taunt Corbett, or make it clear to even an untrained audience that he'd gotten the drop on Corbett.) Sullivan has that weird quasi-hook that some people threw in those days (and which was often omitted from the manuals written when Sullivan was still developing as a fighter -- rounding blows were considered unscientific.)

    And that's about it. You've also got some surprisingly decent footage of Corbett, who looks and moves pretty typically for a late bareknuckle / early gloved guy, IMO. And there's Mike Donovan, who fought Sullivan early in Sullivan's career and wrote a manual with really nice, clear photos. (Including a spinning backfist.) So you have some idea of what elite boxers looked like in Sullivan's milieu. Only up to a point though.

    Then there are the other manuals. These were mostly publications for amateurs, and probably only make sense when taken as a whole to show the general gist of boxing style in that day. They are not Sullivan-specific.

    Which brings us to the fight reports. Bear in mind that these would have been written by people with a VERY DIFFERENT view of what boxing is supposed to look like, compared to a modern commentator. Assuming that they even understood what they were watching -- and I doubt all of them did, just as many modern reporters don't -- their experience/knowledge would have been confined to watching other old timey fights. Their expectations, vocabulary, interpretations, and even the things they noticed or watched out for would have been relative to that context. Not our context. To use a concrete example: we cannot even naively read mentions of a "lead left" as referring to something comparable to our "jab".

    None of us has ever seen an elite old-timey fighter in person, let alone trained in a competitive gym for old-timey boxing. We do have a couple reconstructionists and antiquarians a la Bartitsu, but this isn't the same as being able to go to a Sullivan era boxing club when this stuff was a living tradition. None of us on this forum, AFAIK, has fought under London Prize Ring Rules. Nor is it even likely that anybody here has fought someone like Corbett or Donovan (with or without small gloves) under even the modern interpretation of Queensberry Rules. I don't think we have the kind of intuitive feel for how older style(s) are supposed to work that people back then would have had.

    Consequently, we are not in a good position to judge strengths and weaknesses based on a few photos and scraps of film. It's like the way that the 60s/70s full contact karate guys thought they understood Muay Thai (I mean, it has kicks and punches, right? How different can it be?) and weren't impressed until they went into the ring and got mauled by MT athletes. Or when 80s/90s martial artists made all sorts of theoretical, abstract predictions of what a successful style would look like in a limited-rules environment. And then most of them were proved wrong in the first UFCs.

    Basically, we are talking about a different combat sport. Theoretical speculations derived from limited film, and lacking grounding in practical experience, do not strike me as very secure.

    Finally, on to the second point I mentioned above. None of us has ever seen an elite fighter of Sullivan's era fighting a more modern fighter. NOBODY has seen this. Worse, Tunney isn't even a completely modern fighter. He's at the end of that oddball transitional period, so he's also a somewhat unknown quality outside of our own everyday context. Not as bad as Sullivan, but people rarely fight like Tunney today. Even assuming we could reconstruct Sullivan's style, quirks, and so on with enough detail, that's probably not enough. Sure, we can try to extrapolate and create intellectual models of what we think a fight between somebody like Tunney and somebody like Sullivan should look like. But it's speculation built on abstraction and theory, without much to ground it. We don't know how the near-bareknuckle style Sullivan used would interact stylistically with more modern forms of boxing.

    You might as well ask, "Who would win, a champion boxer or an Olympic wrestler?" having never seen a boxing-vs-wrestling fight before, and never seen ANY wrestling at all. It's basically an invitation to engage in Mike-Tyson-vs-Bruce-Lee-style keyboard warrior speculation.

    Now...I don't mean to be discouraging here. There's a lot we can know about Sullivan. We can say broadly that he looks like he might be similarish to a lot of other fighters from that period. We can say that he would have trained vaguely judo-esque wrestling, and dirty-boxing headlocks, under Muldoon for LPR rules. We know that he didn't like LPR rules, and that most of his experience would have been in the (rougher) interpretation of MQR gloved boxing prevalent in the 1880s. We know Sullivan was considered a hard hitter for the time, we know who he fought, and we even know heights and weights for a lot of his fights, from both sides. We know a fair amount about his social environment.

    But fantasy fights like this are asking for very fine-grained detail that we don't have. And I don't think we have the tools to extrapolate with any accuracy. Fights turn on little things -- think of Max Schmeling's "I see somezing" moment where he observed a small crack in Joe Louis's armor and used it to pulverize Louis. Or the way that Frazier could repeatedly nail Ali because Ali leaned back against the left hook. Or Holmes's vulnerability to right hands that put him on the mat against Shavers. We cannot do that for Sullivan.

    So while I might be willing to confidently pick somebody like Lennox Lewis over Sullivan in modern rules (the gap in size, training, talent pools, and everything else is just ridiculously large -- enough so that I think I can rely on cruder, broader metrics), fights like Tunney/Sullivan seem like a shot in the dark to me.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2021
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  10. Dempsey1238

    Dempsey1238 Boxing Junkie Full Member

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    Like I said, it is not much, but it is the only thing we have that gives us some insight on what his style may of been.
     
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  11. Fergy

    Fergy Walking Dead Full Member

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    Tunney s gonna get this. John L would get frustrated as hell at Gene's game plan.
    "Fight, you sonofa *****", he'd be saying through gritted teeth.
    Gene would just give Sullivan a big shitty grin.
     
  12. Fergy

    Fergy Walking Dead Full Member

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    That's a very good thought d.
    Similar to the Tommy Gunn himself, Mr Tommy Morrison.
     
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  13. Dempsey1238

    Dempsey1238 Boxing Junkie Full Member

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    Even early glove boxing is a different sport than today.
     
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