Jake Kilrain

For the British boxer, see Jake Kilrain (British boxer).
Jake Kilrain
Real name John Joseph Killion
Rated at Heavyweight
Nationality American
Born (1859-02-09)February 9, 1859
Greenpoint, New York
Died December 22, 1937(1937-12-22) (aged 78)
Quincy, Massachusetts

Jake Kilrain (February 9, 1859 – December 22, 1937) was the popular name of John Joseph Killion, a famous bare-knuckle fighter and glove boxer of the 1880s. Elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012.

Early life

Kilrain found employment as a teenager in Somerville, Massachusetts. As a country boy from Long Island, he had to learn how to stand up to the workers in the rolling mills. By the age of 20, he had been recognized as the toughest fighter in the mill. Kilrain was also a champion rower having won the National Amateur Junior Sculling Championship in 1883. He was later stripped of that honor when it was discovered that he was a prizefighter and thus could not be considered an amateur.

In 1883, Kilrain took up prizefighting as a profession and quickly established a reputation as a very tough fighter.

Professional career

Bout with John L. Sullivan

He is best known for challenging champion John L. Sullivan in 1889 in the last world heavyweight championship prizefight decided with bare knuckles under London Prize Ring rules in history. In a hard-fought contest, Kilrain lost at the start of the 76th round when Mike Donovan, his second, threw in the sponge. Kilrain had not wanted to give up thinking that he could outlast Sullivan, but Donovan defended his actions insisting that Kilrain would have died had the fight gone on. In any case, the Kilrain-Sullivan fight can rightly be listed among the greatest fights of the pre-modern era.

Kilrain was recognized by Richard K. Fox of the National Police Gazette as Heavyweight Champion of the World in 1887. The awarding of the belt to Kilrain was part of a strategy by Fox to draw Sullivan into a fight. Any remote claim he had to the title of world champion was lost in 1889 after his loss to John L. Sullivan.

Later career

Kilrain continued on for 10 more years after the Sullivan fight with gloves under Marquis of Queensberry rules with some success. His most significant win was a 44-round knockout of Boston's George Godfrey in 1891. He lived in his later years as a devoted family man with his wife and children as proprietor of a saloon in Baltimore, Maryland. After his saloon burned down, he moved back to Somerville and was given a job with the parks department. After government cutbacks during the Great Depression he became a night watchman at a Quincy, Mass. shipyard.

In his later life, Kilrain became good friends with John L. Sullivan. When Sullivan died in 1918, Kilrain served as a pallbearer at the funeral. He was also godfather to the English boxer Charlie Mitchell's son Charles Mitchell.

Notable bouts

Result Opponent Type Rd., Time Date Location Notes[1]
Win Canada George Godfrey KO 44 1891-03-13 United States California A.C., San Francisco, California
Loss United States James J. Corbett PTS 6 1890-02-18 United States Southern A.C., New Orleans, Louisiana
Loss United States John L. Sullivan KO 75 (80) 1889-07-09 United States Richburg, Mississippi For World Heavyweight Title.
Draw United Kingdom Jack Burke PTS 5 1884-12-01 United States New England Institute, Boston, Massachusetts
Draw United Kingdom Charley Mitchell PTS 4 1884-03-26 United States Boston, Massachusetts
Win Canada George Godfrey TKO 3 (3) 1883-05-16 United States Boston, Massachusetts
Draw Canada George Godfrey PTS 3 1882-01-15 United States Boston, Massachusetts

See also


  1. Jake Kilrain's Professional Boxing Record. BoxRec.com. Retrieved on 2014-05-18.
Titles in pretence
Inaugural Champion World Heavyweight Champion
December 19, 1887– July 8, 1889
Lost bid for Undisputed Title
Title next held by
Peter Maher
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