|Real name||John Joseph Killion|
February 9, 1859|
Greenpoint, New York
|Died||December 22, 1937
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.
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.
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.
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.