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Paddy Ryan (15 March 1851 – 14 December 1900) was an Irish American boxer, and became the bare-knuckle American heavyweight champion from May 30, 1880, after he won the title from Joe Goss. He retained the title until losing it to the exceptional John L. Sullivan on February 7, 1882.[1]

Paddy Ryan
Paddy Ryan cph.3a44411.jpg
Paddy Ryan, 1887
Real namePatrick Ryan
Nickname(s)The Trojan Giant
Height5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
NationalityUnited States Irish American
Settled in America as a youth
Born(1851-03-15)15 March 1851
Republic of IrelandThurles, Tipperary, Ireland
Settled in Troy, NY. by 1872
Lived in San Francisco, 1886-8
Died14 December 1900(1900-12-14) (aged 49)
Green Island, New York, near Troy
StanceOrthadox (right handed)
Used London Prize Ring Rules 1877-86
Boxing record
Total fights10
Major fights only
Exhibitions excluded
Wins by KO1

Ryan fought only ten major bouts, but as many as twenty-five exhibitions including many with John L. Sullivan in his late career. Exhibitions brought him income, but with fewer rounds and less risk.[1]


Early life and careerEdit

Paddy Ryan was born in Thurles, Tipperary, Ireland on March 14, 1851. After moving to America, he lived in the Troy, New York area and was consequently nicknamed the Trojan Giant. He may have apprenticed as a blacksmith in an early career, but was definitely working in the profession by the time he lived in Troy.[2] As a stout youth, Ryan worked on the construction of the Erie Canal before pursuing his boxing career.[3] After opening a Troy saloon in 1874, he caught the attention of the athletic director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jim Killoran. Killoran saw Ryan dealing with troublemakers and drunks at the saloon and decided to train him as a prizefighter.[1]

Ryan's first match was in 1877. He was as much an all-around fighter, grappler or wrestler as he was a boxer. Under the London Prize Ring rules of that era, a few of his wrestling moves could be used in the ring. He was a better wrestler than boxer, according to some sources, and would have benefited from more specialized boxing training.[1]

Taking the American heavyweight title from Joe Goss, 1880Edit

Champion Joe Goss

Former heavyweight champion Jem Mace had been inactive for many years, and was believed to have vacated the title, making it open for contention. According to several sources, the fight with Goss was Ryan's first real prize fight, though he had done combat before to decide disputes, sometimes with established boxers. On their arrival to the working capital of Pennsylvania, the Mayor of Pittsburgh made it clear to both parties that the illegal fight would not take place in his city, so the combatants moved to a more remote spot in West Virginia.[4][5]

In the most significant win of his career, Ryan defeated bare-knuckle heavyweight championship Joe Goss on May 30, 1880 in Collier's Station, West Virginia. In the 87th round, Goss was unable to continue and the contest was stopped after ninety minutes. Ryan's final blow was a right that knocked out Goss. Up until that time the fight was tight and well contested.[6][7] Goss's seconds claimed a foul in the 87th, and with him being unable to continue, the judges awarded the bout to Ryan. His opponent appeared winded, but Ryan was terribly battered around the face and body. Goss had about a twenty pound weight disadvantage and nearly a six inch disadvantage in height, a discrepancy which would have never been allowed in today's boxing, and may have made the difference in the match. [8] [9]

Exhibitions, 1881Edit

In 1881, Ryan fought eight exhibition bouts primarily in the New York area which included some talented opponents including former American heavyweight champions Joe Goss on May 18, and John Dwyer on July 2. He later faced Captain James Dalton on October 1, a well-known regional opponent.[1]

Relinquishing the American heavyweight title to John L. Sullivan, 1882Edit

Champion John L. Sullivan

Sullivan and Ryan arrived in New Orleans on February 6, 1882 to determine who would hold the American heavyweight championship. Louisiana Governor Samuel McInerney had declared the fight illegal, so Sullivan, Ryan and their respective parties moved the fight to Mississippi.

Governor Lowry of Mississippi issued a proclamation ordering all local sheriffs to do whatever was necessary to stop the illegal fight. The next day, the fight crowd moved to Mississippi City, Mississippi where a ring was set up in front of the Barnes Hotel in a grove of live oaks. The local sherrif was not present, and the fight took place in Mississippi anyway, where there was actually no written statute that outlawed boxing.[1][10] Sullivan, the proud Irishman, wore green pants and stockings, to Ryan's white pants and stockings with spiked boxing shoes. The fight was to be a bare-knuckle contest governed by the London Prize Ring Rules, and fought on dirt in a 24-foot ring. The championship contest may well have been Sullivan's first bare-knuckle bout. Each side put up $2,500 with an additional $1000 put up for each side by Sullivan's chief backer, and owner of the boxing magazine Police Gazette Richard K. Fox, making the winner's stake $3,500, one of the larger American purses to date. There were about 2000 spectators present.[10]

Ryan (left) and Sullivan shake hands at scratch line

Ryan was six years older, at least ten pounds lighter, but an inch or two taller, which gifted him with greater reach. His advantage in reach was apparently offset by less sophisticated defensive skills and speed, and somewhat inferior conditioning.[10] Sullivan's seconds were Billy Madden and Joe Goss. His umpire was James Shannon. There was a dispute over the selection of a referee which was finally settled by the appointment of two referees: Alexander Brewster of New Orleans and Jack Hardy of Vicksburg.[10] Ancient for a modern boxer, the thirty-seven year old Ryan knew he was battered from his long career and admitted, “I meant to have retired before, but you know how it is. When you whip somebody there is always somebody else turning up that wants to try his hand, and that’s the way I am caught this time.”[11]

Following an old tradition, John L. Sullivan threw his hat in the ring at 11:45 am. Ryan came into the ring at 11:57 with the crowd estimated at 5,000. The men then approached the scratch line in the center of the ring and shook hands.[10]

The New York Herald wrote that from the first round, Sullivan appeared superior. His rights were devastating, and Ryan had difficulty recovering from them. Early in the fight, Sullivan decked Ryan with his famed right. Countering quickly, the reigning champion wrestled Sullivan to the ground to end round two. But the exertion of the maneuver sapped Ryan’s energy and he found himself thrown about in clinches thereafter, despite his wrestling background. After nine rounds and only twenty minutes, Sullivan knocked Ryan out with a final right-handed punch which landed under Ryan's left ear. Ryan left the ring with his jaw visibly swollen. An era was ending; it was the last time the heavyweight championship would be won in a bare knuckle fight. Ryan fought Sullivan on many occasions afterward, but never won.[1][10] After the bout, Sullivan was a frequent sparring partner of Ryan's.[12][13] Sullivan's fame and his acceptance among both American aristocracy and the lower classes was unique and new in the boxing world and would help both boxers draw large crowds to the exhibitions they would later stage in the Northeast.[14]

In Ryan's era, boxing titles were informal, as there were no globally recognized sanctioning bodies to bestow legitimacy to a world title. Some sources refer to him as the "Heavyweight Champion of America"; others call him a world champion. To a large extent, he was recognized as the world champion of boxing while he held the title, as heavyweights held reign over other weight classes at the time, and had larger followings.

Meeting fewer boxing opponents, 1883-6Edit

Ryan was less active in boxing in 1883 when he knocked out Montanna champion Jack Waite in a three round exhibition on October 21. The results of several fights he scheduled that year failed to appear in the press. He continued to meet few opponents in 1884-5, though on January 19, 1885, Ryan fought a no contest bout with John L. Sullivan at New York's Madison Square Garden. Some sources report Ryan lost, but in any event, police intervened in the first round and stopped the fight.[1]

Odlum jumps from the bridge

Ryan was one of a party of gentlemen entertained by Robert Emmet Odlum, brother of women's rights activist Charlotte Odlum Smith, on the morning of May 19, 1885, the day he jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge and was killed, though his intention was merely to prove that the jump could be made safely. Ryan assisted in unsuccessful resuscitation efforts.[15]

Ryan fought a two round draw with Frank Glover on September 13, 1886 in Chicago. Ryan fought at 210, above his normal fighting weight and was described as too "fleshy" by a Wisconsin paper. The referees split on a decision, so a draw was called, when a dozen police officers intervened and stopped the fight in the second round.[16] The bout was fought on a boat in the rain using the London Prize Rules and close to 1,500 spectators had huddled nearby to see the match.[1]

Queensbury rules used more often after 1887Edit

The new Queensbury rules banned all forms of wrestling, which may have hurt Ryan in his next fight against the superior scientific boxer, Jack McCaulliffe. Queensbury's fixed three minute rounds and longer one minute rest interval helped boxers regain their strength and sustain more energy and a fixed ten second count allowed an injured boxer some time to recover as well. A prohibition on hitting an opponent in the back or back of the head, added a modicum of safety to the more lax and dangerous London Prize Ring Rules.

Losses to John Sullivan, Jack McCauliffe, and late exhibitions, 1886-97Edit

Champion Jack McCauliffe

Ryan lived for a few years in San Francisco in the late 80's. On November 13, 1886, before a crowd of 8,000, Ryan had a non-title rematch with Sullivan, at the Mechanic's Pavillion in San Francisco, California, and lost by knockout in a 3 round contest. He was down in the first from a short arm to the chin, though both boxers appeared to have traded some solid blows to the face before the round ended. Ryan was down again in the second, before a second knockdown in the third ended the fight.[17] The fight was fought with gloves, and adhered to the Marquess of Queensbury Rules, first published in 1867.[18][19]

Ryan lost to the exceptional reigning world lightweight champion Jack McAuliffe, who knocked him out in three rounds on December 23, 1887 in San Francisco. The fight was fought with gloves using the new Queensbury Rules, which necessitated their use. Though Ryan had both a height and weight advantage, McAuliffe, the young champion, was only twenty at the time of the match to Ryan's more mature and battered thirty-seven. An American icon who went undefeated in thirty fights, McAuliffe was probably one of the most skilled opponents to face Ryan in his career.[1] In a fight not fought to the satisfaction of the spectators, Ryan was down twice in the first round, and McCauliffe balked at hitting a groggy Ryan in the second. It is plausible that McAuliffe, knowing he had won the fight, refused to get in close and deliver more punishment to a clearly vanquished opponent with a longer reach who might still be dangerous. In the opening of the fourth round, Ryan's seconds threw up the sponge, ending the bout.[20]

Ryan was arrested on a charge of grand larceny of $100 on 21 February 21, 1888, in San Francisco, where he was still living at the time, though once the charge was found to be fraudulent, he was quickly acquitted and released.[21]

Several newspapers reported that Paddy Ryan lost to John Donner on May 4, 1888 in Duluth, Minnesota, by knockout, though a reliable source reported the boxer was not Paddy Ryan the ex-champion and that Ryan was living in San Francisco.[22]

Ryan performed in a series of lucrative and well attended exhibitions with John L. Sullivan, primarily in New England, from 1891-7, before retiring from boxing.[1] In their three round exhibition in March of 1896, in Visalia, California, 230 miles southeast of San Francisco, Sullivan was described as "beefy and far from looking like a pugilist, while Ryan was said to still be in good form.[23]

On March 5, 1899, Ryan refereed the Alt Allen vs. Fred Wyatt match in Plattsburgh, New York.[1]

Death from Bright's disease, 1900Edit

Returning to New York after boxing retirement, he refereed a few fights and worked in Albany.

In his last months, Ryan lost his speech, and suffered from Bright's disease. A subscription was started for his benefit, contributed to generously by John L. Sullivan, and a benefit in his honor was given at Madison Square Garden.[12] Ryan died on December 14, 1900 in Green Island, New York and was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery. He was survived by a daughter.[24]

He was elected to The Ring magazine's Hall of Fame in 1973.[1][25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Paddy Ryan". Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  2. ^ Kelly, Walter, "The Wide World of Sport", The Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, New York, pg. 11, 13 December 1900
  3. ^ Klein, Chris. "Strong Boy; The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan". Irish American. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  4. ^ "The Goss-Ryan Fight", Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pg. 4, 1 June 1880
  5. ^ The Sun, New York, June 02, 1880, Page 1
  6. ^ "Joe Goss" (PDF). UK boxing biographies. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  7. ^ "His Last Fight", The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, pg. 5, 24 March 1885
  8. ^ "Ryan Wins", Harrisburgh Daily Independent, Harrisburgh, Pennsylvania, pg. 1, 2 June 1889
  9. ^ Knocked out with a right in Pollock, Adam J, John L. Sullivan: The Career of the First Gloved Heavyweight Champion, (2006) McFarland and Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, Chapter 5, pg. 34
  10. ^ a b c d e f Pollock, Adam J, John L. Sullivan: The Career of the First Gloved Heavyweight Champion, (2006) McFarland and Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, Chapter 5, pgs. 34-42
  11. ^ Connor, Patrick,. "Fight City, Sullivan vs. Ryan". West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 7 September 2016.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ a b "Paddy Ryan Ill", The Allentown Leader, Allentown, Pennsylvania, pg. 2, 11 December 1900
  13. ^ Ryan wrestled Sullivan down in round two in Connor, Patrick,. "Fight City, Sullivan vs. Ryan". West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 7 September 2016.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ McNamara, Robert. "John L. Sullivan". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  15. ^ Odlum, Catherine (1885). The Life and Adventures of Prof. Robert Emmet Odlum, Containing an Account of his Splendid Natatorium at the National Capital. Gray and Clarkson.
  16. ^ "Took it Rough and Tumble", The Journal Times, Racine, Wisconsin, pg. 1, 14 September 1886
  17. ^ "In Three Rounds", The San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco, California, pg. 3, 14 November 1886
  18. ^ "Queensberry Rules" at The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
  19. ^ Baker, William Joseph (1998). Sports in the Western World. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  20. ^ "Paddy Ryan Done Up in Three", The Topeka Daily Capital, Topeka, Kansas, pg. 1, 25 December 1887
  21. ^ The San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco, California, pg. 4, 22 February 1888
  22. ^ "The Ring", San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, California, pg. 5, 7 May 1888
  23. ^ "Sullivan and Ryan", Daily Delta, Visalia, California, pg. 1, 3 March 1896
  24. ^ "Fighter Whom Sullivan Defeated", Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, New York, pg. 11, 15 December 1900
  25. ^ "Fighter Whom Sullivan Defeated", Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, New York, pg. 11, 15 December 1900

External linksEdit

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Joe Goss
Heavyweight Bare-knuckle Boxing Champion
May 30, 1880–February 7, 1882
Succeeded by
John L. Sullivan