In September, 1892, Sullivan met James J. Corbett in New Orleans, with gloves and under Queensberry Rules. John L.’s bare-knuckle crown was not at stake. The fight, wan by Corbett, was the first to determine the “heavyweight championship under Marquis of Queensberry Rules.” Corbett knocked out Sullivan in the 21st and became the first heavyweight champion under Marquis of Queensberry Rules, requiring gloves and three-minute rounds.
Boxing was not legal in New Orleans at the time, but since bare fists were not used, the fight was tolerated. Boxing also was allowed in California, and other centers, where the contests involved only bare fists and London Prize Ring Rules. The first state to permit boxing was New York, which gave its legal blessing late in 1896, with Nevada close behind.
New York sanctioned fights as of November, 1896, at which time Nevada was busying itself with a law that made the Corbett-Robert Fitzsimmons fight legal for March 17, 1897. The Nevada law, so far as is known, never was repealed. But the New York attitude has been subjected to considerable legislative procedure.
The sport, so far as legislation was concerned, was in a rather bad way throughout the nation until New York adopted the Walker Law as of September; 1920.
The rules for boxing in New York, which became the Walker Law, were drafted, generally, by William A. Gavin of England, who arrived in the United States about 1919. His basic plan was a private club, patterned after the National Sporting Club in London, where boxing was to be staged only for members. Gavin sold stock in his International Sporting Club, which really represented memberships, the members including some of the most famous and wealthy Americans. He raised a fund of about $350,000, which was to be used to buy a site and erect a building.
However, late in 1919 while Gavin was making up his boxing rules he was informed that boxing, even in a private club, was barred by the law. He then took his ring rules to Albany, N.Y., where James J. Walker was Speaker of the Senate. Walker agreed to sponsor the bill, which called for legalization of boxing throughout the state. Gavin hired Tex Rickard to act as matchmaker for his club.
Frank Armstrong, a mining promoter, came to realize that the Walker Law would be adopted long before Gavin could complete his planned club and Armstrong gained a lease on Madison Square Garden. He influenced Rickard to resign his job with Gavin and to join him as co-promoter at Madison Square Garden. The Walker bill was passed in the middle of 1920 and Rickard proceeded with plans for his first Garden show on Sept. 1, 1920.
Meanwhile, Gavin’s club was in the “dream” stage. Gavin declared he had spent “a great deal of money in Albany,” and when pressed for building action, took a boat one midnight and sailed for home, and that was the end of the club and also the $350,000.
Rickard, therefore, had a monopoly on boxing, not only in New York but also elsewhere, almost entirely as a result of Gavin’s work and the funds Gavin had spent. The sport, under the Gavin-ized rules, was a tremendous success from the start and Rickard made a fortune. When the lease on the old Garden was about to expire, Rickard formed the corporation that built the present Madison Square Garden, somewhat removed from the Madison Square section of New York City. It was opened Dec. 15, 1925.