While biking by Dr. Bob's in the Bywater, I noticed one of his signs about the Fight of the Century between "Gentleman Jim" Corbett and John L. Sullivan in 1892 at the Olympic Club. Are there any photos of the club, and what was its history and location?
— Curtis Johnson
The club was founded in 1883 as an athletic association for men in the Third District. It got into prizefighting as a sideline, and in less than 10 years it had become a major boxing venue. In 1889, members hired a boxing instructor, John Duffy, who later became one of the country's leading referees. In 1890, city and state officials approved glove contests, so the Olympic Club rented a cotton press yard on Royal Street, built an enclosed arena with electric lights and "a ring on turf covered with sawdust and canvas," and began to sponsor fights. A law, however, prohibited fights contested for a purse and continued until a finish. The Olympic club challenged this and won and soon began charging admission to professional prizefights.
Great matches were held at the Olympic Club, including the one in 1891 when Bob Fitzsimmons KO'd Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey (not world heavyweight champion Dempsey) with 3,500 fans cheering. The purse was $12,000. This battle established the Olympic Club as the city's leading promoter of prizefights.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the 1890s was the three-day "Carnival of Champions" held Sept. 5-7, 1892. For weeks before the event, local papers carried detailed articles of the fighters' training schedules. Merchants displayed portraits of the boxers in their windows, and fans could buy photographs and scarves dyed to represent each fighter's colors from peddlers who roamed the streets. Customers lined up and paid a total of $101,557 to see Jack McAuliffe defeat Billy Meyers for the world lightweight championship with a purse of $9,000. Then they cheered when George Dixon knocked out Jack Skelly for the world featherweight championship and a $7,500 purse. That bout was controversial because Dixon was black and Skelly was white. It was also the first time African-Americans were admitted as spectators, although they had to sit in a separate section.
Finally, the bout between Corbett and Sullivan for the heavyweight championship arrived. Corbett won with a knockout in the 21st round and left with a purse of $25,000. Sullivan lost his title and went home empty-handed.
The following year, 1893, saw the longest bout in history. On April 6, Andy Bowen, a local boy, was matched against Jack Burke of Galveston, Texas, for the lightweight championship of the South. The boxers fought for 110 rounds. After seven hours and 19 minutes, both men refused to go on, and the match ended in a draw.
The Olympic Club no longer stands, but you can see a drawing of it online at www.commons.wikimedia.org (search Olympic Club). Dr. Bob says he painted the sign you mentioned to commemorate the fights that took place in the gymnasium that once stood in his driveway.