90 minutes south of Rochester, in the town of Belfast, lies a building that pulls no punches.
“Welcome to the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame.”
Retired teacher Scott Burt opened the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009 to commemorate a style of fighting that went out of favor over a century ago.
“Bare knuckle boxing was entirely illegal,” “eye gouging, hair pulling,” “alcohol to deaden the pain,” “hit him so hard, he went out of the ring,” “106 rounds to a draw. Can you imagine fighting 106 rounds to a draw?”
It was in these barns in 1889, nearly 130 years ago, that the most famous bare knuckle boxer of all-time John L. Sullivan trained for an 80-round fight with world heavyweight champ Jake Kilrain.
“75 rounds later, 2 hours 16 minutes, outside in 104 degree weather, on a dirt floor with spikes, Sullivan wins. He wins $20,000 and the Police Gazette belt,” said Burt.
The barns were owned by Sullivan’s trainer, William Muldoon, a Belfast native that is credited with inventing the modern medicine ball. Muldoon willed the barns to the town church where they sat mostly untouched.
“It was here for anybody to do for 130 years, it sat here,” said Burt. “People in the town knew about it, but it’s like anything that is in anyone’s backyard. You don’t really appreciate it until someone else tells you it’s good”
Coming up on July 7th, the Hall of Fame will welcome its Class of 2018. While it will include legendary bare knuckle fighters that have been dead for centuries, one member of the class will be here in Belfast. The voice of the Buffalo Sabres, Rick Jeanneret.
“When I explained it to him, he said ‘Oh my goodness, that’s right!'” said Burt. “Rick Jeanneret has called more bare knuckle fights than any other person in history. Albeit on ice, but he’s called them.”
With combat sports growing popularity, bare knuckle boxing could become fashionable again. Wyoming recently became the first state to legalize it. Back in Belfast, Scott Burt is honored to maintain this chapter of boxing’s past.
“We all want to do something that will live beyond us and this is kind of my thing,” said Burt. “We get a lot of people that say ‘Oh, I’m not going to come to it because I don’t like boxing.’ That’s not what this is about. It’s about history, and learning about history.”
130 years later, it’s still a knockout.
Tickets for the 2018 induction ceremony on Saturday, July 7th can be obtained at the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame website.