After my fight with McAuliffe I the good fortune to meet Dr. Daughters of Philadelphia. Although there was Similarity of name with my backer in Australia, there was no relationship between the two. Dr. Daughtery was so impressed with my showing against "Big Joe" that he offered to provide any amount of backing for me if I would go to the United States. It had always been my intention to go to the States, either to fight Sullivan or try to get him to say "yes" or "no." Assured of the backing of Dr. Daughtery, together with the regular backing of George Piesse, of London, and my friends in Australia, I felt that this was an auspicious time to start for America. In March, 1891, I bade farewell to the British. Isles, and upon arriving in New York, went to the office of the "Police Gazette" and posted 1,000 dollars for a match with Sullivan. I issued a challenge to the champion, which was published in all the papers. Dr. Daughtery joined me in New York, and we decided to get on the trail of Sullivan at once. The champion was playing in his famous show, "Honest Hearts and Willing Hands" in Cincinnati at the time, and we left to gain an interview. We pulled into Cincinnati late at night, and Daughtery went to the theatre where Sullivan was playing, and tried to arrange an interview. He saw Sullivan.
"Can't talk now," Sullivan told Daughtery, without waiting to ascertain the reason for the visit. "We're cutting the show short so as to catch the train for St. Louis. If it is important come to St. Louis and see me."
"It's important," replied Daughtery. "We'll see you in St. Louis."
It was impossible for us to get away on Sullivan's train, but we caught the one next morning, and once again set out on the trail of Sullivan. We found that Sullivan was stopping at the Southern Hotel in St. Louis, so we went to the next best, the Occidental. I registered as "O'Brien" in order to prevent any stir before meeting John L.
Daughtery and I called at the Southern Hotel and caught the desk clerk buried in the sport page of the evening paper. Daughtery asked to see Sullivan.
"Sorry, sir, but Sullivan left orders not to be disturbed," replied the clerk.
"Here, send-up this card," I ordered, as I proffered my card.
"Slavin," he stammered. "You can't be him. Why, I've, just been reading where he's still challenging Sullivan in New' York."
"Never mind about that," I laughed. "I'm Slavin, and I've come here to see if a little personal challenging will get me any farther. Send up my card and do me a favour."
The card went up. It brought down Barnett, who was managing "Honest Hearts and Willing Hands" for Duncan Harrison. Barnett expressed much, surprise to see me, and enquired the reason of my hurried trip from New York.
"I want to fight Sullivan, that's the reason," I told him.
"Come up to the room and meet Sullivan; perhaps we may be able to reach some decision," invited Barnett, leading us to the elevator. "We've been interested in reading about this lanky Australian, or Sydney Cornstalk as they call you, but hardly expected that your business would be so pressing or your enthusiasm so great as to bring you on our trail so fast. However, I'm glad to see you.
We entered Sullivan's room, and behold the great and powerful Sullivan was before me. My first impression of this furious fighter was not one of awe and fear. In fact, I was filled with the belief that I could lick Sullivan if we ever met in the ring. He still had much to commend him to the world in regard to physique and a face that was hard and determined, but the bottles on the table told another story. Liquor and fighting don't go together. It's the same in anything in life. If you want to be a success, liquor can have no place. It is liable to make a fool out of a man when he least expects it. Sullivan was seated at a table, and there must have been a dozen bottles on it, and most of them were empty. He appeared greatly interested in me, and sized me up from tip to toe. He then came forward and extended a large hand. We shook, and his grip convinced me of his great strength.
"Have a drink?" were Sullivan's first words.
"No thanks, don't take any," I replied.
"Oh yes you will."
"Not on your life, unless it's just a beer."
"Beer? Horrors! It must be wine, anyway!"
"No, beer is good enough for any fighter." I had my beer. During this brief conversation neither of us took our eyes off the other. I was inches taller than Sullivan, but he had it on me in width. I did a lot of speculating on Sullivan, and no doubt he did the same on me. He must have marvelled at my nerve for chasing him so far.
"Now, what's your business?" questioned Sullivan, after I had taken my beer. "Suppose it's fight."
"Exactly," I agreed. "I've been challenging you for four years, and, to my knowledge, you haven't taken a bit of notice. I have traveled a long way to get this chance, over 10,000 miles, and now I want a decision. I am now challenging you for the championship of the world, and I want you to accept. You're the best man in America, and I'm the best man in Australia and Europe. We should put on a good fight. If money is necessary to bind the match here is 10,000 dollars."
I spread the crisp bills on the table, and asked Sullivan if he would accept the challenge. "I'm out of the game now," said Sullivan. "I've practically retired, and I've a theatre contract that has me tied up for some time yet. We intend to tour Australia, too."
"If you've retired it's all right with me," I told him. "I'll make my plans accordingly, and can rightly claim the world's title. Let me advise you on one point, however. Don't go to Australia without meeting me or you'll go broke. They sent me up from down there to meet you, and now I'm in America trying to get you to fight; it won't look, nice for you to hustle of to Australia. It will look as though you are dodging me, and the Australians won't like that. If you fight me, I'll lick you, and we can then tour Australia together and make money."
Sullivan did not take kindly to my reference about licking him. It revived in him a desire to fight and cast aside his theatrical engagements.
"Look here," he snapped, rising to his feet. "If I decide to go back to the ring when I finish with the stage I'll give you the first chance at my title, and I don't think much of your chance."
"Good," I thanked him, "and I hope you get your stomach full of the stage quickly, and will like the look of my money. Then we'll get inside the ropes and we'll see how good my chances are."
There was a little strained feeling. We had other side digs at each other, but we shook hands on the deal, and agreed that nothing should be given out to the press. But you cannot beat the newspaper boys. They get the news somehow. That's what they are paid for. The next morning the papers carried accounts of our meeting. This aroused the curiosity of the St. Louis sporting public, who wanted to see what this much-talked-of cornstalk looked like. When I arrived at the station to take my train back to New York there were hundreds of people there to shake my hand, and some of them expressed the hope that I would lift Sullivan's crown. They thought I had traveled far enough to get it. I felt quite satisfied over my interview with Sullivan. While I could not actually claim his title I had him morally tied to meet me should he decide to return to the ring from the stage. New York was anxious to see me in action as so much had been written about me. I had not appeared in the ring in America, but my defeat of Joe McAuliffe had earned me a certain amount of prestige in the States. I was willing to meet anyone, but suggested that Jake Kilrain would be a logical opponent. Jake had stayed 79 rounds with Sullivan two years previously, and if I could dispatch him, I believed that my right to a match with the champion would be demanded.
Kilrain and I were matched to go 10 rounds in Hoboken, N.J. It proved to be a very wild fight. Of course I had very few friends and supporters at that time. Everyone wanted to be shown. In the second round I floored Kilrain, but no bell sounded the end of the count. In those days the bell was attached to a post 10 ft. above the head of the time keeper, who tolled the seconds. On examination it was discovered that someone had tied the bell rope between the time keeper and the gong. Jerry Dunn, the referee, ordered me to my corner and Kilrain's seconds dragged him to his chair and worked over him.
"What rules are we fighting under?" I shouted to Dunn, who was hanging on the ropes. "That's a fair knockout."
"You're fighting my rules," flashed back Dunn.
Kilrain was no match for me, and I made a punching bag out of him in the next five rounds. In the eighth round I dropped Jake with a right to the jaw. Dunn waved me to my corner.
"Nothing doing," I responded. "I'm going to stick here till you give the verdict."
"I'll give my decision in the morning," Dunn shot at me over his shoulder as he slipped out of the ring.
The hall was in a turmoil. The peculiar ending made a lot of friends for me, who felt that I had been unfairly treated. Next day I searched the papers for Dunn's decision, and this was what he had to say:
Only once again did I meet Kilrain in the ring, and that was on August 12, 1896 at Baltimore, Maryland
"We only seem to meet in the ring," I said to Jake on the night of the fight. "Haven't seen you since Hoboken."
"That's right," mused Jake, "but you're meeting a different man to-night."
"You'll have to be fast, 'cause I've got to catch the 11:15 train back to New York," I laughed.
"Oh, you'll not be able to see your way back to New York when I finish with you." came back Jake.
The fight did not last much longer than the above conversation. It was over in exactly one minute and 15 seconds. I hit Jake three times. I drove my left to the pit of his stomach, flashed my right under the heart, and whipped it over again. That was enough to finish any man, and Jake, being a particularly slow man, it was easy for me to get in all my force. Jake was still unconscious when I caught my train back to New York. I haven't seen Jake since I left him prostrate on the floor, but I hear he's like me now, playing with his grandchildren. I guess Jake will agree with me. There are few of us left now.
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 23, 1926.