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News February - March 2024


From Troy, a world champion in era of boxing ‘exhibitions’

Maury Thompson


It was billed as family entertainment.
“The management desires to announce that these contests will be no slugging matches but simply a scientific exhibition that all can witness with pleasure as pure harmless fun,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Sept. 28, 1894.

The former world boxing champion Patrick “Paddy” Ryan of Troy was to face the Canadian champion Austin Mills in a five-round “sparring exhibition” that would be the headliner in a boxing card at the Grand Field Day on Oct. 2 at Middle Granville Driving Park.

Other scheduled activities included harness racing, bicycle racing and music. Admission to the grounds was 50 cents — the equivalent of $18.41 in today’s dollars — for men, and free for women.

Noncompetitive sparring exhibitions were a way of getting around laws at the time that prohibited professional prizefighting. Professional boxing would not be legalized in New York until 1920.
Ryan was paid $250 for his appearance — the equivalent of about $9,200 in today’s dollars, but a far cry from payouts of as much as $5,000 per match he received in his heyday.

He was paid $10,000 — the equivalent of more than $313,000 today — for a series of boxing matches in England in 1883, The Argus of Albany reported on April 10 of that year.

The big-dollar events were the exception rather than the norm, however. Ryan often settled for much less as he barnstormed the nation and region in sparring exhibitions.

“Paddy Ryan seems to be showing off his skin in nearly every town in the county,” the Washington County Advertiser of Fort Edward reported on Dec. 8, 1880. “Tuesday, he exhibited in Cambridge.”

Turnout for the 1894 sparring exhibition at Middle Granville was not what organizers had hoped for — a consequence of what the event’s backers said were misconceptions about boxing. The exhibition lasted three rounds, instead of the five rounds advertised.

“Paddy Ryan of Troy and Austin Mills, champion of Canada, had three lively rounds. Both delivered blows so rapidly that the eye could hardly follow them,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Oct. 5. “Many who stayed away, thinking that if they were present, they would witness a brutal prize fight, were surprised when they learned that no such thing occurred.”

Ryan, who in 2020 was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., was an Irish immigrant who worked as a blacksmith, construction laborer and saloon owner. He had worked on construction of the Erie Canal.

Jimmy Killoran, the athletic director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, offered to teach Ryan boxing after the coach observed Ryan bouncing an unruly patron out of the saloon Ryan owned in Troy.

At various times, Ryan also owned saloons at Albany, Chicago and elsewhere, but he always seemed to find his way back to Troy.

At Collier’s Station, W.Va., on May 30, 1880, Ryan, in what was technically his first professional fight, defeated Joe Goss in an 87-round match to become the World Bare Knuckles Champion. Months later, Ryan was arrested for his role in the illegal fight, but it is not clear if he was prosecuted.

“Yesterday, Chief of Police Sweeney of Wheeling, West Virginia, and Detective Ruland of New York arrived in Albany for the purpose of arresting Paddy Ryan, the champion pugilist of the world, for his connection to the Ryan-Goss fight in West Virginia last summer,” the Washington County Advertiser reported on Feb. 16, 1881.

The arrest was made about 7 p.m. at Paddy’s saloon on State Street in Albany, and officers took Ryan to the Albany train station with the intention of boarding a 1 a.m. train toward West Virginia.
“Just before the train was going to leave, Paddy’s friends appeared with a Habeas corpus,” an order to require a hearing before a local judge, the Advertiser reported. “Paddy was taken to The Globe Hotel, where he passed the balance of the night in the custody of officers.”

Ryan lost his title as world champion to John Sullivan on Feb. 7, 1882 in a nine-round fight at Mississippi City, Miss., about 70 miles from New Orleans. Newspapers reported that Ryan did not return to Troy for some time after the fight because he was embarrassed to face the residents of his hometown.

“When the news was flashed from New Orleans that Mr. Sullivan had bested Paddy, his mother-in-law bared her arm to the shoulder and declared her ability to knock out the champion herself,” the Cincinnati Inquirer reported in an article republished in The Argus on June 22, 1885.
Ryan was known as a fancy dresser.

“Ryan always wore a beaver hat of the most fashionable model, and clothing that was richly embellished with silk facings and velvet collars,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on Feb. 11, 1884. “He wore clean and gaudy scarfs and never considered himself quite right unless he had a half-smoked cigar in his mouth.”

By 1885 he was back in Troy for a visit.
“Paddy Ryan was in town yesterday morning and visited several of his old friends,” The Argus reported on June 22, 1885. “The ex-champion is looking the picture of health, and he wore the usual smile. He was neatly dressed in a grayish suit with a white high hat to match.”

After living in San Francisco for a period, Ryan returned to the Troy area in the late 1890s after retiring from boxing. He died in 1900, at age 49, from kidney disease.


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.





“The management desires to announce that these contests will be no slugging matches but simply a scientific exhibition that all can witness with pleasure as pure harmless fun.”
— The Granville Sentinel, Sept. 28, 1894