Johnny Kilbane

stories and comments

My hope is to be able to share personal accounts of Johnny Kilbane and his career by having this page available for people like you to share anecdotes, personal stories and/or thoughts about Johnny Kilbane. Please email me. Thanks for your help in preserving the legacy of Johnny Kilbane!


Congratulations on an outstanding site commemorating a true ring great.  Johnny Kilbane deserves this.
- Pete Ehrmann


On the subject of Johnny Kilbane's place in boxing history, I feel he is one of the most overlooked. He was a very modern and scientific fighter for his time far surpassing other fighters of his era.  Fighting from 1907 to 1923 and holding the title for over 12 years speaks for itself.  Along the way fighting some of the best of his time including seven world champs.  He is the type of fighter that would have succeeded in any era.

- Frank Stallone


Johnny Kilbane was a clever and crafty boxer who was one of boxing history's greatest featherweights. He had such great boxing savvy and skills that he would have been champion or a top contender in any era.  Johnny had good overall hitting ability yet was not known as a heavy puncher. While he possessed a good jab and delivered precise blows, his greatest asset was his defensive ability that enabled him to offset his opponent's attack with his own movement and antics.

- Tracy Callis,  Boxing Historian, IBRO


Before you're turned off by how long ago Kilbane fought, look again at the length of time he was champion.  It was 11 years, which represents the longest uninterrupted reign in the history of the division and the second longest in the history of the sport - - only Joe Louis' tenure as heavyweight champion was longer.  And it wasn't as though Kilbane sat on the title; he fought 91 times over the course of his reign, and even if he made only nine official title defenses - that's the way it worked then - he was beating the same group of guys over and over whether they were title fights or non-title fights.  And they were the best guys in the division.

- Bill Dettloff, HBO Boxing Columnist, Senior Writer at The Ring magazine


I am 75 years old and remember the number of times that my dad spoke about Johnny Kilbane!  My dad was a recent immigrant from Italy, about 18 years old at the time and worked as a bus boy at the 'Oak Cafe. It was located on Vincent Avenue off 9th street in downtown Cleveland.  This was just before prohibition came along.  It was the hangout of politicians and sports figures.  Johnny took a liking to my dad and spent a lot of time teaching him to box so he could defend himself as my dad was only 5'6" tall.  While dad never looked for trouble I can remember as a young boy a couple occasions that some younger and bigger guys tried to push him around and for the lack of a better expression, "he kicked the crap out of the them".  Enjoyed your web site a lot, wish my dad was around to do the same.

- Bob Nuti


He was a world champion for over 11 years. He is probably one of the most underrated fighters of all time. Yet he crossed gloves with Benny Leonard, Joe Rivers, George "KO" Chaney, Johnny Dundee, Kid Williams, Abe Attell, Monte Attell, Jimmy Walsh, Freddie Welsh, and Rocky Kansas. This is a virtual who's who of the featherweight and lightweight elite of that era. 

- Jim Amato, taken from an article from the Sweet Science (reprinted with permission)


When fellow boxing historian Tracy Callis asked me my thoughts on Johnny Kilbane, the first thing that came to mind - he's one of the all-time greats of the sport.  As a researcher who has examined his career, it is clear that Kilbane was a shrewd boxer well versed in technique the masters before him had possessed. His poise under fire, combination punching, speed of hand and foot and stamina made him a standout.  He possessed outstanding reflexes that enabled him to remain competitive for sixteen years against his era's best fighters.  Because of his brilliance he was the first to put the city of Cleveland in the boxing public's eye and helped turn the city into a boxing mecca.

- Dan Cuoco, Director, International Boxing Research Organization, IBRO


My grandfather was Jimmy Dunn, Johnny Kilbane's manager and trainer.  I've just started searching the web for info on my Grandfather and came across your website.  You have my many thanks for keeping boxing history alive and well.  You've put a great personal touch to your website.  I greatly enjoyed reading about Johnny and my Grandfather. What a life they led!

- Keenen Dunn


I hadn't checked on your site in quite a while.  Today I did and it was very interesting to see who had written in about it.  As you know, I have devoted a chapter to Johnny Kilbane in my book, "Cleveland's Greatest Fighters of All Time" and no story on Cleveland boxing could ever be complete without a chapter on Johnny Kilbane.  But I wish I had been able to use some of the great photos and personal information I have read about and looked at in your site.  Great stuff . . . keep up the good work.

- Jerry Fitch


Johnny Kilbane was a pro's pro.  He had no hesitation about fighting the best fighters of his time.  When you consider that he fought for an astonishing twenty seven years, you start to get a sense for just how capable he was.  He was virtually knock-out proof, being stopped only twice - - once by the incomparable Benny Leonard, then at the very end of his career by the thunderous punching Eugene Criqui.  Johnny was a genuine boxer - puncher, skillful enough to hold wins over such great fighters as Abe Attell and Kid Williams.  He also drew with Benny Leonard.  Were he fighting in easier times, he would have been a real star.

- Charles Ferrell


My father was a close friend of Johnny Kilbane and his family.  Dad was the Cleveland Boxing Commission doctor in the late 1930's.  I remember Johnny showing us how he could step dance even in his "old age" (from my then point of view).  We understood that Johnny would dance on the stage between fights to keep his footwork in good shape.  We also heard that Johnny was a good psychologist, and kept up a chatter in the ring that would throw his opponents off balance.  And it was said that he was shielding his eyes from the sun after he was supposed to have been knocked out by Criqui.  I suspect he let Criqui win so he could have a good reason to retire.  I must say that the great love that Johnny and Irene Kilbane had for each other still impresses me.- George (Buddy) Greene
I was a page when Johnny was a Senator from Cleveland - one afternoon he allowed some of us pages to take a crack at him in the stomach - it was like hitting a board. He used to lecture us on how important it was to keep in shape. He was quite a guy.

- Bob McLaughlin           

I want to say right now that what I looked up at in that ring was as business-like a job as ever I saw performed in a ring.  Kilbane, a true champion, stopped Kirkwood to a dead standstill in six rounds and every minute of the six was a treat. 

- Willie Ritchie, Lightweight Champion of the World, February 20, 1913 after watching the Kilbane - Kirkwood fight in New York.


When he wants to exert himself he's so good that about 99 percent of the boxers in this country would have a tough time laying a glove on him.  I've seen about all of the real fighters in the last twenty years. I've seen them at their best and at their worst, and let me tell you I never saw the man whom I would consider Kilbane's superior.  Say, he's so good that he could tie his hands behind his back and a lot of the so-called high class featherweights and lightweights couldn't whip him.  He can hit.  He's got a wallop in either mitt like a mule's kick.  He's a flash with his hands, a flash with his head and a flash with his feet.  Only once in a lifetime do you see a man with all of those things and yet the power to have a K.O. jolt. From the fistic standpoint he has one weakness, he has a tender heart. He doesn't like to stop an opponent or ruin a rival's reputation.  If Johnny forgot about the other fellow and every time he went in the ring, went with the determination to put out his opponent he would have a K.O. record almost as long as his string of battles.

- Phil Lewis, New York fight manager and fistic follower, March 14, 1915