IN A CAREER that spanned from 1866 to 1891, middleweight "Professor" Mike Donovan fought with gloves or without and often took on opponents who were 20- to 30-pounds heavier. He was known as "The Professor" because he was an advocate of the science of boxing and he would later become one of the foremost teachers of the sport.
Donovan's life is one amazing event after another. He enlisted in a Union regiment in the Civil War and marched with General Sherman through Georgia. He would turn to boxing after the war and in 1868 he defeated John Shanssey in a bout refereed by the legendary Wyatt Earp.
In 1887, Donovan fought W.C. McLellan for the middleweight title in San Francisco and lost on a foul in the 14th round. The pair would meet twice more that year. In May, Donovan bested McLellan over seven rounds and then in August they fought to a 96-round draw.
Donovan holds the distinction of having been in the ring with John L. Sullivan and Jack "The Nonpareil" Dempsey. He twice boxed four-round fights with the great Sullivan, in 1880 and 1881, and fought to a six-round draw with middleweight champ Dempsey. He would later work Jake Kilrain's corner when he challenged Sullivan for the heavyweight title in the last bare-knuckle championship fight. He also prepared James J. Corbett for his defeat of Sullivan in 1892.
Donovan secured a post-career job in 1884 when he defeated Walter Watson for the right to become the boxing instructor at the prestigious New York Athletic Club. After winning that bout he announced his retirement from the ring. He was lured back into action in 1888 to meet Dempsey.
A longtime friend was avid boxing observer Theodore Roosevelt. Donovan and Roosevelt actually sparred occasionally when Roosevelt was Governor of New York and later when he was President of the United States.
Donovan's son, Arthur, is also enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a referee. He officiated 14 heavyweight title bouts from 1933 to 1946. They are the first father-son combination in the Hall of Fame. Art Donovan, Mike's grandson, played professional football for the Baltimore Colts and is enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Born: Sept. 27, 1847
Died: Mar. 24, 1918