He bested Abe Attell, who had easily retained the crown since 1906. Leading up to the Feb. 22 bell in Los Angeles, Attell was the 2-1 bookie favorite.
"I am glad the odds are against me," Kilbane told the Cleveland Press before the fight. "As that gives my friends opportunity to realize more if I win, and I'm going to win."
For the first nine rounds, Kilbane trounced Attell, dodging nearly every return blow.
"Then he began to rest," reads the next afternoon's Press account. "He would tear into Abe for a round, then spar and box for two rounds. Back again came the Cleveland phantom, jarring and bewildering Attell."
He grew desperate, throwing elbows, hitting low and head-butting Kilbane. But after 20 rounds, Kilbane won by decision, dominating 18. Welcomed home to parades and fanfare, Kilbane held the featherweight title until 1923, when he retired.
But on the day after that first title in 1912, he reveled in victory, sending a telegram to Mayor Newton D. Baker from California: "Accomplished my desire and put the sixth city first. Feeling fine."