Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Black History Month Moment: Lightweight Legend, Joe Gans

In the modern era of boxing, when you think about African American lightweight fighters, names like Pernell Whitaker, Shane Mosley, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are likely to come to mind. However, the first pages of African American lightweight fighters were being written over one hundred years ago, when Joe Gans first hit the scene in the late 19th century. Gans fought in the ring, while fighting the strains of racism outside the ring.


Joe Gans (November 25, 1874 - August 10, 1910) was born Joseph Gant in Baltimore, Maryland. Gans was rated as the greatest lightweight boxer of all time by boxing historian and Ring Magazine founder, Nat Fleischer and was known as the "Old Master". He fought from 1891 to 1909.

Gans started boxing professionally about 1891 in Baltimore. In 1900, Gans quit with an eye cut in the twelfth round of the world lightweight title bout against champion Frank Erne. In their rematch two years later, Gans knocked Erne out in one round to capture the lightweight title.

Gans reigned as champion from 1902 to 1908. In an important title defense he defeated the "Durable Dane", Oscar "Battling" Nelson on a foul in 42 rounds on September 3, 1906 in Goldfield, Nevada by promoter Tex Rickard. When they fought again two years later Gans lost by a knockout. He died in August 1910, of tuberculosis and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Baltimore. His monument is maintained by the IBC (International Boxing Commission) and sits just to the left of the main entrance of the cemetery. Gans is generally considered to be one of the greatest boxers of all time, pound-for-pound.

"I was born in the city of Baltimore in the year 1874, and it might be well to state at this time that my right name is Joseph Gant, not Gans. However, when I became an object of newspaper publicity, some reporter made a mistake and my name appeared as Joe Gans, and as Joe Gans it remained ever since."

This is confirmed by primary sources, such as The Sun (Baltimore, MD) on October 24, 1893 - "Joseph Gant and Buck Myers, colored"; The Sun (Baltimore, MD) on November 28, 1893 - "A six-round sparring match between Wm. Jones and Joseph Gant, colored light-weights", etc.

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