Joe Gans

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Joe Gans
Real name Joseph Gant
Nickname(s) Old Master
Rated at Lightweight
Height 5 ft 6 12 in (1.69 m)
Reach 71 in (180 cm)
Nationality American
Born November 25, 1874
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died August 10, 1910(1910-08-10) (aged 35)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 196
Wins 158
Wins by KO 100
Losses 12
Draws 20
No contests 6

Joe Gans (born Joseph Gant; November 25, 1874 – August 10, 1910) was an African-American boxer, born in Baltimore, Maryland, who was rated the greatest lightweight boxer of all time by boxing historian and Ring Magazine founder, Nat Fleischer. Gans was known as the "Old Master". He fought from 1891 to 1909. He was the first African-American World Boxing Champion of the 20th century, reigning continuously as World Lightweight Champion from 1902-08.


Portrait of Gans

Gans started boxing professionally about 1891 in Baltimore. He shocked the boxing world with his "scientific" approach to fighting. Finding an opponent's strengths and weaknesses, then competing with a game-plan was Gan's specialty. He was known as a true student of the sport. On March 3, 1900 at the Broadway Athletic Club in New York, Gans quit with an eye injury in the twelfth round of his first World Lightweight Title bout against reigning lightweight champion Frank Erne, with the fight ending in a TKO. In their rematch two years later, Gans knocked Erne out in one round to convincingly take the World Lightweight Title. He was not quite the first Black world title holder, however, as this honor was taken by the less well known Canadian born, American George Dixon, who took the Bantamweight World Title defeating reigning champion Nunc Wallace on June 27, 1890 in London.[citation needed]

Gans reigned as champion from 1902 to 1908. A slender man, never weighing over 137 pounds. Gans frequently fought heavier boxers, adding to the legend of his scientific fighting technique.[1]

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 in a fight arranged by legendary promoter Tex Rickard. Gans drew with future Welterweight World Championship claimant Mike "Twin" Sullivan on September 15, 1905 and then defeated Sullivan by knockout in long bouts on January 19 and March 17, 1906 in San Francisco, and Los Angeles. BoxRec recorded the San Francisco fight as a World Welterweight Title match. The bout had a weight limit of around 142 pounds which was estimated to be Sullivan's weigh in, whereas Gan's weigh in was estimated to have been seven or eight pounds lighter. Gan's defeat of the heavier Sullivan, a strong puncher by reputation, showed his mastery in the ring. In this well attended bout, Gans share of the gate was a considerable $2,425.20 and Sullivan's was $1,616.80. Gans reportedly had bet another $1,700 on himself, which if accurate, made his earnings on the fight quite considerable for 1906.[2]

Gans lost to Terry McGovern, bantamweight and featherweight champion, by knockout in the second of six rounds on December 13, 1900 in Chicago, perhaps demonstrating he was not invincible, at least not so early in his career. Interestingly, Gans later told the press he had had reasons to lose the fight. Gans defended his Lightweight World Title against talented boxers Steve Crosby and Gus Gardiner in late 1903, and Charley Sieger, Kid McPartland, Rufe Turner, Charles "Elbows" McFadden, and Frank Erne in 1902. When Gans and Battling Nelson fought for the World Lightweight Title on July 4 and September 9, 1908, Gans lost by a knockout, ending his long and impressive reign. Gans continued to fight until 1909.[2]

He died in August 1910, of tuberculosis, not long after his last fight, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Baltimore. His monument is maintained by the International Boxing Commission and sits just to the left of the main entrance of the cemetery. "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.[citation needed]

Professional honors and legacy[edit]

Gans had a final professional record of 145 wins with 100 knockouts, 10 losses, 16 draws, 6 no contests and 19 no decisions (Newspaper Decisions: 13-2-4). He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.[3] A bronze statue of Joe Gans is in the lobby of Madison Square Garden. Boxers would rub the statue's outstretched left fist for luck before matches.[4]

His legendary fight on September 3, 1906 with Battling Nelson was commemorated with a memorial located in Goldfield, Nevada at the site of the fight.[5] Gans was the first African American to win a World Championship in Lightweight Boxing. According to most sources, George Dixon, a Black Canadian-born American boxer, took the Featherweight Championship of the World in the 1890s. Gan's achievements not only set new records, but gave African Americans hope in the early twentieth century. In a time of racial segregation, champion Joe Gans emerged victorious.[6]

Joe Walcott vs. Joe Gans "Through his ring accomplishments, Gans put into action what others could only theorize. The articulation of the black quest for social equality reached large audiences through the pulpits, and the most authoritative sermons were published in newspapers and religious quarterlies".[7]

Hemingway connection[edit]

Ernest Hemingway utilized Joe Gans as a character in his 1916 short story 'A Matter of Colour'.[8] This early story set the stage for Hemingway's famous 1927 parable 'The Killers'.[9]

Reign as champion[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Frank Erne
World Lightweight Champion
12 May 1902 – 9 June 1908
Succeeded by
Battling Nelson


  1. ^ Aycock, Colleen (2008). Joe Gans: A Biography of the First African American World Boxing Champion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-3994-2. 
  2. ^ a b "Joe Gans". BoxRec. Retrieved June 15, 2015. 
  3. ^ Roberts, James B.; Skutt, Alexander G. (1990). "The Boxing Register". International Boxing Hall of Fame. Canastota, NV: McBooks Press. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Joe Gans Statue". About Travel. Retrieved June 28, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Gans Memorial". BoxRec. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Longest Fight (2012)". Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY. Retrieved June 28, 2015. 
  7. ^ Aycock, Colleen (2008). Joe Gans: A Biography of the First African American World Boxing Champion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-7864-3994-2. 
  8. ^ Lundin, Leigh (January 6, 2013). "Hemingway Punchline". A Matter of Colour. Durban: SleuthSayers. 
  9. ^ Lundin, Leigh (December 23, 2012). "Literary Mystery". The Killers. Durban, SA: SleuthSayers. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Miles, J.H., Davis, J.J., Ferguson-Roberts, S.E., and Giles, R.G. (2001). Almanac of African American Heritage. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press.
  • Potter, J. (2002). African American Firsts. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.
  • Aycock, Colleen and Mark Scott (2008), Joe Gans: A Biography of the First African American World Boxing Champion. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.
  • The Longest Fight: In the Ring with Joe Gans, Boxing’s First African-American Champion. By William Gildea. Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 256 pages

External links[edit]