Joe Gans

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Joe Gans
Real nameJoseph Gant
Nickname(s)Old Master
Height5 ft 6 12 in (1.69 m)
Reach71 in (180 cm)
BornNovember 25, 1874
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
DiedAugust 10, 1910(1910-08-10) (aged 35)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Boxing record
Total fights196
Wins by KO100
No contests6

Joe Gans (born Joseph Gant; November 25, 1874 – August 10, 1910) was an American professional boxer. Gans was rated the greatest Lightweight boxer of all-time by boxing historian and Ring Magazine founder, Nat Fleischer. Known as the "Old Master", he became the first African-American World Boxing Champion of the 20th century, reigning continuously as World Lightweight Champion from 1902-1908. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.


Portrait of Gans

Gans started boxing professionally in early 1891. Starting out in the city of Baltimore, he gained many fans within the boxing world, both white and black alike, with his "scientific" approach to fighting.[1]

Unlike the more brutish and adrenaline fueled styles of fighting more prevalent in the time, Gans’ fighting method involved learning an opponent's strengths and weaknesses in order to compete with a gameplan.

A slender man, never weighing over 137 pounds, Gans frequently fought heavier boxers; this adding to the legend of his scientific fighting technique.[2] He became known as a true student of the sport, earning him the nickname “Old Master”.

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.

However, in their rematch two years later, Gans knocked Erne out in one round to convincingly take the World Lightweight Title. Gans had thus become the first ever African-American boxing champion; he had also become the first black title holder since the Canadian born, George Dixon won the Bantamweight World Title in 1892 [3] and the island-born Barbados Joe Walcott won the World Welterweight title on December 18, 1901.[4] Gans reigned as champion from 1902 to 1908.

On January 6, 1902, Gans defeated the former World Welterweight Champion Canadian born Eddie Connolly. Connolly lost in a five round bout at the Washington Sports Club in Philadelphia.

One reporter noted that Connolly, "did nothing but hug and wrestle, adding variety to his performance in the third by deliberately trying to butt the Balitmorean (Gans)". The reporter also noted that Connolly clinched frequently and "wrestled" rather than boxed, probably in attempt to protest himself from the fierce assaults of Gans. By the time the referee ended the bout in the fifth, Connolly had been "rendered practically helpless" by the powerful punching of Gans.[5]

Gans also defended his Lightweight World Title against other talented boxers such as Steve Crosby and Gus Gardiner. There was also Charley Sieger, Kid McPartland, Rufe Turner, Charles "Elbows" McFadden, and Frank Erne.

In an important title defense he defeated the "Durable Dane" Oscar "Battling" Nelson in 42 rounds on September 3, 1906 in Goldfield, Nevada. This blockbuster fight, arranged by legendary promoter Tex Rickard, would eventually be honored with a historic memorial.

Gans drew with future Welterweight World Championship claimant Mike "Twin" Sullivan on September 15, 1905, but he defeated Sullivan by knockout on January 19 and March 17, 1906 in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Although recorded as a Welterweight Title match and the bout supposedly had a weight limit set at around 142 pounds (which was estimated to be Sullivan's weigh in), Gans' weigh in was estimated to have been seven or eight pounds lighter. Gans' 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. [6]

Gans and Battling Nelson fought for the World Lightweight title twice in Colma, California: first on July 4 and September 9 of 1908. Gans would win the first, but lose the latter by knockout also ending his long and impressive reign.[6]

Joe Gans died on August 10, 1910 of tuberculosis; he was only 35 and had died not long after his final fight. He 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.

It reads: "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."

Professional honors and legacy[edit]

Joe Walcott vs. Joe Gans

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.[7]

A bronze statue of Joe Gans stands in the lobby of Madison Square Garden. Modern day boxers traditionally rub the statue's outstretched left fist for good-luck before matches.[8]

Gans’ legendary fight on September 3, 1906 with Battling Nelson was commemorated with a memorial located in Goldfield, Nevada at the site of the fight.[9]

Gans was the first African-American to win a World Boxing Championship and the first to win a Lightweight Boxing title. Gans' 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 somehow emerged victorious.[10]

Gans was rated the greatest Lightweight boxer of all-time by boxing historian and Ring Magazine founder, Nat Fleischer.

One boxing historian writes about Gans saying: "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".[11]

Reign as champion[edit]

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

Motion picture[edit]

A four-reel motion picture of the second Gans-Nelson fight in Colma, California, was shown in theaters across the country. Above, reporter-artist Marguerite Martyn sketched her impression of women watching the film in St. Louis, Missouri, in October 1908.

The Gans-Nelson battle in Colma, California was the subject of a four-reel motion picture that played in major cities around the country.

Hemingway connection[edit]

Ernest Hemingway utilized Joe Gans as a character in his 1916 short story 'A Matter of Colour'.[12] This early story set the stage for Hemingway's famous 1927 parable 'The Killers'.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gildea, William (2012). Longest fight : in the ring with Joe Gans, boxing's first African American champion. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Eddie Connolly Easy", The Scranton Republican, Scranton, Pennsylvania, pg. 1, 7 January 1902
  6. ^ a b "Joe Gans". BoxRec. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  7. ^ Roberts, James B.; Skutt, Alexander G. (1990). "The Boxing Register". International Boxing Hall of Fame. Canastota, NV: McBooks Press. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  8. ^ "Joe Gans Statue". About Travel. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  9. ^ "Gans Memorial". BoxRec. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  10. ^ "The Longest Fight (2012)". Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Lundin, Leigh (January 6, 2013). "Hemingway Punchline". A Matter of Colour. Durban: SleuthSayers.
  13. ^ 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]