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Wed, 11.25.1874

Joe Gans, Boxing’s lightweight legend

Joe Gans

On this date, Joe Gans, a Black professional boxer, was born in 1874.

Born in Baltimore, Joseph Gaines (his name at birth) was a legend in the sport. Because he was Black, he was compelled by boxing promoters to permit less-talented white fighters to last the scheduled number of rounds with him and occasionally to defeat him.  He was also forced to fight at unnaturally low weights, and, perhaps as a result, he was so weakened that he contracted tuberculosis and died while a young man.

After 11 years of fighting, Gans won the world lightweight title by knocking out Frank Erne in one round at Fort Erie, Ont., on May 12, 1902. On Sept. 30, 1904, he fought a 20-round draw with the great welterweight champion Joe Walcott. Gans was already ill when he defended his lightweight championship against Battling Nelson at Goldfield, NV, on Sept. 3, 1906. Gans, who gave one of his finest performances, won this match when Nelson deliberately fouled him in the 42nd round. In a return bout with Nelson in San Francisco on July 4, 1908, he was knocked out in 17 rounds.

Gans spent nearly a year in Arizona in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest his disease. When he returned to Baltimore to die, his train was greeted at each station by groups of boxing fans, and his impending death was treated as a national calamity by the press. Known as the Old Master he was perhaps the greatest fighter in the history of the lightweight division. Joe Gans died Aug. 10, 1910 in Baltimore.

Boxing Album: An Illustrated History
by Peter Brooke Bell
Smithmark Publisher, 1995
ISBN 0831748109

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