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The Old Master

Joe Gans, who was known as the “Old Master”, was a fascinating character who became world lightweight champion at his second attempt in May 1902, and fought some of the most famous men of his time.

Joe once went 42 rounds in the blazing sun to beat Battling Nelson on a disqualification.

Born Joseph Gant (some sources have Gaines) in Baltimore on November 25, 1874, the slim, brown–skinned boy was earning a living in a fish market by the time he was 16.

He was introduced to boxing when he saw a "battle royal," a form of entertainment popular in various communities at the beginning of the 20th century.

In a battle royal a group of fighters would get into a ring and fight until only one was left standing. Quitters were not paid and only the one standing at the end would receive payment.

Joe liked the idea of fighting for money and began his professional career in 1891 (according to the Ring Record Book) in Baltimore. Other sources have his career as beginning in 1893.

It took three years before he began to gain recognition by fighting to a draw with the tricky Young Griffo.

By 1900 he was considered one of the best fighters around, and known for his ring generalship and brilliant boxing.

Despite his obvious skills, there were rumours of fixes and stories that he was involved in dishonest bouts. The outstanding example was his bout with the hard-hitting "Terrible Terry" McGovern.

The fight was held in Chicago on 13 December, 1900. Joe held on and jabbed poorly from the first bell and in the second round literally ran away. He was knocked down four times and then refused to get up. The police were called in to prevent the fans from rioting.

Prior to this fight, on 23 March he challenged Frank Erne for the world lightweight title in New York and was stopped in the 12th round. It was reported the Gans asked the referee Charlie White to stop the fight 21 seconds into the round after being cut by an accidental head-butt.

However, he subsequently gained revenge in a rematch with Erne on 12 May, 1902 in Ontario, Canada when he won on a first round knockout at 1 minute 40 seconds into the round, to claim the world lightweight title.

He made eight defences of the title, all inside the distance, in the next two years, before losing a close decision to the heavier and legendary Sam Langford.

He also defeated Jack Blackburn who well known for subsequently going on to train Joe Louis, and drew with Joe Walcott, the world welterweight champion.

After retaining his crown against Jimmy Britt on a foul (Britt hit him when he slipped) Joe relinquished the lightweight title.

His greatness was established in his classic fight against Battling Nelson. The bout was held in the scorching Nevada sun on 3 September, 1906.

Joe, who lived well and always needed money, trained down to 133 lb (60.33 kg), which was then the lightweight limit, to challenge for his old crown.

He made the limit stripped, but Billy Nolan, Nelson’s manger, insisted he weigh-in under 133 lb at ringside in his fighting togs or there would be no fight.

Joe was so desperate for money that he agreed and completely dried himself out to make the weight. The contest went 42 rounds before Nelson hit him with a vicious blow in the groin and referee George Siler disqualified him.

Joe was far ahead on points at the time in one of the greatest lightweight contests ever seen.

Despite suffering from tuberculosis, he continued fighting, beating Kid Herman, Jimmy Britt, George Mesmic and Rudy Unholz to retain his title.

The rematch with Nelson was set for 4 July, 1908 in Colma, California. Nelson regained the title against the sickly Joe, who was a mere shell of the great champion and was battered into submission in the 17th round.

Ignoring his illness, he took on Nelson for the third time in a bout scheduled for 45 rounds. Joe was in brilliant form for 19 rounds, but he was unable to stop his stronger opponent. The completely exhausted Gans was knocked out in the 21st round.

The Old Master had one more fight. On 12 March, 1909 at the National Sporting Club in New York he fought to a no-decision 10-rounder with Jabez White from England.

Ringside experts said Joe had won by a wide margin and according to the New York Daily Tribune, New York Evening World, New York Times, New York Sun and the Syracuse Herald, he was given the newspaper decision as was the practice at the time.

According to Boxrec he finished with a record of 145 wins with 100 inside the distance, 10 losses and 16 draws. They also list one no contest and four no decisions on his record

He announced his retirement after the fight and went to Prescott, Arizona, hoping that the climate change would cure him. It did not and he was taken back to Baltimore, where he died on 10 August, 1910 at the age of 36. He was buried in Mount Auburn, Baltimore.

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