Joe Gans vs Battling Nelson fight

joe gans22.05.07 - By Sam Gregory: On Labor Day September 3, 1906 a classic championship fight took place in Goldfield, Nevada between two of the greatest lightweights to ever step in the ring. Joe Gans and Oscar “Battling” Nelson entered into a 45 round showdown for Gans’ lightweight title.

A couple things made this particular fight one of the true classic bouts of all time. First is the fact that Joe Gans is considered by many boxing historians to be the greatest light-weight fighter that ever lived. Born in Baltimore on November 25, 1874, Gans turned pro in 1891 at the age of 17. At a young age Gans already possessed great speed, power and combination punching ability. Newspapers from coast to coast wrote about Gans’ amazing speed, agility and clean hitting ability.

There was also a dispute over who was the true holder of the lightweight title. According to some modern record books, after Gans won the title in 1902 he relinquished the title in 1904 to fight welterweight Joe Walcott at a catch-weight of 141 pounds. There was no title on the line, lightweight or welterweight. Jimmy Britt supposedly won the vacated lightweight title later that year, keeping the title until losing it to Nelson in 1905. Nelson still laid clam to the title in 1906 having won the “White Lightweight Title” when he beat Jimmy Britt.

According to the Ring Record Book, compiled by Nat Fleischer, Gans relinquished the title after winning a fight on a foul from Jimmy Britt. Fleischer claimed Gans said “he could no longer fight effectively at the lightweight limit and gave up the crown.”

The fact is Joe Gans never lost a title fight since winning it and the press continued to recognize Gans as the true 135 lb. champ. This fight was to settle the dispute over who the true lightweight champion was.

This classic bout was promoted by world famous promoter Tex Rickard. The town of Goldfield, Nevada was the perfect location for the fight, being one of the great mining camps of the 1800’s. The gate receipt was an unheard of $76,000. The purse for the fight was 33,500; Gans was to receive $11,000 and Nelson 22,500 even though Gans was favored 2-1. (Just a side note, Joe Gans was black and Battling Nelson was white so obviously Gans was considered lucky to even get the fight.) Rickard also put up an additional $2,000 signing bonus for each man and $500 for expenses. All totaled it was the largest amount of money ever offered for a lightweight title bout up to that time.

The late afternoon fight that started just after 3PM saw ring temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. One of the first things ringside observers noticed was Gans entering the ring carrying an umbrella to shield himself from the hot Nevada sun. Between rounds cornermen furiously fanned the fighters from the excessive heat.

When the fight started Gans looked very impressive, he proved to be a great boxer-puncher with excellent footwork, defensive skills, and outstanding counter-punching. Taking an early lead in the fight, Gans demonstrated why he was called the “Old Master.” When looking at a tape of the fight, it was evident by the end of the second round Nelson was bleeding from the ears having taken a barrage of combination punches from Gans. It was also clear to see from the start of the fight that Joe Gans was a very evasive fighter. When Nelson tried to tie Gans up or bullied him into the ropes, Joe was able to lower his center of gravity, hold his ground than turn and keep the fight in the center of the ring. Gans was mainly a counter-puncher but had a fantastic jab and lead with it several times to create openings. The first knockdown of the fight came in the eighth round when Gans caught Nelson with a right cross followed up by a left hook.

Most of the fight was fought up close with Nelson going to the body a lot. At the start of the ninth round Nelson became more aggressive with a strong body attack; there was a very high output of punches by both men. Nelson took a tremendous amount of punches from Gans but seemed impervious to the punishment as he continued moving forward often leading with his head. Despite several warnings from the referee, Nelson’s corner keep yelling for him to “Butt him, don’t let him get away.”

As the fight progressed Gans knocked Nelson down two more times. Finally in the 42nd round Nelson hit Gans with a low-blow that was quickly ruled a foul. Joe Gans was declared the winner of the fight by disqualification.

Despite the ending, this fight would go down in history not only as a great lightweight fight but one of the all-time classic fights in the history of boxing.

Article posted on 23.05.2007

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