Jackson vs. Mendoza: The Golden Age Begins

31.12.05 – By M.C. (Mike) Southorn: While Tom Johnson and Ben Brain’s workmanlike approach to the sport and respect for the institution of The Championship had saved boxing from its first modern dark age of fixed fights and fake fighters, neither of them had achieved the kind of star status that had Figg or Broughton before them. They set the stage, however, for the next star in English boxing, Daniel Mendoza. Mendoza, an English Jew of Spanish heritage, grew up in London’s East End and had worked first as a laborer, then as an actor before he began his boxing career. He was small of stature at only 5’7” and he weighed only 160 lbs, nevertheless he had developed an elusive boxing style that made him either a forerunner to Corbett, Tunney and Ali or a throwback to the ancient Greeks, depending on your sense of history..

He began his career at the age of 23 with a knockout of one “Harry the Coalheaver”, but it was his victory over Sam “The Bath Butcher” Martin, which won him the patronage of The Prince of Wales later that year. Mendoza’s true claim to The Title came as a result of his 3 fight series with Richard Humphries: After losing the first bout due to an injured leg, Mendoza won the next two in 52 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. Despite his ethnicity and a style that was seen as cowardly in some circles, Mendoza had a winning way with people and he was very popular. Tickets for the third Humphries fight sold out at ten pounds each – a fortune at the time, and proof of Mendoza’s star quality.

For all his popularity, Mendoza’s claim to The Title did not go unchallenged and in 1794 Mendoza met and defeated Bill Warr twice in consecutive fights to cement his claim on The Championship. Following these wins, Mendoza went on tour with a circus, giving exhibition fights – a practice that hearkened back to the roots of the sport in the fairgrounds of the last century. Mendoza’s reign was doomed to be a short one, however, for he would lose the title in 1795 to “Gentleman” John

Jackson, born in 1769, was a figure of immense historic importance in terms of his contribution to the sport: He was a coach to many future Champions, a founder of the modern world’s first boxing commission, an author of the next generation of boxing rules and an international promoter of the sport; but as a boxer, he was a pure dilletente. He had fought twice in 1788,and after losing one of those two fights to George Ingelston (on account of a broken leg) Jackson retired with a less-than-spectacular record of 1-1(1).

Of middle class upbringing, the 5’11”, 190 lbs Jackson became a favourite instructor of the aristocracy and he taught Lord Byron to box, as well as the Dukes of York and Clarence from his rooms on Bond Street in London, which he had converted into a boxing/fencing gym. Although a commoner, Jackson had adopted the dress and manner of “The Fancy” and he moved in their circles. Over the course of his life he cultivated many powerful friends including Kings and Emporers and boxing was his calling card. He used this patronage to establish the Pugilistic Club, which arranged fights and held purses and
eventually developed the London Prizefighting Rules, which would replace Broughton’s Rules as the standard for the sport. Through the Club, Jackson arranged boxing exhibitions for the crown heads of Europe. He was arguably the most powerful man in boxing. There was only one problem – his record was still 1-1(1). Jackson was bothered by the stigma of his questionable record, but he knew he could rectify it with just one win over Daniel Mendoza.

Jackson began a smear campaign in the papers in an attempt to bait The Champion into a fight. With the Prince of Wales backing Mendoza and none other than the future King himself backing Jackson, the fight was sure to be made. The Pugilistic Society was certainly behind it and to the public the prospect of a match between the celebrated Champion and the celebrated promoter must have had boxing fans in a frenzy.

Jackson, seeing something in Mendoza’s elusive style, and outweighing The Champion by 30 lbs., ‘gracefully acceded’ to mounting public anticipation (anticipation that he had manufactured) and openly challenged Mendoza for the Championship. Mendoza, touring Ireland with a circus, could not ignore the challenge; he accepted, and soon regretted it. What Jackson had ‘seen’ was Mendoza’s long hair, which he grabbed with one hand in order to hold The Champion still so he could pound him with his free hand. The fight lasted 11 minutes. John Jackson may not have lived up to the name ‘Gentleman’, but there was no doubt he was Champion. Satisfied that the gaps in his resume had been adequately filled, Jackson retired from active boxing again, and returned to the more lucrative business of promoting fights and hobnobbing with royalty.

The high point of Jackson’s career outside of the ring came at the coronation of George IV when he collected a group of 18 of the finest prizefighters and former prizefighters to keep the Queen and her admirers away from the ceremonies. Jackson remained a celebrity, more famous for being famous than for anything else until he died at the age of 76.

Mendoza retired, but came back at age 41 for financial reasons. He continued to box well into his 50s, but never regained his former glory.