Forced to allow whites to beat him, Joe Gans became first black world titleholder

Mohammed Awal November 27, 2019
CIRCA 1900: Portrait of Joe Gans of Baltimore, nicknamed the " Old Master" and the World Lightweight Champion from 1902-1908.(Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

The ‘Old Master’ he was called. Joe Gans was the first African American to become a world boxing champion

Born on November 25, 1874, in Baltimore, Maryland, Gans by name Joseph Gaines became the greatest Lightweight boxer of all time in 1902 when he defeated the former World Welterweight Champion, Eddie Connolly.

He was also the first African American world titleholder in any sport, reported.

A master strategist and tactician, and one of the earliest practitioners of “scientific” boxing, Gans “was perhaps the greatest fighter in the history of the lightweight division,” according to

As a black champion during the Jim Crow era, Gans suffered physical assaults, a stolen tittle and several efforts to annihilate him.

Gans was forced 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.

Weighing less than 137 pounds, Gans started boxing professionally in early 1891 in Baltimore, Maryland. With the strategy of learning his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to compete with a game plan, Gans was very successful.

As a result, he became known and respected around the world as a true student of the sport, reported

After 11 years of fighting, Gans won the world lightweight title by knocking out Frank Erne in one round at Fort Erie, Ontario, on May 12, 1902.

On September 30, 1904, Gans fought a 20-round draw with the great welterweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, who thereby retained his crown. 

On September 3, 1906, Gans defended his lightweight championship against Battling Nelson at Goldfield, Nevada despite him being ill. Gans, who gave one of his finest performances, won this match when Nelson deliberately fouled him in the 42nd round, according to reports.

In a return bout with Nelson in San Francisco on July 4, 1908, a weakened Gans was knocked out in 17 rounds.

Gans was such a marvel in the ring, that literary great Ernest Hemingway, a noted boxing lover, included the Baltimore native as a character in his 1916 short story “A Matter of Colour”, reported 

Also, boxing historian Nat Fleischer ranked Gans, who retired with a record of 145-10-16 with 100 knockouts, as the greatest 135-pounder of all time.

Gans spent several months in Arizona in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest his disease.

When he returned to Baltimore, Maryland, 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. 

Gans died of tuberculosis in 1910 at the age of 35 and was buried in Baltimore’s Mount Auburn Cemetery.

He was inducted into the Ring Magazine’s Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954. He was also inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: November 27, 2019


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