Friday, February 14, 2014

Boxing Great Joe Gans

Joe Gans
Global ID9026
death date1910-08-10 (35)
height5′ 6½″   /   169cm
reach71″   /   180cm
aliasOld Master
residenceBaltimore, Maryland, USA
birth placeBaltimore, Maryland, USA
birth nameJoseph Gant
won 145 (KO 100) + lost 10 (KO 5) + drawn 16 = 176
rounds boxed 1475
Newspaper Decisions won 13 : lost 2 : drawn 5
rounds boxed 132
Total Bouts 196 KO% 51.02


I'm going blind reading about boxing legend Joe Gans, "The Old Master." This man's story and his rise to be one of the greatest boxers of all time is incredible. Set on a turn of the century stage, the book highlights all the change and history being made during the era. From bare knuckle brawling to Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope movie camera (still photos in rapid fire), the two decades from 1890-1910 was not only a golden age for boxing, but for American society as a whole. America was expanding and growing, and Joe Gans was a man fighting for honor and respect in the midst of change.

He fought fighters twice his size and won, he fought in a time where racism against negroes was the norm, he started out in the infamous battle royals which were brutal bouts of blindfolded young men fighting until only one stood standing to be crowned winner. He fought an epic 42-round fight in the blistering Nevada desert, a fight considered his best. Yeah, the story of Joe Gans covers all this and so much more. Its a story about the man who practically invented what we call today the "sweet science of boxing." 

For years only those in the boxing world knew of Gans boxing legacy. The greats like Joe Louis and Muhammed Ali knew, and you can believe that they used some of the knowledge passed down from the Old Master, a nickname that carries the respect of all boxers during and since. 

In the book I'm reading, "Joe Gans by colleen aycock and mark scott, there are pictures of Gans showing his small, muscular frame with the always dark penetrating eyes challenging the camera. He never took boxing lessons but instead, studied some of the great pugilists of his time.  Pictures of him in the ring reveal a tiger-like stance giving him the ability to attack and defend with little effort. Seems he was always learning in the ring. 

In a square boxing ring surrounded by screaming white faces in 1902, I wonder how the heck a black boxer could even make it to the ring much less stay focused and fearless enough to knockout a white man and win a championship. It might've been the closest thing to a lynch mob a black man could experience.

There was a section for blacks to watch the fight, but it states that they were wise to leave early to avoid the violent tempers of inebriated whites when Gans was announced the winner. For the most part it seems that whites respected the boxing skills of Gans and were seen congratulating more than cursing the man for beating some of the great white boxers of his time. Unlike the great black champion Jack Johnson, who was a bold and brash heavyweight boxer inside and outside the ring, Gans was a master strategist and tactician in the ring and humbly helped others outside the ring. 

The hows and whys of the forgotten legacy of Joe Gans is speculated on in this book, but there's really no sure reason why his amazing story got lost along the way. The authors make a good case for the reason being a controversial loss the old master incurred in Chicago which was dubbed the 1900 "Chicago Fix." The fight was caught on film. Research suggests that something was afoul before and during the fight. Afterward, Chicago would ban professional boxing for the next quarter century as the city and Gans suffered black eyes to their sporting reputations.  The scandal was a forerunner to the 1919 Chicago Black Sox world series fix, but unlike Shoeless Joe and his banned baseball teammates, Gans would return to the ring and within two years win the championship. 

No proof of a fix ever surfaced from the fight, but the scarring to the old master's legacy had taken hold and the scab would cover over much of what he later accomplished.  

A bronze statue of Gans has stood in Madison Square Garden since 1931, but other than boxers on their way to the ring rubbing their gloves to it for good luck in their match, there's little said about the old master. A good old madison square garden ghost story exists, but not much else. 

I plan to enjoy finishing the story of The Old Master and adding to my ever growing knowledge of the sweet science. It's never too late to adopt new heroes. Someday, someone has to make a movie about Joe Gans; its just that epic of a story. 

Max Berstein interviews author Colleen Aycock

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