Best of a Century

Fights of the Century

Period: 1900-1909

By: Monte Cox

Editors Note: See Commentary on Fights of the Century: Intro about "Best of the Century"


The early part of the century saw many lengthy brutal battles. With bouts scheduled for as many as 45 plus rounds, and without the safety concerns of modern boxing commissions, this was a very exciting if not dangerous era for boxers. There were many great, great fights during this era.

In keeping with the prerequisites set at the beginning for this series a) the best in terms of action; b) the best in quality of opposition of the combatants; and c) the best in historical significance, as the qualifying factors, the winner has to be Joe Gans-Battling Nelson 1, Sept 3 1906, Goldfield, Nevada.  

This classic confrontation was promoted by no other than the legendary Tex Rickard. The stakes were the undisputed Lightweight Championship of the World and $30,000 worth of gold coins. Goldfield was a perfect location, one of the greatest mining camps of all time. A bustling crowd of over 8,000 came to witness the two great lightweights fight.

The bout turned out to be one for the history books, an all time great fight. It was a lightweight version of Ali-Frazier. Each fighter lived up to their reputation and nickname. Gans, "the Old Master" being the pre-eminant craftsman with superior footwork, was boxing, jabbing, countering, and throwing short combinations to punish the aggressor as he tried to come in. Nelson, "the durable Dane", bulled forward going to the body, willing to absorb punishment in order to land his own savage blows.  This was no 15 round battle but a 40 plus round war!

Gans swept the early rounds outboxing and outfoxing his rugged opponent.  Gans dropped Nelson briefly in the 8th. Gans then helped Nelson to his feet. The ungrateful battler then spat blood on Joe and kicked him in his shins to thank him.

Gradually Nelson began to go to work on the inside. He won his first round in the 10th cutting Gans mouth and pounding away to the body. The next four rounds were fairy close as the tide began to turn in Nelsons favor as kept up the pressure. Then in the 15th Gans floored him a second time with a sizzling right cross to the jaw. Nelson, tough and determined, rallied to take rounds 16-19. Gans roared back to take the 20th round nearly kayoing Nelson with a ferocious flurry of punches in the final minute.

Gans seemed to be in control throughout the rest of the fight. Around the thirteeth round Nelson, whose face was a bloody mess, was rallying again refusing to lose. In the 33rd round Gans broke his right hand with a blow on the top on Nelson's hard head. It may have seemed like the "break" Nelson was waiting for. Gans, however continued to box brilliantly beating Nelson with his great left jab. Nelson withered in the heat unable to penetrate the defense of the "Old Master".  Absorbing a frightful beating, Nelson, who had been warned several times by Referee Siler for low blows, fouled out in the 42nd round. The "durable Dane" couldn't take any more punishment.

The fight of the decade for 1900-1909 is commemorated today by a large monument visible in Goldfield from U.S. Highway 45.

To read more about Joe Gans click here

Honorable Mentions:

Stanley Ketchel W20 Billy Papke, July 5 1909. A slam-bang affair like Gans-Nelson, but shorter in duration.

Jack Johnson KO 14 Tommy Burns, Dec. 26 1908. Had the historical significance but lacking in action- it was one sided.

Joe Jeannette Ko 49 Sam McVey, April 17 1909. One of the greatest fights of all time period. Jeanette floored 27 times. In the 42nd round Jeanette floored McVey 7 times. After 49 rounds Mcvey could not continue! Lacks in terms of historical significance (no titles at stake).

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