Joe Gans

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Joe Gans
Class of 1990
Old Timer Category
Hall of Fame bio:click
World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Joe Gans
Alias: Old Master
Birth Name: Joseph Gant
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Died: 1910-08-10 (Age:35)
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 169cm
Reach: 180cm
Referee: Record
Pro Boxer: Record

Division: Lightweight
Trainers: Jerry Marshall, Jack McCue
Manager: Al Herford
Joe Gans Gallery
Official Web site: [1]
Contemporary Obituary: [2]

Great Uncle of Tevin Farmer

Joe Gans was born "Joseph Gant" (although most later sources claim his real name was Joseph Gaines) in Baltimore, Maryland. Gans claimed he didn't know his exact date of his birth, and neither did his foster parents. Gans was rated as the greatest lightweight boxer of all time by boxing historian and The Ring Magazine editor, Nat Fleischer. He fought from 1891 to 1909, and is believed to have contracted tuberculosis in 1907 or 1908. His final record included 131 wins (88 KOs), 9 losses, and 13 draws. (His known record was printed in the August 11, 1910 Tacoma Daily Ledger.)

Gans won the lightweight championship by knocking out Frank Erne on May 12, 1902. Erne had successfully defended the title against Gans earlier, when Gans was forced to quit due to a serious eye injury as the result of a head-butt.

There is some dispute as to whether Gans relinquished the crown in November of 1904. According to a reissue of the Ring Record Book, compiled by others after Nat Fleischer died, Gans relinquished the crown after winning a fight on a foul from Jimmy Britt. According to this version of history, Gans later regained the title on September 3, 1906 by defeating Battling Nelson on a foul after 42 rounds.

British boxing historian Gilbert Odd lists Gans as champion from 1902-1908. There is no corroborating evidence of Gans's abdication of the title, and Gans continued to fight as a lightweight; thereby casting doubt on his attributed stated reason for surrendering the crown. Whatever the true facts may be, he was defeated by Battling Nelson by KO in 17 rounds on July 4, 1908, thereby eliminating any further claim to the title by Gans.

Gans fought many great fighters during his career. He drew with the original Joe Walcott, whom Nat Fleischer ranked as the greatest welterweight ever. He also fought and defeated Jack Blackburn (who would go on to greater fame as Joe Louis's trainer), and lost a fifteen round decision to fellow all time great Sam Langford (though in fairness to Gans, it should be noted that he had fought master boxer Dave Holly the previous day in Philadelphia and then had to travel 300 miles by train to face Langford in Boston).

Gans is listed among the The Ring magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time and is generally considered to be one of the greatest boxers of all time, pound-for-pound . Perhaps, the most fitting testament to Gans's greatness as a fighter is the esteem in which he was held by other all time greats. For example, Sam Langford deemed him the greatest boxer of all time[citation needed]; Benny Leonard, who is generally considered the next best lightweight in history, idolized Gans[citation needed]; and Bob Fitzsimmons--the first of only two fighters in history to capture undisputed, lineal world titles in three of boxing's eight traditional weight divisions--called Gans the cleverest fighter he'd ever seen[citation needed]. Abe Attell gave his opinion that "Joe Gans was the greatest lightweight that ever entered a ring. In his prime no fighter of his weight was his equal." Baltimore American, August 15, 1910.


  • Gans is also reported as having been born Joseph Saifuss Butts and taking the surname of one Maria Gant when adopted by her at an early age; media in turn mistaking Gant for Gans. Maryland State Archives This may indeed be true, as Gans' name was spelled 'Gant' or 'Gantz' in Baltimore Sun in 1893 and early 1894.
  • Gans died of tuberculosis in Baltimore.
  • He inspired countless boxers, many of whom adopted his name: Baby Joe Gans, Italian Joe Gans, Dago Joe Gans, etc.
  • Find a Grave

Little-known facts

  • 1896-03-18: Gans's wife, Mary Beulah Gans died of consumption. This affected Gans not making stipulated weight for his scheduled fight with Frank Erne. Baltimore Sun, March 19, 1896:
  • 1897-02-16: Gans was presented with a gold medal by the colored citizens of Baltimore in recognition of his success in the ring. Baltimore Sun, February 16, 1897
  • 1897-04-16: First attempt by Gans to leave his manager Al Herford. Baltimore Sun, April 17, 1897
  • 1897-11-12: Unsuccessful attempt by Gans to acquire a liquor license for a saloon at the corner of Caroline and Lombard streets. Baltimore Sun, November 13, 1897
  • 1898-08-23: Gans's manager received a letter from William Lavigne (George Lavigne), lightweight champion of the world, is willing to meet Gans for a limited number of rounds. Baltimore Sun, August 24, 1898
  • 1899-08 & 1899-09: Gans was sharing a training camp with Terry McGovern, it is likely that they had sparred. Baltimore Sun, August 17, September 8, 1899.
  • 1900-04-08: Gans married for the 3rd time; his spouse's name was Madge Wadkins. Philadelphia Inquirer, April 10, 1900

Professional record

Championship record

  • 15 opponents (9 by KO) beaten in World Lightweight Title fights.

Unconfirmed Bouts & Exhibitions

Most versions of Joe Gans's record contain the following bouts that so far haven't been confirmed by primary sources:

1891David ArmstrongBond street, Baltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-KO12
1891Arthur Coatesnear Lexington market, Baltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-KO22
1891Tommy HardenBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-KO7
1892George EvansBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-KO3
1892David ArmstrongBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-KO3
1892Jack DalyPittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United StatesW-KO11
1893Dave HornCrib Club, Baltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-KO2
1893Bud BrownBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-KO10
This fight is probably a duplicate of the 1895-01-07 fight with incorrect year and result.
1893John BallBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-TKO6
1894Jack McDonaldNewark, New Jersey, United StatesW-TKO7
This fight is probably a duplicate of the 1894-12-28 fight with incorrect location and result.
1894Dave HornBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-TKO11
1894Johnny Van HeestBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-TKO9
This fight is probably a duplicate of the 1895-04-13 fight with incorrect year and result.

Several bouts (marked in green) from the above list were mentioned by Gans himself in one interview, but without dates or exact results:

"The first time I fought it was with David Armstrong. The fight took place on Bond street and the purse was $2.80. I won and got $1.40. My next fight was near the Lexington market with D. Coates. I put him out and got $8. Then I fought David Horn at the Crib Club, which was being run by the Neptune Boat Club. There was about $1,200 in the house. The police interfered, but I got $15. The rest of my fights, which number over 150, have been recorded." Baltimore Sun, November 7, 1898

Two fights below could not be confirmed using either Baltimore Sun or Washington Post, and are possibly duplicates of other fights between Gans and Wilson.

1895-03-16Howard WilsonWashington, District of Columbia, United StatesW-PTS10
1896-01-28Howard WilsonBaltimore, Maryland, United StatesW-TKO8

Gans had had one catch-as-catch-can wrestling match with Joseph Neal, on April 15, 1895, at Front Street Theatre, Baltimore:

"The Eureka Club's opening event was a wrestling match, catch-as-catch-can, between Joseph Gans and Joseph Neal. Gans is a Canton man and Neal an East Baltimorean. Neal was the bigger. Each got a fall, and then they killed time during the third bout. Finally the referee, Mr. George Mantz, declared the bout a draw, much to the relief of the spectators." Baltimore Sun, April 16, 1895

Another bout that appears on some versions of Gans's record:

1903-01-31Jack DonahueToronto, Ontario, CanadaND6

It was actually part of a series of exhibition bouts, where Gans was meeting all comers in Toronto, during the week of January 26-30, 1903:

1903-01-26MathewsonStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaEXH
Mathewson (or Matheson) is a local boxer.
1903-01-27Art EdmondsStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaEXH
Edmonds is a local boxer.
1903-01-27Jack DalyStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaEXH
Daly is a local boxer.
1903-01-27Joe O'NeillStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaSCH-EXH
O'Neill is from Brooklyn. The bout was scheduled, but probably didn't take place on this date.
1903-01-28Pat KiltyStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaSCH-EXH
The bout was scheduled, but probably didn't take place.
1903-01-28O'DonohueStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaEXH
O'Donohue is from Buffalo.
1903-01-29DonovanStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaSCH-EXH
Donovan is from Buffalo. The bout was scheduled (for Thursday), but probably didn't take place.
May be the same person as O'Donohue, and thus has taken place on January 28 instead.
1903-01-29Joe O'NeillStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaSCH-EXH
O'Neill is from Brooklyn. The bout was scheduled, the outcome is not known.
1903-01-30Jack TobinStar Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, CanadaSCH-EXH 4
Tobin is from Hamilton. The bout was scheduled, the outcome is not known.

A bout that is often listed on Joe Gans' record actually belongs to Shorty Gans of Hartford, CT.:

1902-09-25Harry DuffyNational A.C., New Britain, Connecticut, United StatesW-KO2