Remembering the Old Master
Think of African-American athletes who broke down barriers and names like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Arthur Ashe immediately come to mind. Joe Gans was as much a civil rights trailblazer as any athlete -- and as good an athlete as the sports world has ever seen as well.
It is instructive today to recall one of the more memorable stories concerning the great black lightweight Joe Gans, who dominated his weight class for much of the two decades that bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.In March 1900, in his first title fight, Gans was stopped in New York by the swift-punching champion Frank Erne, who possessed, in the eyes of the majority of critics of the day, the best left jab in the business. Gans simply couldn't get past it and Erne battered him until Gans himself, cut hideously around the left eye, probably from a head butt, asked for the fight to be stopped in the 12th round. The referee complied and Gans, a highly touted 26-year-old contender, went about the hard business of earning a rematch. Two years later, the return was signed for Ontario, and Gans, recalling the difficulty he'd had with Erne's jab, tried to show his sparring partners how to jab like Erne did so that he could learn a way around it. They couldn't pick it up, quite expectedly, so Gans took to shadow boxing in front of the mirror for desperately long intervals, first playing the part of Erne, jabbing and feinting like Erne did, then switching back to himself and trying to devise a counter to it. The rematch came and in the first round Erne started a jab. Gans countered with a right and it was all over at 1:40 of the round. That was the genius of Joe Gans who, as a young man, was called "The Old Master" for his profound ring intellect and acuity. He ended up holding the lightweight title from 1902 to 1904 and from 1904 to 1908 and made 13 defenses, along the way establishing himself as one of boxing's true immortals: a classy, cerebral, quick-fisted boxer-puncher decades ahead of his time.
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