During one of our “discover Nevada” trips, my wife Valorie and I headed to Goldfield, Nevada. My wife and I have always been huge boxing fans and though there were other things we wanted to see in Goldfield, we were excited to have the chance to touch the plaque placed to commemorate the 1906 Joe Gans vs “Battling” Nelson Fight.
My Grandfather was a lightweight champion in the Navy during World War I and he fought professionally after the war. Though I have followed all boxing weight classes, Lightweights and Welterweights have always been my favorite fighters. Fighters like Henry Armstrong, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez and of course “The Old Master” Joe Gans.
At the time Goldfield was the largest town in Nevada boasting a population of 15,000 to 20,000. The miners were thirsty for entertainment and Goldfield’s ‘who’s who’ wanted to put Goldfield on the map.
Tex Rickard the owner of the now famous Northern Saloon decided to risk his entire fortune at the time to promote the Lightweight Championship Fight. The date was set for Labor Day September 3, 1906. Rickard offered the fighters a purse of $33,500 the largest ever paid to Lightweights up to that time.
Even though Joe Gans was the heavy favorite to win the fight he was offered only $11,000. Nelson was offered $22,000. The reason Gans was paid less than Nelson was without a doubt because Gans was black. At this time in history there was a lot of prejudice and most people felt Gans was lucky to even be offered the fight at all. Ironically, while Gans was training for the fight in Goldfield he won over the town’s people. By the time the fight started the fight fans were overwhelmingly for Joe Gans.
When the fight started the temperature in the ring was over 100 degrees. The fight lasted a brutal forty-two rounds, the longest in American history. Gans was in command throughout the fight knocking Nelson down on many occasions but he could never knock Nelson out. The fight was stopped in the forty-second round, because of a vicious low blow thrown by Nelson. Joe Gans was declared the winner and became the first American born Black fighter to win a Boxing Championship.
It was amazing the fighters could even fight for forty-two rounds in that kind of heat. What’s even more remarkable is that Joe Gans broke his hand in round thirty-three and fought with it broken the rest of the fight.
Tex Rickard’s gamble paid off. The gate receipts for the fight were over $76,000. Tex Rickard was and is still considered to be the greatest boxing promoter of all time.
Joe Gans died four years later in August 1910 of tuberculosis. Some experts believe his illness was caused by the 42 rounds of boxing in over one-hundred-degree heat.
Gans’ final boxing record was 162 wins, 106 by KOs and only ten losses.
Joe Gans is considered by boxing experts to be one of the three best Lightweight boxers of all time. I can’t argue with that.
I am honored to have been able to place my hand on the plaque commemorating this historical fight in Goldfield.
About the Author: Martin T. Smith
Besides being an authority on the Nevada state flag, Martin is the creator of 'The Nevada Trivia Game', author of 'The Nevada Outhouse Trivia Book' and longtime owner of 'The Flag Store Sign & Banner' in Sparks, Nevada.