His nickname was the “Old Master,” but Joe Gans is best known for breaking new ground. In 1902, Gans became boxing’s first African-American world champion when he claimed the 135-pound title, which he defended through 1908.
Funny thing is, though, Joe Gans wasn’t his really his name—it was Joe Gant.
Early on in his career, his name was misspelled in a newspaper article and the mistake stuck with the boxing Hall of Famer throughout his life.
There could be no mistake, however, about Gans’ greatness in the ring.
A complete fighter with world-class defensive skills, brilliant footwork and laser-sharp accuracy with his punches, Gans possessed both knockout power and bewildering elusiveness.
Gans also boasted incredible stamina, fighting on back-to-back days upon occasion, and once going toe-to-toe with Danish 135-pound champ Oscar “Battling” Nelson for an incredible 42 rounds to earn the victory.
Gans was such a marvel in the ring, that literary great Ernest Hemingway, a noted boxing lover, included the Baltimore native as a character in his 1916 short story “A Matter of Colour.”
Boxing historian Nat Fleischer ranked Gans, who retired with a record of 145-10-16 with 100 knockouts, as the greatest 135-pounder of all time.
Gans died of tuberculosis in 1910 at the age of 35, and is buried in Baltimore’s Mount Auburn Cemetery.
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.