Sept. 25, 1907: The Melancholy Prizefighter

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

Sept. 25, 1907
Los Angeles

Meet Joe Gans, a boxer whose name once echoed among fans of the ring now buried in the dusts of sporting history. Gans may well have been one of the finest fighters whoever lived—among sportswriters, he inspired long and lofty stories about his artistry in dispensing with an undistinguished opponent. But Gans puzzled the men who tried to capture him in words; not a braggart, nor a thug. He was thoughtful and at heart, mournful, they said.

Gans was training at Lucky Baldwin’s ranch in Arcadia for a match with Jimmy Burns at the Pavilion—20 rounds.


“Gans’ face during the maddest of the fighting was curiously unangered,” The Times’ Harry Carr said of the easy victory over Burns. “No clenched teeth; no frenzy of battle; not much tension; merely the puzzled, wrinkled look of the expert coming to the critical part of the operation. He wasn’t any more angry than a good matador should be while he waits, sword in hand, for the bull just to turn his head into the proper position.”

An anonymous Times writer did his best to render a complex portrait of Gans as he trained in Arcadia, but the story is handicapped by an extremely small palette restricted by the limited vision of the era: “He is not in the least like a prizefighter. As a general thing a prizefighter is an excessively offensive person whether he be a Jimmy Britt and attempt an intellectual pose or a roughneck like Tommy Burns and affect a valet and cane.

“Gans is a meek, humble mulatto with the saddest face the writer has ever seen. It is a puzzling and remarkable face. Someone has written that Gans has the face of an Egyptian or an Arab and not that of a Negro—and it is true.”

“No one could look into the eyes of the picture printed at the top of this group and not be impressed. They are not the eyes of an ignorant Negro and the face does not have that peculiar flitting appearance of momentous emotions written only slate-deep that characterizes so many of his race.

“The tragedy and pathos of his race and not its merriment are written in the deep eyes of Gans. His puzzled look is not the fretful peevishness of stupidity; it is the look of one who sees and wonders why.

“It is as if he were asking why it should be his destiny to beat men’s faces with padded gloves.

“The man who discovered that his face is not a Negro face may also have suggested that it is not a pugnacious face. It is the face of a general or a war eagle; not of a brawler. Gans fights because he knows how to destroy, not because he is a fighter.”

“The writer of this sketch has seen Gans in an hour of great triumph—the day after the Goldfield fight, when the sporting world was chasing him round the mining camp to wring his hand. He was no different. He was just as melancholy and his eyes were just as sad.

“There is no intention here of trying to make out this Negro prizefighter a paragon of virtue. He is said to be a desperate gambler. He says himself that he has gambled away nearly all the money he has ever made.”

The Times said: “Down in the bottom of his heart, Gans hates prizefighting. He may not know it, but he does. This in spite of the fact that he is, without doubt, the greatest expert the world has ever known in the use of the human fist.”

A year after his fight in Los Angeles, Gans apparently contracted tuberculosis and died in 1910.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1907, 1910, African Americans, Sports and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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