They called Joe Gans the "Old Master" and those who saw him fight, including the late Grantland Rice, said he was the "greatest lightweight who ever lived." Born Joseph Gaines in Baltimore in 1874, he worked at the city's waterfront, shucking oysters to help support his family. He did some fighting in Baltimore and that propelled him into a career in the ring.
In 1902, he won the world lightweight title by knocking out Frank Erne, who had beaten him two years earlier. But his most famous fights were against Battling Nelson, the first of which was in Goldfield, Nev., in 1906. The purse was $30,000 and Nelson insisted that he get two-thirds of it. Needing money for his family and foster mother, Maria Gant, Gans agreed. When he won on a foul in the 42nd round, he wired his mother in Baltimore that he was "bringing home the bacon with lots of gravy on it."
Gans paid a price for forcing his body into the 135 pound weight limit. He came down with Tuberculosis. He continued to fight, losing his title to Nelson in 1909. He went to Arizona in hopes that the dry air would arrest his disease, but it was too late. He raced against death in returning home to Baltimore where he died Aug. 10, 1910, with his foster mother at his side. His record of 147-8 speaks for itself. Joseph Gans is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, which is believed to be Baltimore's oldest AfricanAmerican cemetery. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.