Yesterday I was reading about Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836) who can rightly claim to be the father of modern boxing. Until him bare knuckle fights consisted of “put up your dukes” as opponents went toe to toe and the fight could only be ended by knockout, inability to continue (technical knock out) foul or draw. For more on prized fighting you can read Boxiana by Pierce Egan or more recently the writings of R.T Jarvis, a noted authority who contributed to the sadly now defunct Round One magazine.
He wrote about diet and defined the effect of body and facial blows with anatomical precision.
Mendoza was such master of the art that despite being 5″ 7″ and weighing 156 pounds – a middleweight he could and did overcome much bigger opponents to become heavyweight champion of all England.
Both used their mastery of boxing to get out of the ghetto.
His third fight, the first ever for which spectators known as ‘the fancy’ were charged, was such a bruising match that the health of neither fully recovered.
At one stage it seemed Humphries could not continue but he struggled on for another 30 minutes – the notion of going the distance could be over 60 rounds.
Johnson grabbed Mendoza by his long hair and pummelled his face, winning in nine rounds.
Like Ali, Mendoza’s fame went well beyond his sport. He was invited to the court of King George III whose wife the Queen asked if Mendoza would mind taking a punch from the young Prince of Wales, later George IV. The aristocracy and lawyers all came to Mendoza’s academy to learn the Noble Art.
Perhaps though the similarity between the two transcends sport in one vital area. Just as Ali raised the profile of the black man, Mendoza broke the stereotype of the Jew as wily but dishonest in business and physically feckless – one who should expect to be taunted and ridiculed. Heaven help if you did that to Mendoza. He never shirked a fight from the moment when he believed a porter overcharged a tea merchant for whom he worked. He challenged that man to a fight and beat the daylights out of him. He was just 16. After that he went to Northampton with his cousin and was taunted by the local bully. Mendoza sorted him out too and story has it that the bully’s father was so impressed he invited Mendoza and cousin to stay,
Like many a boxer, especially an English one, Mendoza’s post-fight career (he fought till he was 56) was blighted by poor finaancial decision making. Three times he finished up in the debtor’s jail in King’s Bench though he lived to a relatively ripe age and his tuition skills were always in demand.
He tried his hand none too successfully as a publican, and as a pantomime actor in Robinson Crusoe. The acting talent must have been in his family genes as his great great grandson was none other than Peter Sellers.