Daniel Mendoza, and the transformation of Boxing into the “sweet science”

Foreword: In the 17th century there was a fighter named Daniel Mendoza who wrote a book on the scientific method in boxing. The “to hit and not to get hit” was introduced by him. Most fighters today don’t appreciate the sport of combat. The art and science of boxing can only be felt in great fights. Many boxers today are embarrassing great fighters of the past.

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Daniel Mendoza (5 July 1764 – 3 September 1836) (often known as Dan Mendoza) was an English prizefighter, who was boxing champion of England in 1792–1795. He was of Portuguese-Jewish descent.

Mendoza Boxer.jpg

Rated at160 lb (73 kg)
Height5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)
Born5 July 1764
Died3 September 1836 (aged 72)

Daniel Mendoza (5 July 1764 – 3 September 1836) (often known as Dan Mendoza) was an English prizefighter, who was boxing champion of England in 1792–1795. He was of Portuguese-Jewish descent.

Before Mendoza, boxers generally stood still and merely swapped punches. Mendoza’s style consisted of more than simply battering opponents into submission; his “scientific style” included much defensive movement. He developed an entirely new style of boxing, incorporating defensive strategies, such as what he called “side-stepping”, moving around, ducking, blocking, and, all in all, avoiding punches. At the time, this was revolutionary, and Mendoza was able to overcome much heavier opponents as a result of this new style. Though he stood only 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) and weighed only 160 pounds (73 kg), Mendoza was England’s sixteenth Heavyweight Champion from 1792 to 1795, and is the only middleweight to ever win the Heavyweight Championship of the World. In 1789 he opened his own boxing academy and published the book The Art of Boxing on modern “scientific” style boxing which every subsequent boxer learned from.

Mendoza helped transform the popular English stereotype of a Jew from a weak, defenseless person into someone deserving of respect. He is said to have been the first Jew to talk to the King, George III. Mendoza was second for Tom Molineaux, a freed Virginia slave, in his fights.

Daniel Mendoza’s first fight occurred in 1780 when he was aged 16. Mendoza was working for a tea dealer in Aldgate. The fight was not a prize fight for a purse but a contest to settle a dispute with a porter over his remuneration for a consignment of tea. Mendoza stated that the porter, rather charging his regular fee, behaved in a manner unfit for a gentleman, demanding twice the usual price. After much arguing between the proprietor of the tea dealership and the porter, the porter suggested that they should settle the dispute in a duel with fists. Mendoza believing that the porter was bullying his employer accepted the challenge on his employer’s behalf. The duel took place in the street outside the tea dealership in a hastily constructed ring. The fight lasted for forty five minutes ending when the porter declared that he was unable to continue. This victory brought a small measure of fame to Mendoza, stories of the fight spread through the surrounding neighborhoods; portraying Mendoza as the talented whippersnapper who had not just beaten but thrashed his larger opponent.

Daniel Mendoza.jpg

His early boxing career was defined by three bouts with his former mentor Richard Humphries between 1788 and 1790. The first of these was lost because Humphries’ second (the former champion, Tom Johnson) blocked a blow. The third bout set history in another way. It was the first time spectators were charged an entry-payment to a sporting event. The fights were hyped by a series of combative letters in the press between Humphries and Mendoza.

Mendoza’s memoirs report that he got involved in three fights whilst on his way to watch a boxing match. The reasons were: (a) someone’s cart cut in; (b) he felt a shopkeeper was trying to cheat him; (c) he did not like how a man was looking at him.

In 1795 Mendoza fought “Gentleman” John Jackson for the championship at Hornchurch in Essex. Jackson was five years younger, 4 inches (10 cm) taller, and 42 pounds (19 kg). heavier. The bigger man won in nine rounds, paving the way to victory by seizing Mendoza by his long hair and holding him with one hand while he pounded his head with the other. Mendoza was pummelled into submission in around ten minutes. Since this date boxers have worn their hair short.

After 1795 Mendoza began to seek other sources of income, becoming the landlord of the “Admiral Nelson” pub in Whitechapel. He turned down a number of offers for re-matches and in 1807 wrote a letter to The Times in which he said he was devoting himself chiefly to teaching the art. In 1809 he and some associates were hired by the theatre manager Kemble in an attempt to suppress the OP Riots; the resulting poor publicity probably cost Mendoza much of his popular support, as he was seen to be fighting on the side of the privileged.

Mendoza made and spent a fortune. His memoirs (written in 1808 but not published until 1816) report that he tried a number of ventures, including touring the British Isles giving boxing demonstrations; appeared in a pantomime entitled Robinson Crusoe or Friday Turned Boxer; opening a boxing academy at the Lyceum in the Strand; working as a recruiting sergeant for the army; printing his own paper money; and being a pub landlord.

Mendoza made his last public appearance as a boxer in 1820 at Banstead Downs in a grudge match against Tom Owen; he was defeated after 12 rounds.

Intelligent, charismatic but chaotic, he died at the age of 72, leaving his family in poverty.

In 1954 Mendoza was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame.

In 1990 he was inducted into the inaugural class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Mendoza, who was Jewish, was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.