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Gentleman John Jackson and Daniel Mendoza: Heavy Hitters of Regency Boxing

John Jackson

“Gentleman” John Jackson (28 September 1769 – 7 October 1845) was a celebrated pugilist of the late 18th century.

He won the title Champion of England in a fight on 15 April 1795 in which he beat Daniel Mendoza. It was one of the shortest main battles ever fought, lasting in all but ten minutes and a half; and for its time quite the hardest ever fought at all. Mendoza was badly cut up; the new champion was hardly hurt.

Seven years after the encounter recorded above a letter appeared in the Daily Oracle and Advertiser which purported to be a challenge from Mendoza to Jackson for a return match. As a fact, the letter was a practical joke; but a part of Jackson’s reply is worth quoting, as it is so characteristic of all we hear of the man.

“. . . for some years,” he wrote, “I have entirely withdrawn from a public life, and am more and more convinced of the propriety of my conduct by the happiness which I enjoy in private among many friends of great respectability, with whom it is my pride to be received on terms of familiarity and friendship. . . .”

Jackson never fought again, and one of the greatest reputations in the annals of the championship that have come to us is based upon a pugilist who only entered the ring thrice! One other champion was in precisely the same case, and that was John Gulley, whom we shall come to in due course.

No doubt Jackson attracted to himself a good deal of attention apart from the eccentricity of his good behaviour. He was a man of prodigious strength and is said to have written his name whilst an 84 lb. weight was suspended from his little finger.

After his retirement he took rooms at 13 Old Bond Street, creating Jackson’s Saloon, a boxing academy which became a regular and fashionable house of call for the young bloods of the day.

It became the correct thing to take a course of boxing lessons from John Jackson. Byron, who was a keen boxer despite his infirmity, used to go there to keep down the fat of which he ever lived in terror. In his diary for March l7th, 1814, he swrote: “I have been sparring with Jackson for exercise this morning, and mean to continue and renew my acquaintance with my mufflers. My chest, and arms, and wind are in very good plight, and I am not in flesh. I used to be a hard hitter and my arms are very long for my height.”—which was 5 ft 8J inches—” At rate, exercise is good, and this the severest of all ; fencing and broadsword never fatigued me half so much.”

Byron regarded John Jackson as a friend whom he greatly admired. He wrote letters to him on several occasions.

Jackson had innumerable pupils and was about the first real instructor of boxing for amateurs. He went to his grave in Brompton Cemetery old and honoured in 1845.

Jackson died in 1847 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

Daniel Mendoza

Daniel Mendoza (5 July 1764 , Whitechapel, London; 3 September 1836) (often known as Dan Mendoza) was an English prizefighter, who was boxing champion of England 1792-95. He was a Sephardic Jew, and is sometimes called the father of scientific boxing.

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, and ducking, blocking, and, all in all, avoiding punches. Sounds simplistic now , but it was revolutionary back then. His ability to overcome much heavier adversaries was a consequence of this. Though he stood only 5’7″ and weighed only 160 pounds, Mendoza was England’s sixteenth Heavyweight Champion from 1792 to 1795. Thus he holds probably the greatest record in Boxing History, as he is the only middleweight to ever win the Heavyweight Championship of the World. In 1789 he opened his own boxing academy and published The Art of Boxing the book on modern “scientific” style boxing which every subsequent boxer learned from.

Mendoza was so popular that the London press reported news of one of his bouts ahead of the storming of the Bastille which marked the start of the French Revolution. He transformed the 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.

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 due to Humphries’s second (the former Champion, Tom Johnson) blocking a blow. The second two bouts were won by Mendoza. 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 didn’t 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 taller, and 42 lbs. 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; Mendoza was, at the time, 57– Owen, a sprightly 52. Youth, as the saying goes, will be served, and Mendoza was defeated after 12 rounds.

Intelligent, charismatic but chaotic, he died  in 1836, leaving his family in poverty. He was 72.


From Wikipedia and Knuckles and Gloves, By Bohun Lynch.

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