Daniel Mendoza was one of the pioneers of Boxing.
Daniel Mendoza, the ‘Star of the East’, led one of those lives that sounds like something straight off of a Hollywood script. A half English, half Spanish Jewish kid, from the mean streets of Bethnal Green, East London, who spent a large part of his adult life on the run, trying to avoid sentences in debtors prisons, and yet rubbed shoulders with the nobility and royalty of England, becoming the first Jew to meet King George IV.
Mendoza continuously relied on the generosity of his contacts and network of influential friends to keep him out of trouble, which is evident when he states in his memoirs after a short spell in a Carlisle prison, where he would have languished ‘Had it not been for the seasoned relief afforded me by the Union and Harmony lodges of freemasons, of whom I had been of many years a member’
While living at NO. 3, Paradise Row (which bears a blue plaque on it today), at only the age of 24, Mendoza wrote the first training manual on Boxing ‘Observations on the Art of Pugilism,’ and would be the first fighter to ever write their memoirs. Without doubt, Daniel Mendoza is one of the most fascinating fighters in the history of Boxing.
In his memoirs, Mendoza tells a hilarious anecdote about Lord Camelford. Camelford was as mad as a hatter and ‘whose impetuosity of temper’ was well known to his peers, a trait which eventually led to his death. One afternoon, while hosting Mendoza at his residence, Lord Camelford decided that he and Mendoza should spar. Mendoza, believing it rude, and also dangerous to refuse, agreed and describes Camelford as having ‘an original attitude of his own.’ Camelford insisted that Mendoza not take it easy, and do his upmost to strike him. Mendoza obliged, and hit Camelford so hard that his head was sliced open after crashing through a glazed door of a bookcase, which ‘irritated him greatly.’ Camelford next insisted that the two try a bout with the single-stick, but again Mendoza’s skill of movement and timing saw Camelford receive a ‘violent blow over the ear.’ Battered and bloodied, but undeterred, Lord Camelford reached for two fencing sabres, but after one was broken, suggested that they be exchanged for short swords insisting that if both men ‘took proper care’ then they could ‘not possibly injure each other.’ Mendoza vehemently refused, after all, his body was his livelihood. Camelford’s violent rage reared its ugly head and Mendoza had no option but to agree. But first, he insisted that if anything should happen to him, Lord Camelford should take care of his family. Camelford dually agreed, and marched off to fetch the blades.
This was the final straw for Mendoza, out of either fear for his own or the Lord’s safety, he decided to ‘as soon as the coast was clear,’ make a bolt for it. In his haste to escape and ‘with all the rapidity’ in his power, Mendoza ran down the stairs all the way to the cellar, passing the landing leading to the front door. Realising his mistake, Mendoza had no option but to backtrack upstairs and flew through the front door and ‘never felt the least inclination to re-enter it.’
Born close to my neck of the woods in Aldgate, East London, on 5th July 1764, Mendoza, despite standing only 5’7” and weighting 160lbs, was the most skilful boxer since Jack Broughton. He was by far the best of the ‘Jewish School’, the little, big men of the London prize-ring, which featured fighters such as Isaac Bitton and Barney Aaron. The Jewish School also featured Samuel Elias, aka ‘Dutch Sam’. Dutch Sam is recorded as using the upper-cut for the first time in a fight against Caleb Baldwin on the 7 August, 1804. During the 20th round, Caleb was dead on his feet and time-and-again held his man. Sam, determined to end the fight ‘by a peculiar mode struck his blows upwards, which told dreadfully in Caleb’s face.’ It was noted in Pugilistica that ‘This is the first distinct notice we find of administering the ”upper-cut;” the most effectively blow in a rally, most difficult to guard against, yet so generally missed by the less-skilled boxer.’
Mendoza introduced new scientific movements to boxing and switched effortlessly between orthodox and southpaw stances. As he wrote in his training manual: ‘The first principle in boxing, to be established, is to be perfectly master of the equilibrium of the body, so as to be able to change from a right to a left handed position, to advance or retreat, striking or parrying; and to throw the body either backward or forward, without difficulty or embarrassment.’
With his exotic looks and long locks, coupled with his cocky, confident strut, Mendoza looked every part the superstar. Billing himself as the ‘Fighting Jew’, in a time when Jews were viewed with a large amount of suspicion and anti-Semitism was rife amongst London’s populace, Mendoza certainly didn’t shy away from controversy. He would have a meteoric rise and the inevitable fall, ending his life at the age of 72, leaving a wife and 12 children in abject poverty. The actor Peter Sellers, of Pink Panther fame, was a direct descendent of Mendoza’s, and if you look carefully you can see a portrait of the great fighter in the background of the classic films.
Daniel Mendoza vs Richard Humphries
Mendoza’s famous series of fights, the first in Boxing history, were actually against another scientifically gifted fighter, whose reputation has become over shadowed by that of Mendoza’s. Richard ‘The Gentleman Boxer’ Humphries had originally been a good friend of Mendoza’s, and had even mentored and nurtured the young fighter before the men fell out in the Cock Inn, in Epping, seemingly over Humphries behaviour after a few too many ales. The dispute saw the beginning of a series of fight between the two, which pitted master against apprentice. Humphries, perhaps unsurprisingly, having had Mendoza under his tutelage, took the opening contest. Mendoza explains that the two had agreed prior to the contest that there would only be 30 seconds (as Broughton’s rules dictated) between rounds. Mendoza claims that his opponent being ‘near to exhaustion’ complained about the tightness of his shoes and insisted on changing his socks, running over the allocated time-limit. Despite this, Mendoza agreed to continue and as he was about to land, in his opinion, a decisive blow Humphries second caught the punch. A dispute broke out amongst those gathered, but Mendoza’s umpire Captain Brown, who he allegedly later discovered had money on Humphries to win, encouraged Mendoza to forget the intrusion and continue the fight. Mendoza now ‘highly gratified with the idea of surmounting every difficulty, and thereby gaining greater honour’ soldiered on and while attempting to throw his adversary, who held on to the surrounding wooden rail, found himself off balance and himself planted hard into the boards of the stage. Despite carrying on for two further rounds, Mendoza, still feeling the effects of the fall, eventually conceded defeat. The contest had lasted forty-seven minutes.
Inaccurate stories of the nature of the defeat began to be widely circulated, and Mendoza did his upmost to set the record straight. A war of words in the press ensued between the two and a re-match was imminent. The second fight was again to be marred in controversy.
Mr. Thornton’s Park, Stilton, Hunts, was chosen for the return on May 6th, 1789. A specifically constructed ‘building was erected, enclosing a space of forty-eight feet in diameter’ which was more than capable of holding 3,000 excited and rowdy spectators. Those seated at the very back had the best view, as it was said that their seats stood 18 feet off of the ground.
The contest itself came to a premature end, when it was suggested by Mendoza’s seconds that Humphries had gone down without receiving a blow (a common occurrence later in the Victorian period, when boxing again would enter an era of cheating and fixed matches and fighters betting against themselves to lose and taking dives), cries of ‘Foul!’ were screamed and according to the Articles of Agreement, Humphries was declared the loser by Mendoza’s supporters. Humphries’ corner remonstrated and a violent scuffle broke out between the two sides. Eventually, decorum prevailed and Humphries taunted and berated Mendoza so much so that Mendoza agreed to continue. Two rounds later, with Mendoza unloading shot after shot on his man, Humphries saw the end was near and fell to the floor without a blow being landed. This time there was no doubt about the decision and Mendoza was declared the winner. Humphries ‘by no means satisfied by the Jews superiority’ ordered a rematch.
The third and final contest was, in today’s terms, the rubber fight. Both men had beat the other once, and this final fight would settle the dispute forever. At Doncaster, September 29th, 1790, the final fight between Humphries and Mendoza would be forever ‘memorable in the annuals of pugilism.’ The location for the fight was a yard of an inn, which was ideal, seeing as a watering hole was where the historical quarrel had started. Over 500 tickets had been sold for half a guinea each.
At 10:30am Humphries appeared in front of the expectant crowd, and sprang onto the 4 foot high, 24 foot squared wooden platform, eagerly stripping down to his waist and tied his colours (fighters wore a coloured handkerchief into the ring) to his corners ring post, as was the custom. Mendoza followed quickly after, determined to get the contest started. Mendoza appeared ‘devoid of apprehension’ and it may have been for this reason that he was deemed the clear favourite at 5 to 4, odds on.
The beginning of the fight started at a frenetic pace, with both men standing toe-to-toe, like two Man o’ War, broad siding one another and bombarding each other with their cannons. Eventually, the two clenched and struggled for domination, but both fell in their attempts to throw one another.
The second round began at the same pace as the first, with neither man giving the other an inch. Humphries undoubtedly had the best of the action and delivered the most blows, playing a merry tune upon Mendoza’s ribs like his body was a vibraphone.
The severity and pace of the first two rounds meant that the fighters started the third with a more cautious approach. Very few shots were exchanged but, of those that were, Mendoza had the best of them, eventually landing a shot that rocked Humphries’s equilibrium and sent him sprawling.
Rounds 4 & 5
The fourth round was comparatively quiet to the previous three, but in the fifth Humphries continued his assault on Mendoza’s body aiming ‘a severe blow’ at his opposite number’s abdomen. Mendoza stopped the shot and returned the favour to Humphries’ head, caught off balance by the glancing blow Humphries hit the deck while attempting to counter his antagonist.
In the rounds that followed Humphries continuously went to ground, sometimes as the result of pressure from Mendoza’s onslaught, often when no hits had been landed at all. Under the Articles of Agreement, Humphries should have been disqualified, but his reputation as a fair and well mannered gentleman ‘placed him above the suspicion of cowardice’ and saw his misdemeanours go unpunished. Humphries, ignoring the pleas of his friends, bloodied and confused, continued to fight ‘with great resolution’ despite having one eye completely shut by the punishment dealt out at the hands of Mendoza, a ‘display of excellent bottom’
Eventually the end came and Humphries had no choice but to concede the bout. The fight had been brutal and had taken a heavy toll on both men. Humphries had a deep gash ‘as clear as a razor’ running down one side of his nose that stretched all the way to his lip which had been split. A victorious Mendoza fared no better, his face was a bloody mess ‘his left eye and ear being much mutilated.’ Both were bleeding from the body and could barely stand up straight. Humphries had shown a massive amount of courage, and was carried through the cheering crowd on his friend’s shoulders. Mendoza’s cousin, Aaron Mendoza was on the same bill fighting against a West Country native by the name of Packer. The fight ‘was a most severe contest; they fought for an hour with the greatest violence.’ Aaron Mendoza was eventually beaten when he was thrown against the wooded railing. The crowd loved it, but Daniel Mendoza was inconspicuous by his absence, choosing instead to take a stroll ‘on the race-ground on the Town Moor.’
Having put the whole Humphries episode to bed, Mendoza decided to make some extra cash by touring Ireland, beating anything that the country could offer. The next great name of note to fight Mendoza was Bill Warr, a legend in the fight game and hero to many a younger fighter at the time. Warr, is famous for taking the first scientific approach to training, and heavily influenced Captain Barclay, who would later train Tom Cribb who would become arguably the world’s first heavy-weight champion. It was said that when Warr died, the great Bristolian fighter, Henry Pearce, tried to throw himself into Warr’s grave. Despite his revolutionary training routines, Warr was no match for the skill of Mendoza and suffered a heavy defeat.
In April 1795, Mendoza lost to ‘Gentleman’ John Jackson. Despite challenges and responses being sent between Mendoza and Jackson via popular sporting papers, ‘The Oracle’ and the ‘Daily Advertiser, no rematch would take place. Jackson was an extremely intelligent individual who had no desire to stay in the fight game. Once he had beaten Mendoza, and was recognised Champion of all England, Jackson opened a boxing academy catering to the rich & famous.
With Jackson refusing to take the bait, Mendoza settled in to semi-retirement, only taking on, and defeating, Harry Lee, in a fight that lasted an hour and ten minutes, in order to settle more debts, in 1806.This should have been the last Mendoza had seen of the prize-ring, but like many a boxer since, the roar and admiration of the crowd was hard to replace, especially compared to a life standing behind a bar. Mendoza would tie his colours to the post one last time against a man six years his junior, Tom Owen. Mendoza hadn’t entered the ring for fourteen years.
Daniel Mendoza vs Tom Owen
Tom Owen was born on the 21st December 1768. His most notable achievement is the fact that he is accredited with the invention of the Dumbbell. Owen was a decent fighter despite the claim by Pierce Egan (author of Boxiana) who described him as: “a mere tyro of the fist, and one completely ignorant of the rules of the art”. Being the great matchmaker that he was Owen put forward a proposition to the aged legend Daniel Mendoza, declaring it “a passage at arms”, in order to put an end to an ongoing dispute amongst the two that had been simmering away for years. Mendoza both for the need of money and the adulation of the masses, which he had missed since retirement, had gladly accepted the challenge. Owen had even managed to convince the national boxing hero Tom Cribb to man his corner.
The pitiful display of the two over the hill pugilists lasted only fifteen minutes. Mendoza’s scientific skills had deserted him and he was all but a mere shadow of his former self. Understandable when we consider that it was a day before is 56th birthday and 33 years since his debut. He was continually knocked down and eventually declared himself unable to continue.
Cribb, along with Owen’s best student Josh ‘The John Bull Fighter’ Hudson, carried Owen, who had not been inflicted with a single scratch, out of the ring to the sounds of a cheering crowd. Mendoza’s blue silk bird’s eye colours were hung triumphantly around Owens’s neck like a fabric medal as he entered the ring one last time to wrap himself in the noise of those who had gathered to see the sad debacle.
In typical fashion, “Gentleman” John Jackson collected £20 on the spot for Mendoza and whispered words of encouragement to his former opponent as he pressed the money into the old champion’s palm and helped him into a waiting carriage.
Mendoza had ruled the ring and taken boxing technique to new heights, he had ‘trod most immediately in the steps of Broughton’ and taken boxing into a new age of glitz and glamour. On the 3rd September,1836, the light eventually went out on a life that had been spent on the edge, both literally and figuratively.