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Monday, September 27, 2010

A Look Back: Daniel Mendoza

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will present monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

Daniel Mendoza revolutionized the sport of boxing. Whether he initiated or merely popularized the art of boxing as we know it today, can be disputed. But there is no doubt that he helped to change the game by being among the first to utilize a jab, sidestepping footwork, and defensive positioning. Not only a Jewish boxing pioneer, he was also England's heavyweight champion of the world during the late 18th century, even though he stood 5'7" and weighed all of 160 pounds.

Born on July 5, 1764 in London England, Mendoza spent his formative years as a glass cutter, laborer, and an assistant to a greengrocer. He came from a tough neighborhood and an England that didn't much care for people of the Jewish faith. But Mendoza wore his identity proudly. A Sephardic Jew and self-promoter, Mendoza nicknamed himself "The Light of Israel" and the fairly blunt "Mendoza the Jew."

Mendoza turned pro at the age of 18, beating Harry the Coalheaver. He later beat Martin the Bath Butcher. His first loss came in his 17th fight and was to Tom Tyne. In 1788, Mendoza took two out of three over the proficient Richard Humphreys in a trilogy of bare-knuckled bouts. Throughout the year, the two combatants engaged in an epic letter-writing campaign to coax the other into the ring.

When Big Ben Brain retired in 1791, Mendoza held a claim to the title. He solidified that claim with wins over Bill Ward in 1792 and 1794. Some called Mendoza a coward because he used movement to avoid punches rather than merely standing still and attempting to block punches with his arms as was customary at that time.

In 1795, Mendoza lost the title to John Jackson, a contentious result as Jackson utilized the illegal tactic of hair-pulling to his advantage. Mendoza would later make a comeback at the age of 56. Ken Blady estimated Mendoza's final record at 31-4. Throughout much of his career, which spanned four decades, he ran an academy in which he taught his style of boxing.

Mendoza is credited with writing a couple of books, The Art of Boxing published in 1787 and his 1816 Memoirs though one or both could have been ghostwritten. He also became a stage actor. He allegedly is the first Jew to have had an audience with a king of England. Mendoza died in 1836.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Boddy, Kasia. Boxing: A Cultural History. 2008.
Bodner, Allen. When Boxing Was A Jewish Sport. 1997.
Century, Douglas. Barney Ross. 2006.
Mendoza, Daniel. The Art of Boxing. 1787.


  1. 'Must reading' for Jewish boxing fans-the-so far-three novel series by David Liss(A Conspiracy of Paper,A Spectacle of Corruption,
    'The Devil's Company)based on Daniel Mendoza;I
    think 'A Conspiracy of Paper' is the best.

  2. Thanks for the recommendations, Brian. They're always welcome.