One of the toughest boxers in ring history, Battling Nelson twice held the world lightweight title. Slight of build but relentless in both delivering and enduring beatings, Nelson spooked more than one opponent with his unblinking resistance. His trademark punch was a short left hook aimed at the liver, with thumb and forefinger extended to provide greater penetration. A Dane by birth, Nelson grew up in a suburb of Chicago. He fought professionally for the first time against a fighter in a traveling circus. Challenged to last three rounds, the fourteen-year-old Nelson knocked Wallace's Kid out in one.
Nelson's career blossomed in 1904. He knocked out Martin Canole, Eddie Hanlon, and Young Corbett and won a decision against the hard-hitting Aurelio Herrera, who once flipped Nelson into an involuntary somersault with a powerful punch. In December 1904, Nelson lost to Jimmy Britt in a fight for the vacant white lightweight title.
The next year Britt and Nelson again squared off. In the eighteenth round, Nelson caught Britt with a flurry of punches and knocked him out. In 1906, Nelson met black champion Joe Gans in Nevada, in a Tex Rickard promotion. Gans had won the lightweight title in 1904 but relinquished it to fight for (and win) the welterweight title. Gans knocked Nelson down several times but could not knock him out. In the 33rd round, Gans broke his hand but continued to fight. Finally, in the 42nd round, Nelson hit Gans with a low blow and lost on the foul. Two years later, Nelson reclaimed the title with a seventeenth-round knockout of Gans. In their third meeting, Nelson again recorded a knockout victory.
In 1909, Nelson met his fiercest opponent, Ad Wolgast, in a bloody no-decision fight that newspaper reporters gave to Wolgast. The next year the two fought in a brutally wild brawl for the title. In the 22nd round, Nelson knocked Wolgast down hard, but Wolgast surprised the crowd by getting up before the ten count. Both of Nelson's eyes swelled shut, and by the start of the 40th round, he was so nearly blind that he took his fighting stance opposite one of the ring posts. At that point, the referee stopped the fight, and Wolgast was the champion.
Nelson continued to fight for seven more years but never again contended for the championship. He lost the newspaper decision in a return match with Wolgast in 1913 when both men were past their primes. Nelson lost his career earnings and died in poverty.
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Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.