Daniel Mendoza was the first to truly put the “science” in the Sweet Science. More than any previous fighter, Mendoza relied on footwork, jabs, and defense rather than pure brute force. Although relatively small at 5’7” and 160 pounds, Mendoza’s speed and agility allowed him to triumph over larger, slower opponents. Lauded by early boxing historian Pierce Egan as “a complete artist” and “a star of the first brilliancy,” Mendoza was a very popular fighter who enjoyed a short reign as England’s champion.
Of Spanish heritage, Mendoza was the first Jewish fighter to gain prominence. He grew up in London’s East End in poor surroundings and worked as a glass cutter, laborer, assistant to a green grocer, and an actor before making a career of fighting. His first recorded fight was a victory over Harry the Coal-heaver. After he defeated Sam Martin (“The Bath Butcher”) in 1787, Mendoza established a reputation as a fighter of the first rank.
In 1788, Mendoza embarked on a bitter three-fight series with Richard Humphries. Mendoza lost the first fight when he suffered a leg injury and threw in the towel after 29 minutes. In the rematch the following year, Mendoza thoroughly dominated Humphries to win in 52 minutes. Mendoza also won the third encounter in fifteen minutes.
With the retirement of Ben Brain, Mendoza claimed the championship. His grip on the title was solidified with a victory over Bill Warr in 1794. As champion, Mendoza toured England, Scotland, and Ireland demonstrating his skills as part of the Aston Circus. While in Ireland, Mendoza thrashed Squire Fitzgerald, who had made derogatory remarks about Mendoza’s skills and ethnicity.
Mendoza held the title until 1795 when John Jackson rather easily knocked him out in nine rounds. Mendoza retired only to return, for financial reasons, at the age of 41 with a victory over Harry Lee in 1806. He even fought one losing effort in 1820. He ran boxing schools and owned a tavern in retirement. Mendoza’s contributions to boxing had a lasting impact. His impressive ring displays further popularized boxing, and by teaching and example, he advanced the use of more sophisticated tactics in the ring.
* * *
Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.