Many of us know that Jews were a significant presence in the boxing world from the 1920s to the 1940s, but few realize that they followed in the footsteps of an 18th-century British fighter named Daniel Mendoza.
Mendoza was a prolific pugilist from a young age, proudly billing himself “Mendoza the Jew.” Though only 5’7″ and 160 pounds, he became England’s 16th heavyweight champion in 1791, the first Jew to accomplish the feat. In a time when boxing was more or less a contest of who could punch the hardest and withstand the most blows, Mendoza is considered the first to make the sport a science, introducing such modern ubiquitous as defending, sidestepping, and using speed rather than brute force. He catalogued these concepts in his book, The Art of Boxing.
Mendoza was also the first boxer to earn royal patronage and the first Jew to earn an audience with King George III. Demonstrating that Jews, too, could be manly and courageous, Mendoza’s adulation may have even tempered some of the anti-Semitism rampant in England at the time