Often in eras past, grudge matches and rivalries weren’t blood feuds that spanned years, or even a decade. Some were, but when fighters were content to meet one another multiple times in a year, deciding who the alpha was could be settled with fewer distractions and road blocks.
George “Elbows” McFadden and Joe Gans had something of a Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez relationship, only perhaps with the results reversed. Rather than a four fight series ending in a decisive stoppage of the bigger name, in the McFadden-Gans saga the lesser-known pugilist made good on assisted naptime in the first meeting, and they finished 4-1-2 in favor of Gans. All seven bouts were interesting affairs, though, matching styles that seemed to simply mix well, catching many an eye in the process — just like Pacquiao-Marquez.
The Jersey Journal said McFadden had a “splendid knowledge of the finer points of the game” in previewing their first bout in April 1899, while the Denver Post said of McFadden in their preview, “He has an impregnable defense, beside being a hard hitter. McFadden is also a crack-a-jack with the gloves.”
Gans had already fought to countless No Decision verdicts, draws and police interventions, but through six years and more than 90 fights (a number of which going 20 rounds or more), he had never been stopped. In other words, Gans had already earned his “Old Master” moniker less than halfway through his storied career.
Likewise McFadden had seen a few winters in the squared circle, and he had never had his night ended early at the hands of an opponent.
Both men were in a fine state, essentially in peak condition. Betting odds were simply described as even or “tight” by press in days leading up to the bout, but McFadden came in a full five pounds below the contracted 133 lb. limit, and betting moved to 2-1 in favor of Gans by fight time.
The odds were justified early on, with Gans clearly demonstrating superiority in both defense and accuracy. Looking amateurish in comparison, McFadden’s swats actually drew forth chuckles from the crowd, who “laughed in derision,” said The Sun. Gans’ jab was carrying much of the action, and he managed to nearly put McFadden down in round 5.
Rounds 6 through 9 saw McFadden making considerable progress, however, by plowing forth and negating Gans’ reach advantage. And though McFadden was outweighed, his connects appeared to be having a more palpable effect on Gans by round 10 as he clinched, then sucked wind in the clinches. The Sun again reported, “Gans’ nose was bleeding when he got half way through the thirteenth round. His blows lacked force and he appeared to be tiring. McFadden was strong as a bull.”
The 14th round saw Gans get busy, leading and countering as he saw fit, but it was short-lived, and McFadden began to wear down his man in the following rounds. Moreover, McFadden’s defense had matched that of Gans in the early rounds, and Gans’ condition deteriorated as a result. By round 20, Gans was all but spent, and Al Herford and Jack McCue in his corner were downcast at the impending loss of their fighter. McFadden was doing his damnedest to end matters, but Gans somehow kept himself just this side of consciousness while swaying and leaning over every inch of the ring. Round 22 had Gans doing next to nothing, while McFadden tried desperately to punch his ticket home, and almost did.
The Sun described the 23rd and final round as follows: “Gans threw in a few weak counters, and then received a stomach punch that threw him forward. Quick as a flash McFadden brought up a terrific right hook. It caught Gans flush on the point of the jaw. The Baltimore fighter tottered a moment, and then fell flat upon his face, the blood gushing from his mouth. There was no need of counting him out for he was helpless, and had to be lifted to his chair. The referee declared McFadden the winner amid an unusual demonstration. Hats and canes were thrown in the air. Men hugged one another in their ecstasy and others yelled wildly for the money they had won. McFadden was embraced by his friends, and was cheered all the way to his dressing room. When Gans was able to leave the ring he was applauded generously, too. It was one of the best fights ever seen in this vicinity.”
The win over Gans kicked off what would be an extraordinary year for McFadden: he would fight 13 times in total, including twice more against Gans, and once each with Wilmington Jack Daily, Kid Lavigne and Frank Erne. His record for 1899 stands at 9-2-2, 7 KO.