The Pugilist: Nick Diaz, Daniel Mendoza, and the Sweet Science of Bruising

- Bloody Elbow sister site Cageside Seats has been reposting many of my old - and now unavailable - articles from the defunct Head Kick Legend blog. For those that have not read, or were looking to re-read, my comparison between Nick Diaz's boxing style and Broughton's rules of prizefighting, here is a revised (and re-edited by June Williams) version of The Pugilist which was originally posted on Nov 4, 2011 [†]

There seems to be some confusion amongst fans as to how one should regard Nick Diaz's "boxing".

For many, it seems incongruent to label him the best boxer in MMA, when so little of what he's done in the cage can be qualified as "good" boxing. i.e., Leaning too far forward in his stance - while leading with his face; keeping his hands far out in front of him - where they can't be used to protect the head; feet planted - instead of light on the toes; and, very little movement of his head. None of these would be what you would expect to see in an elite boxer.

Yet, the results speak for themselves; with his most recent display of prowess coming at the expense of the previously labeled "best boxer in MMA", BJ Penn. How can Nick Diaz be the exemplifier of the "sweet science" when everything he does runs counter to what entails "good" boxing?

The answer lies with the fact everything he does, is exactly what "good" boxing calls for.

The only reason we fans fail to acknowledge this, is that we have narrowly focused on the sport as fought under the Marques of Queensbury rules, ignoring the lessons left to us by those who competed during the earlier reigns of London Prizefighting, and Broughton's rules.

Fortunately, a few of those early competitors were thoughtful enough to write down what entailed good boxing, all for the "sweet science of bruising".

Most likely, you have never heard of Daniel Mendoza, which is of no surprise, since his last public match took place in 1820. Nevertheless, if ever there was a kindred spirit to Diaz, it was him.

A descendent of Spanish Marronos, Mendoza was the father of scientific boxing, whose successes helped elevate the position of Jews in 18th and 19th century English society. Moreover, much like Diaz, he seemed incapable of understanding finances. Additionally, he was notoriously quick-tempered, with a propensity to fight whenever he felt slighted in the least.

Famously, he had gotten into three altercations while on his way to a spectator match just because:

  1. Someone's cart had cut him off in the street.
  2. He felt cheated by a shopkeeper.
  3. He didn't like how a man was looking at him.

Of far more significance, is the fact he was also an amazing boxer, the best of his era. Mendoza was the 16th man to ever hold the English (World's) heavyweight championship (possessing the title from 1792-1795), and the only middleweight to ever accomplish that feat.

The rule-set that Mendoza fought under during his time, was the one devised by Jack Broughton in 1743, (the very first codified set of rules in the history of the sport), which were fittingly named, Broughton's rules.

They were very simple, numbering seven in total, dealing with such things as the size of the ring, the holding of the purse, and the choosing of umpires. Of the seven, only the last had anything to do with what tactics were allowed during competition:

VII. That no person is to hit his Adversary when he is down, or seize him by the ham, the breeches, or any part below the waist: a man on his knees to be reckoned down.

To elaborate, the only thing banned was the hitting of a downed opponent, or any wrestling below the waist. Everything else - hair pulling, grappling above the waist, wrestling or tripping your opponent to the ground, and of course, striking with the bare fists - was allowed.

In addition, since no gloves or hand wrappings were used, throwing with all ones might or aiming blows to the head was naturally discouraged, lest you break your hand. In fact, striking ability often rated below wrestling ability, with regards to importance in gaining a victory...

As seen by our three examples below (referenced as 'left', 'center', and 'right'):


[Images above, via Famous Fights: Past and Present, boxing newspaper, press run: circa 1901 to 1904; Text below, via the 1855 compilation Fights for the Championship; and Celebrated Prize Battles (abridged title)]

Left: "The Fight between Hammer Lane and Owen Swift", (1834), "Finally, in the 104th round, straining every fibre to the utmost, he fearlessly rushed to the climax, made one last daring attempt to turn the tide in his favour, but nature was exhausted, he was thrown heavily, and all was over." [Image via Famous Fights: Past and Present, No. 52]

Center: "Third Fight Between Bendigo and Caunt, for £200 a Side", (1845), "After some sparring, Caunt, who took a dislike to Bendigo's system of popping and shifting, went in right and left, and at once closing, seized his man as if in a vice, holding him on the ropes 'til nearly strangled, amidst cries of ‘shame'. After a violent struggle by Bendigo to get away, he was at last thrown -- Caunt heavily on him." [Image via Famous Fights: Past and Present, No. 39]

Right: "Fight Between Tom Cribb and Bob Gregson", (1808), "Cribb, to the surprise of all, seemed strongest on setting-to, he contrived to put in two feeble hits and closed; in wrestling, he had the good fortune to throw his antagonist, who fell with such uncommon force, he could not come to time." [Image via Famous Fight: Past and Present, No. 53]


"Throws to the ground" were something akin to the "body blows" of their day, where damage would accrue over time, with the goal being to eventually wear down your opponent from hard falls to the Earth time and time again.

"Another trick which has been used very successfully by some boxers when contesting under London prize ring rules is, when wrestling with an opponent, to make it a point to fall heavily on top of him, crushing the wind out of him as much as possible."

- "Boxing and How to Train", Richard K. Fox Publishing Co. (1913)

Since Mr. Mendoza was often much smaller than his opponents, and excelled in the technical striking department, he developed a stance that not only allowed him to attack, but also assisted him in negating his opponents attempt's to grapple and throw him. Here is his description of how one should stand, which he labeled his second principle in "Mendoza's Treatise, With His Six Lessons" taken from The Modern Art of Boxing (1789).

You can read the rest of it by either CLICKING HERE or paying a visit to Cageside Seats.

John S. Nash writes regulary on the history of combat sports with his Martial Chronicles series on Bloody Elbow and his Wrestling with the Past series as a Cageside Features Guest Columnist

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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