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

While this Head Kick Legend fanpost mostly deals with mixed martial arts, it also includes a good deal of early prizefighting history, which I thought some of the readers here might fight interesting. 




There seems to be some confusion amongst fans as to how one should regard Nick Diaz’s "boxing". For many, it seems incongruent for him to be labeled the best boxer in MMA when so little of what he does in the cage can be qualified as being "good" boxing; 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; very little movement of his head. Needless to say, none of what you’d expect from an elite boxer.

And 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 that everything he does is exactly what "good" boxing calls for, and the only reason we fans fail to acknowledge this is because 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 them were thoughtful enough to write down what entailed good boxing for the "sweet science of bruising".

It is most likely that you never heard of Daniel Mendoza, which is of no surprise since his last public match took place in 1820, but if ever there was a kindred spirit to Diaz it was him. A descendent of Spanish Marronos, he was the father of scientific boxing, whose success helped elevate the position of jews in 18th and 19th century English society. And much like Diaz, he seemed incapable of understanding finances while also being notoriously quick tempered with a propensity to fight whenever he felt slighted in the least, having once famously gotten into three altercations while on his way to be a spectator for a match (the three reasons being that someone’s cart had cut him off in the street, he felt cheated by a shopkeeper, and he didn’t like how a man was looking at him). Most importantly he was an amazing boxer, the best of his era, being the 16th man to hold the English (World’s) heavyweight championship (possessing the title from 1792-1795), and the only middleweight to ever accomplish that feat.

The ruleset that Mendoza fought under during his time was the one divised 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. And since no gloves nor hand wrappings were used, throwing with all one’s 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 with the the text being from the 1855 compilation Fights for the Championship; and Celebrated Prize Battles (the full title is much, much longer) and the images from Famous Fights: Past and Present, a boxing newspaper that ran from 1901 to 1904.


The Fight between Hammer Lane and Owen Swift


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 from Famous Fights: Past and Present No. 52


Third Fight Between Bendigo and Caunt, for £200 a Side


5. 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 till 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 from Famous Fights: Past and Present No. 39


Fight Between Tom Cribb and Bob Gregson


23. 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 from Famous Fight: Past and Present No. 53

Throws to the ground were something like the body-blows of their day, where damage would be accumulated 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. 


Since Mr. Mendoza was often much smaller than his opponents, and excelled in the technical striking department, he developed a stance that allowed him to not only attack but also assisted 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 prinicple in "MENDOZA'S TREATISE, WITH HIS SIX LESSONS" taken from "The Modern Art of Boxing" (1789).

the position of the body, which should be an inclining posture, or diagonal line, so as to place the pit of the stomach out of your adversary's reach. The upper part of your arm must stop or parry the round blow at the head; the fore-arm, the blows at the face of stomach; and the elbows, those at the ribs: both knees must be bent, the left leg advanced, and the arms directly before your throat or chin.

This illustration of Mendoza facing off against his former trainer Richard Humphries should give us a pretty good idea of what he is trying to convey in the text above.


Mendoza is on the right, in his recommended stance (although often fighters would lean further forward then shown here, as if "into the wind" ) hands far in front, knees bent.  By leaning forward and keeping his hands extended Mendoza made it very diffilcult for any opponent to get him to the ground. His legs were too far back from from his opponent to trip or kick, and if they attempted to rush in he was already braced to meet their charge, his hands extended to push back and keep them away from his body, his forward leaning posture to assist in countering their mass.

From this position he could also launch a wide variety of offensive maneuvers. He could strike with either hand (his first principle was equilibrium of the body, the ability to operate with either the right or left side) with the preferred targets being the face, stomach, and side. And if one wanted to be less than gentlemanly they could sneak in an elbow for good measure. The outstretched hands made it simple to sieze an opponent who entered into range, after which he could trip, throw, or fib (fibbing was the art of putting the opponent in a headlock and then punching away). If you click here you can see an example of initiating the clinch from standing from Ed Jame's 1878 manual "Boxing and Wrestling". And yes, this illustration is from the boxing portion of the book and not the wrestling. 

Now, let us examine a gif of Nick Diaz in action against BJ Penn and lets see if we cannot find a resemblance.

If you are interested in reading the rest of this Head Kick Legend post, where we examine the surprising similarity between the boxing of Nick Diaz and 18th century champion Daniel Mendoza, then click here .

<strong><font color="red">FanPosts are user-created content written by community members of Bad Left Hook, and are generally not the work of our editors. <em>Please do not source FanPosts as the work of Bad Left Hook</em>.</font></strong>

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