For the Week of Monday, February 4, 2019
On February 7, 1890, African Nova Scotian boxer George Dixon fought American Cal McCarthy, bantam- and featherweight- champion of the eastern United States. Their match, which ended in a draw after 70 rounds, brought Dixon wide recognition.
Dixon was born in the African-Nova Scotian community of Africville in 1870. He became interested in boxing while apprenticed to a photographer in Boston, Massachusetts, where local boxers came to sit for publicity photographs.
Standing at just 5 feet, 3 inches and weighing barely 120 lbs / 54.43 kgs, Dixon’s small stature earned him the nickname “Little Chocolate.” The nickname recalled that of George “Old Chocolate” Godfrey, a heavyweight boxer, 17 years his senior, who was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Dixon used his speed and agility to defeat his opponents, gaining him a reputation as an artist in the ring. He is also recognized for introducing innovations to his sport. For example, he laid the foundation of a more scientific type of boxing and is credited with developing shadowboxing – a series of exercises to warm up the muscles before training by punching an imaginary opponent. He was also one of the first to use punching bags and speed bags. Many boxers sought him out for lessons.
Dixon is considered to have been the first boxer of African descent to hold the title of world champion, as a bantamweight, although sources disagree about the dates and matches that led to this title. Since there were no organizations to sanction matches at the time, it is difficult to determine who held the title of “world champion.” In 1892, he was also declared the featherweight world champion, making him the first boxer to win two world titles in two different weight classes and to regain one, after he retired from the featherweight category.
During his 20-year career, Dixon had participated in an impressive number of matches, although exact numbers are difficult to determine. His manager, Thomas O’Rourke, estimates that he participated in some 800 matches in the western world, others closer to 1,000. Dixon’s career began declining around the turn of the century. He retired in 1906 after losing a 15-round match. Dixon died three years later, having lost all that he had earned, like many boxers of the time. His manager had this inscribed on his tombstone in Boston: “Here lies George Dixon, the gamest pugilist who ever lived.”
Africville is a designated national historic site. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of National Historic Sites, which can include a wide range of historic places such as gardens, cemeteries, complexes of buildings and cultural landscapes.
The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Information on how to participate in this process is available here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn