A Great Danish American Birthday - Battling Nelson

  • June 05, 2022
  • June 05, 2023
  • 2 sessions
  • June 05, 2022 (CDT)
  • June 05, 2023 (CDT)


Oscar Matthew "Battling" Nelson (June 5, 1882 – February 7, 1954), was a Danish-American professional boxer who held the World Lightweight championship. He was also nicknamed "the Durable Dane".

Nelson was born Oscar Mathæus Nielsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 5, 1882. He emigrated to the United States the following year and was raised in Hegewisch, a neighborhood on the Southeast side of Chicago.

A two-time world lightweight boxing champion, the Durable Dane lived in Huron, South Dakota in his youth and worked as an errand boy for Edler’s Meat Market and chore boy for “Mom” Robbins’ boarding house. In 1898, he enlisted in South Dakota Company G for the Spanish-American War. - South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame

In 1913, he married Fay King, a cartoonist who did his portrait for Nelson's 1911 guide The Wonders of the Yellowstone National Park. In 1916, they had a very public divorce.

Nelson died February 7, 1954 in ChicagoIllinois, from lung cancer The Veteran Boxing Association paid for part of the cost of his funeral; his ex-wife paid the remainder, in addition to purchasing "beautiful arrangements" for the ceremony.

Nelson began boxing professionally at age fourteen, in 1896. He fought for the vacant white lightweight title against Jimmy Britt on December 20, 1904, but lost a twenty-round decision. He lost to Abe Attell in 1905, but beat Jack O'Neill to secure another shot at the white championship on September 9, 1905, finally beating Britt by an 18-round knockout. 

He defeated Terry McGovern in a no decision Newspaper decision, but then faced a greater challenge when he was given the opportunity to challenge the reigning world lightweight champion Joe Gans on September 3, 1906, in Goldfield, Nevada. Gans dropped Nelson repeatedly during the bout, but could not knock him out. Finally, in the forty-second round, Nelson hit Gans below the belt causing him to lose the fight by disqualification .

In 1907 and 1908, Nelson split a pair of bouts with Britt and fought Attell to a draw. He then challenged Gans again for the world lightweight title on July 4, 1908. This time he knocked Gans out in the seventeenth round. Two months later, Nelson knocked out Gans in the twenty-first round.

In 1909, Nelson fought Ad Wolgast in a fight held over the lightweight limit. Wolgast beat him, and Nelson gave Wolgast a chance at his title on February 22, 1910. Eventually unable to see due to the accumulation of punches, Nelson lost the title when the referee stopped the fight in either the fortieth or the forty-second round.

Nelson continued to fight, and in 1917, he challenged Freddie Welsh for the lightweight title. He lost a twelve-round decision and retired from fighting in 1920.

He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.

In 2016, award-winning biographer Mark Allen Baker published the first comprehensive biography on Nelson with McFarland, a leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books. - Wikipedia

South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame

National Foundation for Danish America
PO Box 1003
Wilmette, Illinois 60091

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