The South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame is dedicated to the preservation, documentation and display of South Dakota's sports history.

Battling Nelson - Inducted 2015

A two-time world lightweight boxing champion, the Durable Dane lived in Huron 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.

The 5-foot-7.5, 133-pounder fought more than 300 times in a career that started professionally in 1896 and ended in 1923 – and never was there a suspicion of a fix or a shade of doubt regarding his honesty – a remarkable record considering the profession in those days. Two of his earliest bouts were in Sioux Falls in 1898, but he fought in many of the biggest cities as well.

Nelson was from the Chicago suburb of Hegewisch. His first fight was a one-round knockout of Billy Rosser, the quickest knockout in ring history at that time. However, he wasn’t known for his punch. Rather, he was a tireless, plunging fighter who refused to lose, coming from behind, often taking fearful punishment.

He held the world title from 1905-1906 and 1908-1910. He lost the world title to Joe Gans on a disqualification in a 42-rounder in 1906 that is regarded as one of the great lightweight fights of all-time. Nelson’s recuperative powers were astounding. According to Gans, he climbed out of the ring after the fight and ran 10 miles. Nelson knocked out Gans in the 17th round in 1908 to regain the title. In 1910 he lost his title in a 40-rounder to Ad Wolfast in which both fighters were bloody hulks.

Nelson made $300,000 in the ring and ran it up to $500,000 in real estate. During the Depression he sold his property piece by piece, gave money to charity and friends in need and eventually lost everything.

He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. He died in 1954.

His autobiography, “Life, Battles and Career of Battling Nelson,” is available at


« Back to Athletes