1923-09-14 Jack Dempsey w co 2 (15) Luis Angel Firpo, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD

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1923-09-14 Jack Dempsey w co 2 (15) Luis Angel Firpo, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD. Referee: Johnny Gallagher. Just three minutes and 57 seconds of fighting saw Firpo (216½) floored seven times in the first and twice in the second, before a left to the body and a short right uppercut ended his challenge. However, Dempsey (192½) himself was decked twice in the first round, including being knocked out of the ring by a tremendous right swing to the jaw. And if the champion had not been illegally helped back in again Firpo would surely have won. The contest was generally seen as the most thrilling of modern times as both men fought tooth and nail, giving everything they could muster. Following the fight, the referee was suspended for five weeks for failing to enforce his pre-fight instruction to both men that they go to a neutral corner in the event of a knockdown. Also weighing heavily against him was the fact that he had allowed Dempsey to fight on after he had been helped back into the ring. As far as the Argentinian press were concerned it had taken Dempsey 17 seconds to make it. Even Nat Fleischer, of The Ring magazine, reported that Firpo should have won the title by disqualification after Dempsey struck him while he was still technically on the floor.

After the ‘black’ champion, Harry Wills, successfully defended his claim against Jack Thompson (nd-w rsc 4 at the 1st Regiment Armory, Newark, New Jersey on 5 November), there were several moves made to match him with Dempsey, who merely contented himself in 1924 with exhibitions. Wills also did himself a power of good when outclassing Firpo at Boyles Thirty Acres, Jersey City, New Jersey on 11 September 1924 to land the 12-round press decision.

On 24 March 1925, the NYSAC named Wills as the mandatory challenger for Dempsey, and the man the champion must first meet if he wanted to don the gloves again in New York, thus suspending Dempsey indefinitely in that State. Meanwhile, a group of businessmen, fronted by Floyd Fitzsimmons, signed up Dempsey and Wills to meet somewhere in the mid-west during the year. Although Wills collected an advance of $50,000, when Dempsey failed to receive the $125,000 fee to bind the deal the prospective contest was called off. According to Wills, who kept the money, it was the racial issue that stopped the fight from taking place. For whatever reason, whether it was marriage, outside business interests, getting into films, or interference from Tex Rickard as suggested by Charley Rose, Dempsey remained inactive until September 1926.

Despite the stalling and ultimate three-year inactivity, Dempsey continued to have the support of the NBA. Towards the end of 1925, with Dempsey set on returning to the ring he was again pressed by the NYSAC to accept Wills as his first opponent in a heavyweight title defence. However, after much debate, Rickard stated that he wanted his man to first meet Gene Tunney, not Wills, but with NYC, New York and Chicago, Illinois unavailable, Dempsey’s first defence for over three years would take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tunney, a master boxer who mixed science with power, had well earned the opportunity to face Dempsey, having beaten both Georges Carpentier (w rsc 15 at the Polo Grounds, Manhattan on 24 July 1924) and Tommy Gibbons (w co 12 at the same venue on 5 June 1925). The Gibbons’ bout had been a final eliminator. He had earlier made his mark in the light heavyweight class before deciding to move up a division in order to obtain a match with Dempsey. Only one man, Harry Greb, the former middleweight champion, had ever beaten him in 80 contests, but having twice avenged that defeat as well as beating Chuck Wiggins, Charley Weinert and Erminio Spalla, he looked to pit his wits against Dempsey’s all-out aggression.