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: Jack 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 being the most thrilling of modern times as both men fought tooth and nail, giving everything they could muster.

After the ‘black’ champion, Harry Wills, successfully defended his claim against Jack Thompson (nd-w rsc 4 on 5 November at the 1st Regiment Armory, Newark, New Jersey), 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 received 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 and his promoter, Rickard, having earlier announced, on 16 July, that he had signed the champion up to meet Wills, he was again pressed by the NYSAC to accept the latter 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 was a master boxer who mixed science with power and had well earned the opportunity to face Dempsey, having beaten both Georges Carpentier (w rsc 15 on 24 July 1924 at the Polo Grounds, Manhattan) and Tommy Gibbons (w co 12 on 5 June 1925 at the same venue). 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 defeated him in 80 contests and he had twice avenged that defeat, as well as beating Chuck Wiggins, Charley Weinert and Erminio Spalla, and looked to pit his wits against Dempsey’s all-out aggression.