Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Angel Firpo

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"Dempsey Through The Ropes" by George Bellows

1923-09-14 : Jack Dempsey 192½ lbs beat Luis Angel Firpo 216½ lbs by KO at 0:57 in round 2 of 15


Notes

Dempsey and Firpo before the start of fight
  • Over 80,000 fans produced a gate of $1.25 million.
  • Dempsey's purse was $468,750, and Firpo's was $156,250.
  • Firpo was down seven times in the first round and Dempsey was down twice. Firpo went down twice in the second before being counted out.
  • Long Island City promoter Simon Flaherty offered Dempsey a huge purse to defend the title against African-American contender Harry Wills, but Dempsey's manager, Jack Kearns, turned it down.
  • The March 2001 issue of The Ring named Dempsey vs. Firpo the second most exciting round in boxing history.


Firpo Felled Ten Times; Champion Downed Twice and Punched Through Ropes at Outset
The New York Times, September 5, 1923

In the shortest and fiercest battle ever fought between heavyweights, Jack Dempsey knocked out Luis Firpo at the Polo Grounds. But no champion ever had a closer call.

In the first round, after Firpo had gone down seven times, one of his long smashing rights caught Dempsey fairly and knocked him clear through the ropes. The champion's head disappeared over the edge of the ring, his white-clad legs shot up in the air, and it seemed a new world champion was about to enter into his glory. On the count of nine, Dempsey managed to stagger back into the ring, but the end of the round found him obviously badly shaken, and staggering as he had never been staggered before.

In the second round Firpo's right was too slow to reach the champion, who was striking in with all his power. He caught Firpo with a right and put him down. Two seconds later the challenger was up but a moment more and he was down again for a count of five. Once more Firpo staggered to his feet, Dempsey was on him instantly, caught him with a left to the jaw and then toppled him with a right as he sank. Bleeding slightly at the mouth, Firpo turned slowly over, striving vainly to rise as the referee's pumping arm reached the counts of eight and nine, and stiffened helplessly as the tenth count ended his championship hopes for the time.


This round-by-round account of the 237-second-long bout comes from the June 1945 issue of The Ring magazine:

Firpo sends Dempsey through the ropes

ROUND ONE – Dempsey whirled and glided across the ring like a panther. Firpo was scarcely out of his corner when Dempsey was on top of him. Jack lunged out with a left, but it was short.

Firpo lashed out with a right and it landed on Jack’s face. Firpo’s big boulderlike fist and hairy forearm landed clublike on Dempsey’s left temple. The champion was partially stunned, but he blocked the next blow, a right swing that caught him on the forearm.

Firpo quickly whipped over a right to the body and Dempsey’s knees sagged. It appeared he was ready to sink to the floor, but he saved himself by grasping Firpo’s body and pulling himself to his feet. Dempsey’s knees touched the canvas.

Dempsey arose and swung quickly into action. He hooked his left to Firpo’s jaw. Down went Firpo. Luis disdained a count. He clambered to his feet, eyes blazing and rushed pell-mell into the champion. The Wild Bull crashed his right solidly to the body. Dempsey couldn’t avoid it. Firpo shot his clublike right to the jaw and staggered the titleholder. Dempsey stepped in with a left uppercut that stunned Firpo and the Argentinian sank slowly to his knees.

Dempsey stood over him but Luis managed to get up, only to receive a cruel left followed by a terrific right to the body. Firpo was gone. He winced but didn’t go down. He swung his ponderous right to Dempsey’s ribs three times. Dempsey side-stepped a fourth attempt and let loose a swinging left that crashed to Firpo’s jaw. Once again Firpo went down.

Dempsey stood directly over him in violation of the rules while Referee Gallagher began the count. Firpo attempted to rise and Dempsey lunged a right at him, the blow grazing Firpo’s head just as he was getting off the canvas. The referee overlooked this unintentional violation of the rules. Firpo sank back again. The referee warned Dempsey to beat a retreat and as he did so, the Argentinian arose.

Dempsey was at him in a jiffy. He landed a left and right to the jaw, dropping Firpo in Jack’s own corner. Again Firpo ignored a count. Eyes blazing and sullen features enraged, Luis rushed at Dempsey, swinging lefts and rights. He rushed Dempsey across the ring. A right swing that came up almost from the floor, caught Dempsey and sent him hurtling through the ropes.

Several newspaper men threw up their hands and checked Dempsey’s fall. They pushed him back into the ring, while the referee and the knockdown timekeeper were counting. The count of nine had just been reached when the champion got back into a fighting pose. Firpo was atop of him with a rush, flailing away with both hands. He shot out a left and then followed with a lusty right that caught Dempsey on the chin.

Dempsey starts to get back into the ring

Dempsey suddenly rallied. He leaped at his foe and crashed a right solidly to the heart. Firpo winced under the force of the impact. He exchanged blows with the champion and then worked Dempsey into Firpo’s corner just as the bell sounded.

(BoxRec note: It was a violation of the Rules of Boxing for the newspapermen to push Dempsey back into the ring. The rules state: "If a boxer is knocked out of the ring, he gets a count of 20 to get back in and on his feet. He cannot be assisted." Some people question to this day whether Dempsey would have been able to “beat the count” if not for this push back into the ring.)

ROUND TWO - Dempsey rushed out of his corner. The champion, highly excited, glided in close on the waiting Firpo and raked him with short-arm lefts and rights. Dempsey glided pantherlike after his prey but was met with a crashing right to the body and jumped into a clinch.

On the break, Dempsey stepped quickly back and landed two damaging left hooks. Dempsey dug his left into the body, then shot two right uppercuts and followed with a left to the body as Firpo jumped into a clinch. Dempsey shook him off and drove in short-arm blows. Firpo sank to the canvas.


The count reached five when Firpo arose. Luis lashed out a long right to the neck. Dempsey got inside along left lead with short-arm jolts. In close, Dempsey drove his left mauler deep into Firpo’s midsection. On backing away, he crashed a short-arm right to the jaw.

Firpo went down like a poled steer. He lay motionless for two seconds then started to writhe and twist convulsively. He rolled over on his back. He drew up one knee in agony. The count reached five when Dempsey, instead of standing over his fallen foe, went to a neutral corner. Firpo was motionless as the count reached ten and Dempsey had successfully defended his title.


Firpo was down nine times in the fight
Firpo goes down for the count

Jack Dempsey after the fight:

"He is game and the hardest puncher I ever faced. It was the first time I was knocked down since I became champion and I'll never forget it. I saw eight million stars when I got that punch on the chin that knocked me out of the ring. ... I didn't even know he had knocked me out of the ring until I came to on my stool between rounds. I thought I had been knocked out."


Academy Award-winning director and writer John Huston recounted going to this bout with his famous father, Academy Award-winning actor Walter Houston, in his 1980 memoirs, An Open Book. The following appears on pages 30 and 31:

We went to New York now and again. I heard concerts at Carnegie Hall, and Billy Carrington and I went to theater matinees, but the high spot of that summer was the Dempsey-Firpo fight. Dad took me. The only other thing I have ever seen to compare with this fight in sheer dramatic impact was the celebrated mano a mano between Lorenzo Garza and Manolete, the greatest matador of my generation, in Mexico City some twenty-five years later.

Dad and I were not at ringside but in the first tier of elevated seats, with a very good view. Firpo was a massive figure in a brown bathrobe. He stood head and shoulders above everyone in the ring--a towering, immobile shape. Dempsey came into the ring wearing a white sweater, and he was moving all the time. There was an awesome difference in the sizes of the two men. Dempsey looked like a kid compared to Firpo.

The fighters were introduced. The opening bell rang. At the very first exchange Firpo went down, and the crowd rose as one and went wild. The little man sitting next to me couldn't see and climbed up onto a narrow guard railing. Firpo was up, then he was down again. I glanced toward my neighbor. He wasn't there anymore. He had fallen to the passageway below. I paid no further attention, and neither did anyone else. He was probably dead or dying, but nobody had any time for him. That gives you an idea of the pandemonium of the moment.

Firpo could hit. He wasn't the facade that Jess Willard had been. He knew how to fight, and he was throwing long, straight punches. Dempsey fought with a kind of desperation, as though for his life, weaving in and out with that crouch of his, throwing left and right hooks that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere.

The rule that a fighter has to go to a neutral corner when his opponent has been knocked down was in effect, but it was ignored in this fight. Each time Firpo went to the canvas, Dempsey stood over him--waiting. As Firpo's hands and knees cleared the canvas and he attempted to rise, Dempsey would hit him again. Had Firpo been able to stand up for a moment and clear his head, it might well have been a different story. As I said, he could hit. Toward the end of the first round he connected and knocked Dempsey clear out of the ring. Everyone in the arena was on his feet yelling, and then I saw hands pushing Dempsey back through the ropes. Immediately Firpo charged. He got Dempsey into a corner, but in a blind desire to finish his man, he lost his head. He began throwing lefts and rights wildly. Had any one of those blows connected, that would have been the end of the fight. But here Dempsey showed himself to be a true champion. He could hardly hold his hands up, but he stood in that turner slipping and blocking punches as best he could, and weathered the storm until the end of the round. In the second round he came out and Put Firpo down for the count. Instantly fights broke out all over the Polo Grounds. There was a rush of mass emotion that defies description, and I still look back on the occasion with a sense of awe.


February 10, 1950, newspaper wire reports stated that the Associated Press's mid-century poll of 374 sports writers and radio sportscasters ranked Dempsey vs. Firpo as the most dramatic sports moment of the previous 50 years. Dempsey was also named the best fighter of the previous 50 years. Babe Ruth's feat of "calling his shot" on a home run in the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago was a close second, by a margin of 70 to 66. The 1927 Dempsey vs. Tunney "Long Count" bout came in third. Lou Gehrig's 1939 farewell speech at Yankee Stadium was fourth. And fifth place went to Grover Cleveland Alexander for his stroll from the bull pen to strike out Tony Lazzeri, with the bases loaded, in the last game of the 1926 World Series.


Song sheet cover

Juan M. Vicente composed a song before the fight called Hasta Dempsey No Para!!! ("No Stops Until Dempsey!").

A picture of a train, with Firpo's image on the front, is on the cover of the sheet music. Blowing from the smokestack are the names of opponents Firpo had recently defeated: Maxted, Joe McCann, Jack Herman, Jim Tracey and Bill (KO) Brennan.

At the top of the sheet music cover reads: "Al Futuro Campeon Mundial de box Luis A. Firpo" ("The Future World Boxing Champion Luis A. Firpo").


Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) used this fight in chapter 15 of his 1939 novel The Web and the Rock.

The main character, George Webber, has a friend, Jim, who is a young news reporter. Jim visits Firpo's training camp. He is also at the Polo Grounds on the eve of the fight. With him is another friend of George's, Monk. They watch the fight and go downtown afterwards. They enter a bar and the fight is the talk of the town. Both men find the bar crowd distasteful: they are described as brutal and hateful. After some trading of insults, Jim and Monk start a brawl and have to escape the bar. Wolfe's descriptions are vivid, so typical of him. Since nearly everything he wrote in his four large scaled novels was autobiographical, one must assume he saw the fight.

"He [Firpo] had been well named. He was really like a sullen human bull. Dempsey could not be still. As he got his last instructions, he fidgeted nervously and kept his head down, a little to one side, not meeting Firpo's sullen and stolid look."

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