Difference between revisions of "Jack Dempsey"

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(Jack & Estelle in 1928 Broadway play factoid)
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[[File:Program.DempseyTunneyII.jpg|right|thumb|200px]]
 
[[File:Program.DempseyTunneyII.jpg|right|thumb|200px]]
 
On September 22, 1927, 364 days after their initial encounter, Dempsey challenged Tunney at [[Soldiers Field]] in Chicago, Illinois.  The 104,943 people turned out for the rematch paid receipts of $2,658,660, the highest gate for any sporting event yet and a record that would stand for more than a quarter century.  The fight itself appeared to be a replay of the first in the beginning, with Tunney backing away and boxing and Dempsey pursuing without throwing punches.  In the seventh, though, Dempsey landed a series of blows on the champion, who was pinned with his back against the ropes.  Gene collapsed into the ropes and slowly slid down to the canvas.  The excited Dempsey, forgetting the recently passed rule in Illinois that a man scoring a knockdown must go to the nearest neutral corner, stood over his fallen foe.  Referee Dave Barry would not begin counting over Tunney until Dempsey obeyed the rule, but the confused challenger hesitated, giving Tunney precious time to regain his senses.  By the time Dempsey had found his way to a neutral corner and Barry returned to begin his count, the champion had recovered his senses and was sitting upright on the canvas, smartly taking the remaining time to rest.  Barry, who was supposed to pick up at the timekeeper's count, instead mistakenly started his count from the beginning, at "one."  As a result, Tunney was able to rest a full fourteen seconds before rising at the count of nine.  When Barry called for the two to fight and Dempsey charged out of his corner, Tunney bounced and danced along the ropes, making sure to stay out of Jack's way for the remainder of the seventh.  In the eighth, a combination of hooks from Tunney put the pursuing challenger on his knees.  Jack was up before the referee could begin his count, but was being thoroughly outboxed.  When the fight drew to a close after ten rounds, the result was a unanimous decision for Tunney.<br><br>
 
On September 22, 1927, 364 days after their initial encounter, Dempsey challenged Tunney at [[Soldiers Field]] in Chicago, Illinois.  The 104,943 people turned out for the rematch paid receipts of $2,658,660, the highest gate for any sporting event yet and a record that would stand for more than a quarter century.  The fight itself appeared to be a replay of the first in the beginning, with Tunney backing away and boxing and Dempsey pursuing without throwing punches.  In the seventh, though, Dempsey landed a series of blows on the champion, who was pinned with his back against the ropes.  Gene collapsed into the ropes and slowly slid down to the canvas.  The excited Dempsey, forgetting the recently passed rule in Illinois that a man scoring a knockdown must go to the nearest neutral corner, stood over his fallen foe.  Referee Dave Barry would not begin counting over Tunney until Dempsey obeyed the rule, but the confused challenger hesitated, giving Tunney precious time to regain his senses.  By the time Dempsey had found his way to a neutral corner and Barry returned to begin his count, the champion had recovered his senses and was sitting upright on the canvas, smartly taking the remaining time to rest.  Barry, who was supposed to pick up at the timekeeper's count, instead mistakenly started his count from the beginning, at "one."  As a result, Tunney was able to rest a full fourteen seconds before rising at the count of nine.  When Barry called for the two to fight and Dempsey charged out of his corner, Tunney bounced and danced along the ropes, making sure to stay out of Jack's way for the remainder of the seventh.  In the eighth, a combination of hooks from Tunney put the pursuing challenger on his knees.  Jack was up before the referee could begin his count, but was being thoroughly outboxed.  When the fight drew to a close after ten rounds, the result was a unanimous decision for Tunney.<br><br>
On March 4, 1928, Jack Dempsey, the most successful athlete of the "Golden Age of Sports", announced his retirement from professional prizefighting.  He did, however, continue to fight in short exhibitions, touring the country and giving highly attended performances.  Among the notables he boxed in his post-professional career were [[Charley Retzlaff]], [[Art Lasky]], [[King Levinsky]] ([http://www.youtube.com/user/RareBoxing#p/u/24/dPbCMQS1DMM video]), [[Max Schmeling]], [[Max Baer]], and [[Tony Galento]].  He often acted as a referee in popular boxing and wrestling matches.  An increasingly popular figure in retirement, he often managed, promoted, and advised younger boxers.  During World War II he served as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard.  In 1945, at age fourty-nine, he fought alongside his men on Okinawa Beach.  In later life, he owned a very successful restaurant in New York City and became one of the few financial success stories of champion boxers in their post-boxing life.  After several years of heart problems, he died in New York on May 31, 1983 at age eighty-seven.  In 1990 he became part of the inaugural class of inductees into the [[International Boxing Hall of Fame]].<br><br>
+
On March 4, 1928, Jack Dempsey, the most successful athlete of the "Golden Age of Sports", announced his retirement from professional prizefighting.  He did, however, continue to fight in short exhibitions, touring the country and giving highly attended performances.  Among the notables he boxed in his post-professional career were [[Charley Retzlaff]], [[Art Lasky]], [[King Levinsky]] ([http://www.youtube.com/user/RareBoxing#p/u/24/dPbCMQS1DMM video]), [[Max Schmeling]], [[Max Baer]], and [[Tony Galento]].  He often acted as a referee in popular boxing and wrestling matches.  An increasingly popular figure in retirement, he often managed, promoted, and advised younger boxers.  During World War II he served as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard.  In 1945, at age 49, he fought alongside his men on Okinawa Beach.  In later life, he owned a very successful restaurant in New York City and became one of the few financial success stories of champion boxers in their post-boxing life.  After several years of heart problems, he died in New York on May 31, 1983 at age eighty-seven.  In 1990 he became part of the inaugural class of inductees into the [[International Boxing Hall of Fame]].<br><br>
  
 
== Factoids ==
 
== Factoids ==
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*Newspapers of October 18, 1924, reported that Dempsey's first manager, Norman (Buck) Weaver, 42, was accidentally shot dead while duck-hunting 19 miles southwest of Pueblo, Colorado. He and a companion, Howard Walker, 22, were sitting in separate boats, when Walker laid down his shotgun to pick up the oars to row when it discharged, the shots hitting Weaver in the face. He died several hours later.
 
*Newspapers of October 18, 1924, reported that Dempsey's first manager, Norman (Buck) Weaver, 42, was accidentally shot dead while duck-hunting 19 miles southwest of Pueblo, Colorado. He and a companion, Howard Walker, 22, were sitting in separate boats, when Walker laid down his shotgun to pick up the oars to row when it discharged, the shots hitting Weaver in the face. He died several hours later.
 
* On Dec. 8, 1938, the Boxing Writers Association awarded Dempsey the first-ever [[Edward J. Neil Trophy|Edward J. Neil Trophy]] for being the boxer who had meant the most during the current year. The award was designed to perpetuate the memory of the Associated Press sports-writer and war correspondent who had been killed the year before in Spain.
 
* On Dec. 8, 1938, the Boxing Writers Association awarded Dempsey the first-ever [[Edward J. Neil Trophy|Edward J. Neil Trophy]] for being the boxer who had meant the most during the current year. The award was designed to perpetuate the memory of the Associated Press sports-writer and war correspondent who had been killed the year before in Spain.
 +
*Dempsey and his wife Estelle Taylor appeared in a 1928 Broadway play titled ''The Big Fight''.
 
*Dempsey was also a popular boxing referee.
 
*Dempsey was also a popular boxing referee.
 
*Jack Dempsey once said: ''“A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.”''
 
*Jack Dempsey once said: ''“A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.”''

Revision as of 14:39, 2 February 2013

Auto Jack.jpg
Class of 1990
Old Timer Category
Hall of Fame bio:click
World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Jack Dempsey
Alias: Manassa Mauler
Birth Name: William Harrison Dempsey
Born: 1895-06-24
Birthplace: Manassa, Colorado, USA
Died: 1983-05-31 (Age:87)
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 6′ 1″   /   185cm
Reach: 77″   /   196cm
Boxing Record: click
Refereeing Record: click
Promoting Record: click

Trainer: Teddy Hayes
Managers: Norman Weaver, Billy Madden, Fred Winsor, Jack Kearns
Officiating Record: Referee
Jack Dempsey Gallery


Career Overview

The most popular boxer of his generation and one of the most fabled athletes in history, Jack Dempsey changed the sport of boxing from a slow, defense-minded contest of single punches and frequent holding into an exciting, aggressive battle of furious combinations and blazing knockouts. A fearsome brawler, the likes of which the sport had never seen, Dempsey drew record attendances and live gate receipts, allowing his ascent from starving hobo to millionaire during his ground-breaking career. During the 1950s, a consensus of boxing sages voted Dempsey the "pound-for-pound" greatest fighter of all time. Even today, he is still routinely ranked by journalists, historians, and experts as one of the five greatest heavyweights in history. (According to a February 6, 1943 Tacoma News Tribune article by Dillon Graham--the Associated Press's Sports Editor, who had researched the AP's index cards to see which athletes had "grabbed" the most newspaper headlines the previous 30 years--Dempsey came in first, with Luis Angel Firpo being second, and baseball legend Babe Ruth coming in third place.)

Kid Blackie

The man who would be known as Jack Dempsey was born William Harrison Dempsey on June 24, 1895 in Manassa, Colorado. His father, Hyrum Dempsey, was a poor farmer, prospector, and laborer who hailed from West Virginia. William and his brothers grew up idolizing famous prizefighters, especially heavyweight John L. Sullivan and middleweight Jack Dempsey (a fighter known as "the Nonpareil"). Two older brothers, Bernie and Johnny, preceded him into professional boxing, both adopting the name of their idol, Jack Dempsey; neither was particularly successful. William left school at the age of sixteen and began working as a laborer at various Colorado railroad stations and mining camps. In his free time, he frequented saloons, challenging other patrons to fisticuffs for side bets. Though he weighed only 150 pounds, he routinely beat older, bigger men and the men who saw him fight began calling him "Kid Blackie" because of his jet black hair. Soon enough he was participating in organized prizefights, though the details of his record as Kid Blackie has been lost to history.

According to Dempsey himself, his first organized bout for money took place in Montrose, Colorado, sometime around 1913 against a fellow named Freddy Woods. Dempsey claimed to have promoted the fight himself. During the fight itself, he survived a knockdown to put his Woods out in the fourth. There is, however, no newspaper account or hard evidence to confirm this fight. The earliest fight that researchers have uncovered took place on August 17, 1914 in Ramona, Colorado, a six round draw against the otherwise forgotten Young Herman. There was advertised an even earlier bout between "Young" Blackie and "Texas Kid" to take place at Provo, UT, on June 20, 1914, although the result of it remains unknown (source: Salt Lake Evening Telegram, 1914-06-19). A few months later he had relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he won three consecutive bouts by first round knockout. He suffered his first recorded loss there in 1915, losing a decision to a more experienced fighter named Jack Downey. Less than a year later he knocked out Downey in two rounds. Kid Blackie continued taking bouts wherever he could find them in the West: Nevada, Colorado, Utah. In early 1916 he strung off seven consecutive wins and decided to try his hand in New York City. His brothers had retired by this point, and William looked to make his name as the new "Jack Dempsey."

On June 24, in Manhattan, Dempsey survived two knockdowns against the bigger Andre Anderson to go the scheduled ten round distance in a no-decision bout. Official decisions in boxing were illegal in New York State at the time. A little over a week later, in need of cash and food, he fought Wild Bert Kenny, again lasting ten rounds to a no-decision. These performances won him notice in the major New York newspapers and the attention of businessman John "the Barber" Reisler, who became his manager. Reiser matched Jack with John Lester Johnson, an experienced New York native. In a hair-raising, closely-fought battle, Dempsey took what he later called "the hardest punch I ever took." A Johnson left to Dempsey's body shattered three ribs. Dempsey fought back and, though the fight was another no-decision, many in the press praised the newcomer's courage and endurance. After the fight, Reisler cheated Dempsey, who had been sleeping on benches in Central Park the previous night, out of most of his purse. Dejected, Dempsey stowed away on a train back to Salt Lake City, where he found work in various labor jobs and married a prostitute named Maxine Cates.

His professional boxing career at a stand-still, Dempsey served for a few months as a sparring partner for heavyweight contender Carl Morris. Around the same time he found a new manager, Jack "Doc" Kearns. Kearns brought momentum back to Dempsey's boxing hopes. Between September and November 1916, Dempsey four successive victories against marginal (at best) competition in Utah and Colorado. Then Kearns got Dempsey a shot at his internationally known opponent, veteran heavyweight Fireman Jim Flynn, a former title challenger known for his rugged fighting style and punching power. Days before the fight, Dempsey injured his right hand, but, in need of money, told no one. On February 13, 1917, in Murray, Utah, ten seconds into the match, Flynn landed a perfect right hand to Dempsey's jaw and put him on his back. Dempsey was unconscious on the floor long past the end of the referee's count. It would be the only knockout loss of his career. A little over a month later he lost a decision to Willie Meehan, a pudgy Californian with nearly one hundred bouts under his belt.

The Road to the Title

His career once again floundering, Dempsey was forced to continue toiling in obscurity. He beat Meehan in a second fight and then went undefeated in his next five to secure a match with hard-hitting Ed (Gunboat) Smith, a perennial heavyweight contender on the downside of his career. A four round decision over Smith proved to be Dempsey's first win over a nationally recognized name opponent. Then came a win over Carl Morris, the bulky ex-contender for whom Dempsey once worked as a sparring partner. Morris could do little but hold and wrestle against Dempsey's rampaging onslaught. In rematch, the referee disqualified Morris in the sixth of ten scheduled rounds. Then a rematch with Jim Flynn, the Pueblo Fireman, who had knocked out Dempsey in one round back in 1917. On Valentine's Day, 1918, Dempsey returned the favor, flattening Flynn in one minute and ten seconds of the first.

With four wins against name opponents inside of four months, Dempsey had made himself a viable heavyweight contender. Still more victories over quality opponents followed: Bill (KO) Brennan (knockout, six rounds); Arthur Pelkey (knockout, one round); Fred Fulton (knockout, one round); Battling Levinsky (knockout, three rounds); Carl Morris (knockout, one round); Ed (Gunboat) Smith (knockout, two rounds). In September of 1918, Dempsey lost another decision to Willie Meehan and ducked out of a 6-round war charity match at Madison Square Garden with Joe Jeannette, but it didn't matter. When he put together a streak of six consecutive first round knockout wins between January and April of 1919, the rampaging young heavyweight was the talk of fight circles and the leading contender to face the massive heavyweight champion of the world, Jess Willard.

World Champion

Dempsey on Self-Defense magazine

Willard stood more than six and a half feet tall and routinely weighed in excess of 240 pounds, monstrous dimensions for a man of the early twentieth century. Despite Dempsey's recent success, he was seen as too rough-edged and too small to stand a chance against Big Jess. Indeed many sportswriters expressed concern that Dempsey might lose his life in the ring, as had a previous Willard opponent, William (Bull) Young. When the July 4, 1919 bout began, however, their concerns immediately focused on the champion. Dempsey's fast hands and tremendous punching power made all the difference, sending Willard down and amazing seven times in the opening three minutes. He knocked out several of the champion's teeth, cracked his ribs and his skull, slashed his face to ribbons, and shattered his jaw and nose. When the round ended, Dempsey left the ring, confident--as were most in the crowd--that he had won by a knockout. But his manager, Kearns, called him back in. Incredibly, Willard wanted more. Willard fumbled around for another three rounds, unable to reverse his fortune. Though Dempsey proved unable to put him down again, Willard decided to retire from boxing while sitting on his stool awaiting the fourth round. Returning to his dressing room, the new champion learned that he would not be paid for the sweetest victory of his career. His manager had lost the purse on a bet that Dempsey would win in one round. The later accounts of some involved in the fight, including Willard and promoter Tex Rickard, proposed that Dempsey had loaded his gloves with either plaster-of-Paris or steel, but those allegations have never been proven.

Dempsey's first challenger for the title was faded contender Billy Miske. A veteran of more than eighty bouts, Miske had supposedly never been down or out in his career. He had gone six rounds with Dempsey two years earlier, but by 1920 had already been diagnosed with Bright's Disease, a potentially fatal illness that attacks the kidneys. Ignoring the advice of doctors, Miske decided he needed the money and approached Dempsey and his handlers about securing a title fight. Dempsey pushed the match through and dominated his ailing friend. Dempsey later said he wanted to end the fight early to avoid dealing any prolonged punishment to the sick man. In the second, a body blow from the champion put Miske down for the first time in his seven years as a prizefighter. Miske made it to his feet but fell again in the third. If Dempsey was trying to end it early, the challenger seemed averse to the notion. Miske again made it to his feet, only to be dropped yet again in the same round. The referee counted ten and Dempsey helped his barely conscious challenger to his corner.

Dempsey's debut at New York's legendary Madison Square Garden followed three months later, on December 14, 1920. His opponent was 'K.O.' Bill Brennan, an unpolished fringe contender who had put together a string of victories against no-hope opponents en route to securing a title shot. Rumors existed of Bill's connections to organized crime, including Chicago kingpin Al Capone. Rumors were just as prevalent that Dempsey was not taking Brennan seriously and that his training consisted more of women and booze than it did roadwork and heavy bags. Whatever the cause, Dempsey proved surprisingly vulnerable to Brennan's powers. In the second Dempsey was rocked by an uppercut to the jaw. Brennan failed to follow up on the advantage however and the champion survived the round. The rest of the fight was a competitive slugfest, with Dempsey digging into Brennan's body and Brennan landing hard shots to Dempsey's head. It was, said the New York Times, "... one of the most vicious and closely-contested fights in history..." In the twelfth, a right-left combination from the champion dropped Bill for the count.

Trial of the Century/Battle of the Century

By this time, controversy began to surround the champion. During his early title reign, Dempsey was not a generally liked figure. His fighting style brought in crowds, but many regarded him as immoral, thuggish, and even cowardly as a man. The public considered Miske and Brennan to be push-overs for Dempsey, they demanded to see him in with a top flight fighter. Worse yet, information had surfaced that Dempsey had dodged the draft for the First World War, which had only just ended. His estranged wife, a prostitute, had publicly brought charges against him of neglect. Dempsey avoided a conviction for draft evasion by proving that he was the sole support for his large family back in Colorado, which precluded his eligibility for conscription. The divorce proceedings with Maxine Cates, meanwhile turned into what journalists of the times called the "Trial of the Century." In both the court and newspapers, Mrs. Dempsey spewed all sorts of scandalous intrigues about Dempsey's early years as a wandering hobo and frequenter of whorehouses. The public came to regard him as a far cry from the role model most expected from the heavyweight champion of the world. Eventually the trial faded from the headlines and the Dempseys were divorced. Still, all of the mud-slinging had left a bad taste in the mouth of the public for Jack.

Tex Rickard, the most successful and innovative boxing promoter of the day, sought to cash in on the public's "bad guy" perception of Dempsey by pitting him against a classic "good guy" in Georges Carpentier, the reigning light heavyweight champion of the world. In direct contrast to Dempsey, Carpentier was known as a perfect gentleman and an intelligent, scientific fighter. Women adored the handsome European, while Jack was regarded at the time as a scarred brute. Even more importantly, Carpentier was a twice decorated war veteran, having served his native France as an observation pilot during the First World War. And he had not lost a bout in seven years. Rickard's publicizing of the disparate personalities and backgrounds of these men produced a mania in the sports world. The press anxiously labeled the proposed match-up as the "Battle of the Century." The result was the first million dollar gate as the sport's largest crowd yet, 80,183 people, packed into a specially built stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey and paid an unprecedented gate of nearly $1,800,000.

The fight itself, though dramatic, failed to live up to its ballyhoo. Dempsey was obviously the bigger man in the ring and his shots took their toll. Carpentier's response was initially to box and move, but he eventually settled down into trading shots with the champion. In the opening round, the Frenchman landed a hard right onto Dempsey's head that clearly stunned the champion. Dempsey, after clearing his head, responded with a relentless body attack followed by a crisp left hook that broke Carpentier's nose. In the second, Georges went back to boxing and landed another terrific right, one that forced the dazed champion to take a rare backward step. Meanwhile, Carpentier stood frozen still, stunned himself by the pain of a thumb broken in two places. By the time he tried to force his advantage, Dempsey had recovered. With the challenger hurt and Dempsey determined not to have another frightening moment, the bout took a decided turn. No longer competitive, it became all Dempsey. He battered the European around the ring and put him face-down onto the canvas in the fourth with two consecutive hooks. Apparently unconscious at the start of the count, the brave challenger still made it to his feet by the count of nine. But Dempsey showed his terrific finishing ability by blasting him with another right hook that rendered Carpentier totally senseless. The challenger was not revived until long after the referee's count had concluded.

Gibbons & Firpo

The Carpentier fight made Jack Dempsey the richest athlete to that point in history. He was now a top-tier celebrity throughout the world and made friends among the rich and famous of Hollywood, journalism, literature, music, and sports. In the meantime, he avoided prizefighting for two years. As the champion relaxed, two top contenders emerged as potential challengers for his crown. The first was Harry Wills, a fighter of supreme ability who had of late beaten Sam Langford, Ed (Gunboat) Smith, and Fred Fulton. The press constantly hounded Dempsey over the issue of a bout with this latest sensation, but the only problem was that Wills was black. There had, to this point, been only one black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. Johnson's reign had been so controversial and shocking that many within the fight business had been determined that there would never been another "colored" man allowed within a fighting chance of the laurels. Among those were Doc Kearns and Tex Rickard, Dempsey's manager and promoter; they shot down any talk of a fight with Wills. This left only Tommy Gibbons as a viable opponent. Though his resume was somewhat less impressive than that of Wills, the talented and tough Gibbons was coming off of three consecutive knockout wins and had been in the ring with the likes of Billy Miske, Harry Greb, and Battling Levinsky.

Thus Kearns began plans for what was supposed to be Dempsey's triumphant return, without Rickard's involvement. When officials from the small oil town of Shelby, Montana expressed interest in hosting the fight, Kearns accepted their offer of a guaranteed purse of $310,000. However, the remoteness of Shelby and the complications of long distance travel at the time deterred many fans from buying tickets. Shelby had helped finance the construction of a massive stadium that was roughly the size of the town itself to hold the expected spectators, but less than 8,000 ticket-buyers showed.

The fight itself proved anti-climatic, with Gibbons doing little else but backing away and a rusty Dempsey content to do little else but follow. The fight lasted a boring fifteen rounds and brought boos from the crowd. Because the poor turnout failed to cover the expenses of putting on the fight, each of Shelby's three banks were forced to bankrupt themselves in order to come up with $300,000 ($10,000 short) for Dempsey. Gibbons, the town completely bled dry, received no pay for his efforts. This financial debacle which lost all the private people of Shelby their life's savings, is still considered one of the worst promotional disasters in the history of boxing.

Dempsey's back

Saying he wanted to remain more active, the champion next fought Luis Angel Firpo of Argentina. Firpo had recently knocked out former champion Jess Willard and had also toppled notables Ed (Gunboat) Smith, Bill Brennan, and Charley Weinert. A tall, broad-shouldered fellow, Firpo was nonetheless unschooled in the finer points of boxing and considered out of his element against Dempsey. When the pair finally fought on September 14, 1923 at the Polo Grounds in New York, before 80,000 people, they clashed in one of the wildest, most celebrated championship brawls of all time. In the first round, Dempsey floored his opponent seven times, just he had done to Willard four years earlier. But the young and game Firpo was determined to prove his worth and managed to drop Dempsey to his knees with a right hand to the body very early in the same round. Momentarily stunned but back on his feet in no time, Dempsey tore into the challenger without mercy. Later in the round, Firpo, after rising from his seventh knockdown, charged Dempsey, who did not have time to get away from the ropes. The challenger through a wild, looping right hand that struck Dempsey in the head and lifted his feet from the canvas. Falling backward into the ropes, Dempsey's body stiffened to balance itself and, with a little shove from Firpo, did a flip clear out of the ring onto the writers' table at ringside. The referee, from the ring, began his count as the champion floundered helplessly. With help from the writers he was able to get his bearings and pull himself up and into the ring by the count of four. Again the "Wild Bull of the Pampas" charged him and this time Dempsey clinched. Dempsey remained dazed for the remainder of the round. In his corner Dempsey slowly regained his senses and came out for the second blazing away with punches; this time it was Firpo's turn to hold. Dempsey shoved him to the canvas with a push, but the Argentinean made it back to his feet and came right back in. After some in-fighting, the champion threw a fast left-right combination of hooks that put the challenger down for the ninth time. He was still rolling around on the canvas when the referee counted him out.

Comeback & Later Life

Having successfully made his sixth defense of the championship, Dempsey again avoided the ring, this time for more than three years. He now reigned in the public consciousness as one of the most famous men living and lived accordingly. He bought a mansion in Hollywood and began a romantic relationship with one of the more popular actresses of the era, Estelle Taylor. He signed a lucrative contract to appear in movie serials for Universal Studios. He bought his mother Celia a twenty-tow acre farm in Utah. He even underwent plastic surgery to reshape his battle-scarred features. In the meantime, he split with longtime manager Doc Kearns, after an argument about Taylor. The press, anxious to see the champion return, satisfied itself with covering the exploits of the division's leading contenders, men like Tommy Gibbons, Harry Wills, Gene Tunney, and Charley Weinert.

When Dempsey did finally return to the ring it would be against Tunney, the "Fighting Marine" from New York, a smart, tactical fighter who had once been the light heavyweight champion of America. Between 1922 and 1926, Tunney had proven himself a worthy challenger with wins over Weinert, Carpentier, Gibbons, Harry Greb, and Johnny Risko. When the pair did battle on September 23, 1926 at the Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a record 120,557 people braved a rainstorm in an open air arena to see the return of the heavyweight champion. What they and Dempsey got was a lesson in boxing technique from Tunney. Rusty and overconfident, Dempsey failed to connect with any big shots to his challenger. Tunney, meanwhile, boxed brilliantly, constantly circling the ring to keep the champion confused and off balance. He used his swift jab to keep Dempsey at bay, while Jack did little more than hopelessly pursue. The result was one of the biggest upsets the sport had experienced, a unanimous decision in favor of the New York fighter, the new heavyweight champion of the world. It was Dempsey's first loss in eight years.

Suddenly, much of the public came to admire Dempsey. Though he had always been a draw because of his exciting fights, Dempsey had been regarded by many as a thug wallowing in immorality and brutality. He was the man audiences loved to hate. With the intellectual and strategic Tunney as the new champion however, fans found themselves bored and missing Dempsey's ultra-masculine charisma and slugger's brawn. When Dempsey began his comeback, in pursuit of a return match with Tunney, by facing rising contender (and future champion) Jack Sharkey on July 21, 1927 at Yankee Stadium, suddenly crowds were cheering in favor of him rather than against him. Like Tunney, Boston's Sharkey was a technical boxer. He had recently won by disqualification over Harry Wills and was this regarded as the most likely contender, outside of Dempsey himself, to garner a championship bout. The winner of a Dempsey-Sharkey showdown was to determine who deserved a go at Tunney. Again Dempsey fell behind on the scorecards, staggered in the first round and out-punched by the younger man's faster punches as the fight progressed. Dempsey did manage to give the Bostonian a few tense moments and, in round seven, in the center of the ring, let loose with a vicious body attack that may or may not have strayed below the belt line. Sharkey, forgetting the rule to protect one's self at all times, immediately turned to the referee to complain of being fouled. As he did, Dempsey let loose with his trademark left hook which hit Sharkey square in the jaw. Sharkey collapsed to his knees and then on his face, still clutching his groin, and was counted out. While Sharkey continued to complain to the press that he had been fouled, despite the official knockout result. In earlier times the crowd would have believed him and complained about Dempsey's dirty tactics. But now, with Tunney as champion, they were just happy to see Dempsey win the fight and earn himself a rematch with the new titleholder.

Program.DempseyTunneyII.jpg

On September 22, 1927, 364 days after their initial encounter, Dempsey challenged Tunney at Soldiers Field in Chicago, Illinois. The 104,943 people turned out for the rematch paid receipts of $2,658,660, the highest gate for any sporting event yet and a record that would stand for more than a quarter century. The fight itself appeared to be a replay of the first in the beginning, with Tunney backing away and boxing and Dempsey pursuing without throwing punches. In the seventh, though, Dempsey landed a series of blows on the champion, who was pinned with his back against the ropes. Gene collapsed into the ropes and slowly slid down to the canvas. The excited Dempsey, forgetting the recently passed rule in Illinois that a man scoring a knockdown must go to the nearest neutral corner, stood over his fallen foe. Referee Dave Barry would not begin counting over Tunney until Dempsey obeyed the rule, but the confused challenger hesitated, giving Tunney precious time to regain his senses. By the time Dempsey had found his way to a neutral corner and Barry returned to begin his count, the champion had recovered his senses and was sitting upright on the canvas, smartly taking the remaining time to rest. Barry, who was supposed to pick up at the timekeeper's count, instead mistakenly started his count from the beginning, at "one." As a result, Tunney was able to rest a full fourteen seconds before rising at the count of nine. When Barry called for the two to fight and Dempsey charged out of his corner, Tunney bounced and danced along the ropes, making sure to stay out of Jack's way for the remainder of the seventh. In the eighth, a combination of hooks from Tunney put the pursuing challenger on his knees. Jack was up before the referee could begin his count, but was being thoroughly outboxed. When the fight drew to a close after ten rounds, the result was a unanimous decision for Tunney.

On March 4, 1928, Jack Dempsey, the most successful athlete of the "Golden Age of Sports", announced his retirement from professional prizefighting. He did, however, continue to fight in short exhibitions, touring the country and giving highly attended performances. Among the notables he boxed in his post-professional career were Charley Retzlaff, Art Lasky, King Levinsky (video), Max Schmeling, Max Baer, and Tony Galento. He often acted as a referee in popular boxing and wrestling matches. An increasingly popular figure in retirement, he often managed, promoted, and advised younger boxers. During World War II he served as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1945, at age 49, he fought alongside his men on Okinawa Beach. In later life, he owned a very successful restaurant in New York City and became one of the few financial success stories of champion boxers in their post-boxing life. After several years of heart problems, he died in New York on May 31, 1983 at age eighty-seven. In 1990 he became part of the inaugural class of inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Factoids

  • Early boxing history: [1]
  • Reportedly went by the nickname "Kid Blackie" in his early days
  • Former World Heavyweight Champion: 1919-1927
  • One of the most popular boxers of all time. The Associated Press's mid-20th century poll of over 300 sports writers and radio sportscasters ranked Dempsey the best fighter of the past 50 years.
  • Newspapers of October 18, 1924, reported that Dempsey's first manager, Norman (Buck) Weaver, 42, was accidentally shot dead while duck-hunting 19 miles southwest of Pueblo, Colorado. He and a companion, Howard Walker, 22, were sitting in separate boats, when Walker laid down his shotgun to pick up the oars to row when it discharged, the shots hitting Weaver in the face. He died several hours later.
  • On Dec. 8, 1938, the Boxing Writers Association awarded Dempsey the first-ever Edward J. Neil Trophy for being the boxer who had meant the most during the current year. The award was designed to perpetuate the memory of the Associated Press sports-writer and war correspondent who had been killed the year before in Spain.
  • Dempsey and his wife Estelle Taylor appeared in a 1928 Broadway play titled The Big Fight.
  • Dempsey was also a popular boxing referee.
  • Jack Dempsey once said: “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.”

Notable Bouts


Reference Sources


Other External Links

  • Tracy Callis CBZ Article: [10]
  • 1919 Film of Dempsey sparring with Big Bill Tate (shortly before Dempsey's title bout with Jess Willard): [11]
  • One minute highlight film: [12]
  • Slide show: [13]
  • A 1936 Chevrolet Leader News film showing Dempsey refereeing a boys boxing match (starting at 3:06): [14]
  • Be a Jack Dempsey Champion Today (Leadership lessons from Jack Dempsey): [15]
  • IMDb movie credits: [16]


Preceded by:
Jess Willard
World Heavyweight Champion
1919 Jul 4 – 1926 Sep 23
Succeeded by:
Gene Tunney
Preceded by:
Inaugural Champion
NBA World Heavyweight Champion
1921 Jul 2 – 1926 Sep 23
Succeeded by:
Gene Tunney
Preceded by:
Inaugural Champion
NYSAC World Heavyweight Champion
1922 Jul 24 – 1926 Sep 23
Succeeded by:
Gene Tunney