Jack Dempsey

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This article is about the boxer named Jack Dempsey. There is another article on the fish commonly called Jack Dempsey.

Jack Dempsey
Nickname Manassa Mauler
Division Heavyweight
Born June 24, 1895
Died May 31, 1983
Birth place Manassa, Colorado
Home town Salt Lake City, Utah
Style Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 83
Wins 62
KOs 50
Losses 6
Draws 9
No contests 6

William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey (June 24, 1895 - May 31, 1983), was an Irish-American boxer who won the world heavyweight title. During the 1920s he was involved in many famous fights.



Born in Manassa, Colorado, by age 16 Dempsey had begun hopping on trains and travelling west to fight as a professional. He would go into saloons and challenge for fights saying "I can't sing and I can't dance, but I can lick any man in the house". His exact fight record is not known because sometimes he boxed under the pseudonym, Kid Blackie. This practice continued until 1916. In between, he first appeared as Jack Dempsey in 1914, drawing with Young Herman in six rounds. After that fight, he won six bouts in a row by knockout (as Jack Dempsey), before losing for the first time, on a disqualification in four to Jack Downes. During this early part of his career, Dempsey campaigned in Utah frequently. He followed his loss against Downey with a knockout win and two draws versus Johnny Summerland in Nevada. Three more wins and a draw followed and then he met Downes again, this time resulting in a four round draw.

Ten wins in a row followed, a streak during which he beat Summerland and was finally able to avenge his defeat at the hands of Downes, knocking him out in two. Then, three more non-decisions came (early in boxing, there were no judges to score a fight, so if a fight lasted the full distance, it was called a draw or non-decision, depending on the state or country the fight was being held in). In between the non-decisions, Dempsey refused to box with Sam Langford, a Black fighter who is now in the International Boxing Hall Of Fame alongside Jack. Dempsey was always aware that fights with Black opponents could bring negative society reactions.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Dempsey worked in a shipyard while continuing to box. After the war, he was accused by some boxing fans of being a draft dodger. It wasn't until 1920 that he was able to clear his name on that account, when evidence was produced showing he had attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army, but was turned down.

Meanwhile, Dempsey went 9-1-4 in 14 bouts in 1917. Among his opponents were Fireman Jim Flynn, the only boxer ever to beat Dempsey by a knockout when Dempsey lost to him in the first round, and Gunboat Smith, a fringe contender stopped by Dempsey.

In 1918, Dempsey boxed 17 times, going 15-1 with one no decision. He avenged his defeat against Flynn by returning the favor, knocking him out in the first round. Among others he beat were Kid Levingsky, a top rated contender of the times.

He began 1919 winning five bouts in a row by knockout in the first round. Then on July 4, he and world Heavyweight champion Jess Willard met at Toledo, Ohio, for the world title. Few gave Dempsey a chance against the larger champion and many called this fight a modern David and Goliath. However, Dempsey was fearless and vowed victory. The first round of the fight was one of the most brutal in boxing history. Dempsey dealt Willard a terrible beating and knocked him down seven times in that round alone. Both of Willard's eyes were swollen shut, his nose was broken, six of his teeth were on the canvas and his ribs were crushed. At the end of the third round the champion was forced to give up. Today, an offical overseeing such an event would be barred from refereeing further matches for failure to stop such a massacre.

In his first defense, he faced friend Billy Miske, knocking him out in three rounds. Years after the fight, it was learned Miske accepted the fight while suffering a terminal disease and needed the money to secure his family after death, which occurred to him two years after challenging Dempsey. Dempsey always expressed regret about that fight and declared he would have given Miske the money he needed if he'd only known of Miske's situation.

Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier boxed in the first million dollar gate.
Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier boxed in the first million dollar gate.

One more defense followed, versus Bill Brennan, before he had to face world Light Heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier in what became boxing's first million dollar gate ever. Carpentier, a decorated veteran of the French Army had served in World War I. Ironically, Dempsey's promoter used this angle to promote the fight, since many Americans still regarded Dempsey as a slacker during the war. In a farm that had to be rented to accommodate all the public in New Jersey, Dempsey beat Carpentier by a knockout in four rounds in front of 80,183 fans.

After this fight, Dempsey's fame reached unexpected heights, becoming one of the top five sports stars in the United States in 1920s, along with baseball's Babe Ruth, tennis' Bill Tilden, American football's Red Grange and golf's Bobby Jones. They were known in America as the big 5 of sports.

In 1922, he fought just one official fight, a four-round bout against journeyman Jimmy Darcy in Buffalo, New York that was originally scheduled as an exhibition, but was required to be an official fight under New York law. Dempsey also fought several exhibition bouts across the country that year.

In 1923, he had two fights: one against Tommy Gibbons in the small town of Shelby, Montana, a fight which was a financial disaster. Dempsey retained the title by a decision (decisions had already been incorporated by 1923 in boxing), but the town went bankrupt after the fight. In his second match that year, he met Argentina's Luis Firpo in a historic fight at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Firpo became the first hispanic to challenge for the world Heavyweight title, and in the combat Dempsey had him down seven times in round one, but Firpo found a combination to the head that dropped Dempsey outside the ring and on all fours before the end of the round. Dempsey hit his head against a writer's typewriting machine, but he recovered, got up at the count of nine and technically knocked Firpo out in the second round to retain the title.

Dempsey signed a contract to fight Black contender Harry Wills in 1924, but it never occurred. Promoter Tex Rickard was against the match, remembering the riots that occurred after Rickard promoted the James J. Jeffries versus Jack Johnson bout and fearing a racial repercussion after a bout between Dempsey and a Black opponent.

Dempsey in Chicago, Illinois, hoisting his wife, Estelle Taylor, on his right shoulder
Dempsey in Chicago, Illinois, hoisting his wife, Estelle Taylor, on his right shoulder

In 1925, he married Hollywood actress Estelle Taylor and started appearing in films and doing more exhibition bouts. He did not defend his title again until 1926. Among those exhibitions, there was a trip to Germany where he and future world champion Max Schmeling boxed a two-round exhibition.

In '26, Dempsey fought former US Marine Gene Tunney in Philadelphia, losing his title on points in ten rounds in front of a record crowd announced at 120,557.

Dempsey wasn't quite ready to retire from the ring, and in 1927, he knocked out future heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey in the eighth round of an elimination bout for a title shot against Tunney. The rematch took place in Chicago, Illinois on September 22, 364 days after losing his title to Tunney in their first bout.

Dempsey was losing the fight on points by a wide margin when he knocked Tunney to the canvas with a left and right combination to the chin in the seventh round. By rule, when a fighter knocks down an opponent, he must immediately go to a neutral corner, but Dempsey seemed to have forgotten that rule and refused to immediately move to the neutral corner when instructed by the referee. The referee had to escort Dempsey to the neutral corner, which bought Tunney at least an extra five seconds to recover.

Boxing historians and filmmakers have counted the time Tunney stayed down between 13 and 16 seconds. But, after Dempsey finally went to a neutral corner, the referee started his count, and Tunney got up at the count of nine. Dempsey tried to finish Tunney off before the round ended, but failed to do so. A fully recovered Tunney dropped Dempsey in round eight, easily won the final two rounds of the fight, and retained the title on a unanimous decision. Because of the controversial nature of the fight, it remains known in history as the fight of The Long Count.

He retired after this bout and made countless exhibition bouts. He opened a restaurant in New York City, which he kept open well into the 1960s, and he divorced Taylor and in July of 1933 married Broadway singer Hannah Williams (who herself had just divorced Roger Wolfe Kahn) and had two children by her.

When the United States entered World War II, Dempsey had an opportunity to refute any remaining criticism of his war record of two decades earlier. He volunteered for national service and was commissioned a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, charged with developing a physical fitness program for U.S. soldiers. Later, he served a morale officer in the Pacific, and in 1945, he became a hero to many when, at age 49, he insisted on going into battle on Okinawa with a group of men he had trained.

Legend says that one time, an elder Dempsey was mugged by a couple of teen thieves, whom he knocked out and held until the police arrived. He made friends with Wills and Tunney after retirement, and had many books written about his life. Dempsey even campaigned for Tunney's son John when he ran for the US Senate. One of Dempsey's best friends was Judge John Sirica who presided over the Watergate trials.

He had a record of 62 wins, 6 losses, 8 draws, 5 no decisions and 1 no contest, with 50 knockouts.

He is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.

In 2003, Dempsey was named the seventh best puncher of all time in boxing history by Ring Magazine.

Jack Dempsey is buried in the Southampton Cemetery, Southampton, New York.



  • Boxing World heavyweight champion

See also

External links

Preceded by:
Jess Willard
Heavyweight boxing champion
Succeeded by:
Gene Tunney
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