- Category : Boxer
- Type : ME
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Prevention 1
William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey ("The Manassa Mauler") (June 24, 1895 – May 31, 1983) was an American professional boxer. He was a cultural icon of the 1920s. He held the World Heavyweight Championship from 1919 to 1926. Dempsey's aggressive style and exceptional punching power made him one of the most popular boxers in history. Many of his fights set financial and attendance records, including the first million dollar gate. He is listed #10 on The Ring's list of all-time heavyweights and #7 among its Top 100 Greatest Punchers. In 1950, the Associated Press voted Dempsey as the greatest fighter of the past 50 years. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame; he was inducted into The Ring magazine's Boxing Hall of Fame in 1951.
Early life and career
Born in Manassa, Colorado, with the name of William Harrison Dempsey, he grew up in Colorado, West Virginia, and Utah, in a poor family. He was the son of Mary Celia (née Smoot) and Hiram Dempsey, and his ancestry included Irish, Cherokee, and a Jewish paternal great-great-grandmother. Both parents became Mormon converts, and Jack was baptized on August 2, 1903, after he reached the required age of accountability. Jack would later write, "I'm proud to be a Mormon. And ashamed to be the Jack Mormon that I am." Because his father had difficulty finding work, the family traveled often. He dropped out of grade school to work. Dempsey left home at the age of 16, eager to start a better life for himself. Due to lack of money, he frequently had to travel underneath trains and sleep in hobo camps. However, Dempsey was a strong, powerful youth who soon discovered a talent for fighting. With the help of his older brother Bernie, he commenced training as a professional boxer.
Desperate for the money, Dempsey would occasionally visit saloons and challenge for fights saying "I can't sing and I can't dance, but I can lick any SOB in the house." If anyone accepted the challenge, bets would be wagered. According to Dempsey's autobiography, he rarely lost these barroom brawls. A little known fact about Dempsey is that for a short time he was a part-time bodyguard for Thomas F. Kearns, president of The Salt Lake Tribune and son of Utah's U.S. Senator Thomas Kearns (no relation to Jack Kearns). The two men remained friends for years afterward.
Dempsey's exact boxing record is not known, because he occasionally boxed under the pseudonym, "Kid Blackie". (His use of the pseudonym continued until 1916.) Meanwhile, he first appeared as "Jack Dempsey" in 1914, after an earlier middleweight boxer Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey, 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 rounds to Jack Downey. During this early part of his career, Dempsey campaigned in Utah, frequently entering fights in towns up and down the Wasatch mountain range and keeping in shape with such sparring partners as Frank VanSickle.
He followed his loss against Downey with a knockout win and two draws versus Johnny Sudenberg in Nevada. Three more wins and a draw followed when he met Downey again, this time resulting in a four-round draw.
Ten wins in a row followed—a streak during which he beat Sudenberg and was finally able to avenge his defeat at the hands of Downey, knocking him out in two rounds. Three more non-decisions ensued. (At this point in the history of boxing, many states and counties forbade the use of 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 county where the fight was held).
While the United States fought World War I in 1917, Dempsey worked in a shipyard while continuing to box. Afterward, he was accused by some boxing fans of being a slacker. It was not 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 had been turned down. After the war, Dempsey spent two years in Salt Lake City, Utah—"bumming around", as he called it—in a very tough America, before returning to the ring.
Taking the title
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 (although many boxing historians, including Monte Cox, believe the fight was a "fix"), and Gunboat Smith, formerly a highly ranked contender who had beaten both World Champion Jess Willard and Hall of Famer Sam Langford. Dempsey beat Smith for the third time on a second-round KO.
Dempsey's first manager was John J. Reisler. Dempsey later hooked up with Jack Kearns, an experienced, clever fight manager who carefully and skillfully guided Dempsey to the top.
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 Light Heavyweight Champion Battling Levinsky (who had never been knocked out before Dempsey did so), Bill Brennan, Fred Fulton, Carl E. Morris, Billy Miske ("newspaper decision"), heavyweight Lefty Jim McGettigan and Homer Smith. In 1919 he won five regular bouts (plus one 1-round special bout) in a row by knockout in the first round.
As the Public Broadcasting System summarized: "Jack Dempsey's boxing style consisted of constantly bobbing and weaving. His attacks were furious and sustained. Behind it all was rage. His aggressive behavior prompted a rule that boxers had to retreat to a neutral corner and give opponents who had been knocked down a chance to get up." Constant attack was his strategic defense.
Title fight and controversy
On July 4, 1919, he and World Heavyweight Champion Jess Willard met at Toledo, Ohio, for the world title. Some knowledgeable observers such as Benny Leonard predicted a victory for Dempsey against the vastly larger champion but many called the fight a modern David and Goliath. In the event Willard was knocked down seven times—all in the first round—although it should be remembered that rules at the time permitted standing almost over a knocked-down opponent and hitting him again as soon as both knees had left the canvas. Willard's corner would not let him answer the bell for the fourth round. He was widely reported to have suffered a broken jaw, broken ribs, several broken teeth and a number of deep fractures to his facial bones, an unprecedented level of damage in boxing which aroused suspicion that Dempsey had cheated. Many questioned how the force capable of causing such damage had been transmitted through Dempsey's knuckles without fracturing them. Although some reporting in the aftermath of the match mentions no real injuries The New York Times account of the contest is representative of ringside coverage of the actual event from major newspapers, it describes severe swelling being visible on one side of Willard's face. A still photograph appears to show an unusual degree of discoloration and swelling on the face of Willard.
A disgruntled Kearns, who had been sacked by Dempsey, gave an account that became known as the "loaded gloves theory" in Sports Illustrated, January 20, 1964. Kearns claimed to have informed Dempsey that he had wagered Dempsey's share of the purse on Dempsey winning with a first-round knockout and had applied plaster of paris to the customary wrappings under Dempsey's gloves. Historian J. J. Johnston said "the films show Willard upon entering the ring walking over to Dempsey and examining his hands." That and an experiment conducted by a boxing magazine seem to disprove Kearns' story. However, Willard's actions in checking the wraps of his opponent, not a normal procedure, implies he was concerned about foul play, and Willard later claimed to have been defeated by gangsterism. Nat Fleischer, later founder of The Ring magazine, was there when Dempsey's hands were wrapped: "Jack Dempsey had no loaded gloves, and no plaster of paris over his bandages. I watched the proceedings and the only person who had anything to do with the taping of Jack's hands was Deforest. Kearns had nothing to do with it, so his plaster of paris story is simply not true. Deforest himself said that he regarded the stories of Dempsey's gloves being loaded as libel, calling them "trash" and said he did not apply any foreign substance to them, which I can verify since I watched the taping." Sports writer Red Smith in The New York Times obituary of Dempsey was openly dismissive of the claim.
Another suggestion is that Dempsey had an object resembling a rail spike in his gloved hand which he used as a knuckleduster during the first round, the only one in which Willard was knocked down. In the Los Angeles Times (July 3, 1979), Joe Stone, an ex-referee and boxing writer, asserted that in film of the fight an object could be seen lying on the canvas after the final knockdown and that this object appears to be removed by someone who seems to be from Dempsey's corner. The countervailing view is that Dempsey can be seen pushing and holding with the palm of the glove which would have made it all but impossible to keep a spike hidden or in place.
Dempsey, thinking the fight was over, had left the ring at the end of the first round, a clear violation of the rules which Willard's corner might have used to insist the referee disqualify Dempsey. However, Willard had economized by employing non-professional corner-men and they failed to make the necessary timely objection.
After beating Jess Willard and winning the title, Jack Dempsey traveled around the country, making publicity appearances with circuses, staging exhibitions, and even starring in a low-budget Hollywood movie. Dempsey did not defend his title until September 1920. This was against Billy Miske in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Miske was a good fighter but past his prime when he challenged Jack for the title and was knocked out in three rounds.
Dempsey's second title defense was much tougher, against Bill Brennan in December 1920 at Madison Square Garden, New York City. Brennan had given Dempsey a tough match two years earlier. After ten rounds, Brennan was actually ahead on points, and Dempsey's left ear was bleeding profusely. Dempsey rebounded to stop Brennan in the 12th round.
The next fight for "The Manassa Mauler" was against Frenchman Georges Carpentier, who had been a war hero during World War I and was extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The bout was shrewdly promoted by Tex Rickard, emphasizing the differences between the two men, and George Bernard Shaw, who claimed that Carpentier was "the greatest boxer in the world" and the odds were 50 to 1 against Dempsey. The anticipation for this bout was tremendous.
The Dempsey-Carpentier contest took place on July 2, 1921 at Boyle's Thirty Acres, Jersey City, New Jersey, generating the first million dollar gate in boxing history. A crowd of 91,000 watched the fight. Though it was deemed "the Fight of the Century" and many people who didn't know much about boxing thought Carpentier had a chance to win, most experts anticipated a one-sided win for Dempsey, and they were right. RCA arranged for live coverage of the match making the event the first national radio broadcast reaching mostly homemade radio sets after first being telegraphed to KDKA for broadcast.
Carpentier got off to a fast start and reportedly even wobbled Dempsey with a hard right in the second round. A reporter at ringside, however, counted twenty-five punches from Dempsey in a single thirty-one second exchange soon after he was supposedly injured by the right. Carpentier also broke his thumb in that round, which crippled his chances. In the third, the bigger, stronger Dempsey began to take charge and administered a brutal beating to Georges. The Frenchman was eventually stopped in the fourth round.
Dempsey did not defend his title again until July 1923 against Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montana. Gibbons was a skilled, clever boxer, but was not powerful enough against the bigger, stronger Dempsey, who won a 15-round decision.
The last successful title defense for Dempsey was in September 1923 at New York's Polo Grounds. His opponent in the fight was the huge, powerful, yet limited contender Luis Angel Firpo, from Argentina. Attendance was 85,000, with another 20,000 trying to get inside the arena. Dempsey won via a 2nd-round KO, but it was an exciting battle. Firpo was knocked down repeatedly yet continued to battle back, even knocking Dempsey down twice. The second time Dempsey was floored, he went sailing head first through the ring ropes, landing on a reporter's typewriter. Dempsey was out of the ring approximately fourteen seconds, more than the ten seconds for knockdowns inside the ring, but less than the twenty seconds stipulated by the rules when knocked out of the ring. This scene is one of the most memorable in sports history. This fight was so important that it was transmitted live to Buenos Aires by radio and people gathered in the streets to listen to it through primitive receivers and amplifiers. These fights, plus his many exhibitions, movies and endorsements, had made Dempsey one of the richest athletes in the world.
Time off from boxing
After the Firpo brawl, Dempsey did not defend his title for another three years. There was pressure from the public and the media for Dempsey to defend his title against black contender Harry Wills. There is disagreement among boxing historians as to whether Dempsey avoided Wills, though Dempsey claimed he was willing. When he originally won the title, however, he had said he would not fight black boxers. Instead of defending his title, Dempsey continued to earn money by boxing exhibitions, making movies and endorsing products. Dempsey also did a lot of traveling, spending and partying. During this time away from competitive fighting, Dempsey married actress Estelle Taylor and broke up with his long-time trainer/manager Jack "Doc" Kearns. This break-up did not go smoothly and Kearns repeatedly sued Dempsey for huge sums of money. He was also appointed to the executive of the Irish Worker League (IWL) in April 1924. The IWL was a Moscow backed communist movement founded by Irish labour leader, Jim Larkin, in Dublin.
Loss of title and the "Long Count"
In September 1926, Dempsey fought Irish-American former U.S. Marine Gene Tunney in Philadelphia. Tunney was an excellent boxer who had lost only once in his career. Nevertheless, Tunney was still considered the underdog.
In a big upset, Dempsey lost his title on points in ten rounds. No longer displaying his legendary punching power or hand speed, Dempsey was easily outboxed by the slick Tunney, who would dodge, use excellent pad level and then let loose with a salvo of punches of his own. The attendance for this fight was a record 120,557, the largest attendance ever for a sporting event outside motor racing and soccer. When the battered Dempsey returned to his dressing room, he explained the defeat to his film actress wife Estelle Taylor by saying, "Honey, I forgot to duck." This phrase was later used by President Ronald Reagan to his wife after Reagan was shot during a failed attempt on his life in 1981.
Dempsey contemplated retiring, but after a few months of rest decided to try a comeback, despite a tragedy which befell Dempsey's family in which his other brother, John, shot his own wife, then killed himself in a murder-suicide. On July 21, 1927, at Yankee Stadium, he knocked out future Heavyweight Champion Jack Sharkey in the seventh round of an elimination bout for a title shot against Tunney. Sharkey was beating Dempsey until the end, when the fight ended controversially. Sharkey claimed that Dempsey had been hitting him below the belt. When Sharkey turned to the referee to complain, he left himself unprotected. Dempsey crashed a left hook onto Sharkey's chin, knocking him out cold. The referee then counted out Sharkey.
The Tunney rematch took place in Chicago, Illinois, on September 22, 364 days after losing his title to Tunney in their first bout. This fight generated even more interest than the Carpentier and Firpo bouts, generating an amazing $2 million gate, a record that stood for many years. According to legend, Al Capone offered to fix the rematch in his favor, but Dempsey refused. Millions of people around the country listened to the bout on the radio and hundreds of reporters covered the event. Tunney was paid a record one million dollars (equivalent to approximately $13,216,475 in today's funds) for the Dempsey rematch (his official purse was actually $990,000, so he gave the promoters a check of his own for $10,000 so he could receive the "million dollar payday," a photostat of which is still owned by the Tunney family). Dempsey earned about half that.
Dempsey was losing the fight on points when he knocked Tunney down with a left hook to the chin in the seventh round and landed several more punches. A new rule for boxing at the time mandated that when a fighter knocked down an opponent, he must immediately go to a neutral corner. But Dempsey seemed to have forgotten that rule (compare his fight with Willard where he almost stood over his downed opponent ready to strike again) 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.
The official timekeeper for the fight counted the time Tunney stayed down as 14 seconds. But, after Dempsey finally went to a neutral corner, the referee started his count and Tunney got up at the referee's count of nine. Dempsey tried to finish Tunney off before the round ended, but he failed to do so. A fully recovered Tunney dropped Dempsey for a count of one in round eight, easily won the final two rounds of the fight and retained the title on a unanimous decision. Ironically, the new rule (which was not yet universal) was requested during negotiations by members of the Dempsey camp. Another discrepancy was the fact that when Tunney knocked Dempsey down, the referee started the count immediately, not waiting for Tunney to move to a neutral corner. Because of the controversial nature of the fight, it remains known in history as the fight of "The Long Count."
Dempsey retired after this bout and made countless exhibition bouts. Dempsey's philanthropy was also noteworthy. In June 1932, Dempsey sponsored the "Ride of Champions" bucking horse event at Reno, Nevada. The Dempsey Trophy went to legendary bronc rider Pete Knight. In 1933, Dempsey was approached by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to play a boxer. The film, The Prizefighter and the Lady, directed by W. S. Van Dyke, co-starred Dempsey and Myrna Loy, and obtained good reviews.
In 1935, Dempsey opened Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant in New York City's Times Square, which he kept open until 1974. Although closed today, many years later people still have fond memories of the legendary hangout. Dempsey was also an owner of the Colony Palms Hotel (then called the Howard Manor) in Palm Springs, California.
Dempsey divorced Taylor and in July 1933 married Broadway singer Hannah Williams, who had just divorced Roger Wolfe Kahn, and had two children with her. Shortly after Dempsey divorced Hannah Williams in 1943, the boxer married Deanna Piatelli and was married to her at the time of his death. Together with Deanna's daughter, Barbara, Dempsey would pen the book Dempsey later on in life.
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. Dempsey joined the New York State Guard and was given a commission as a first lieutenant. Dempsey resigned that commission to accept a commission as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard Reserve. Dempsey reported for active duty in June 1942 at Coast Guard Training Station, Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, New York, where he was assigned as "Director of Physical Education." Dempsey also made many personal appearances at fights, camps, hospitals and War Bond drives. Dempsey was promoted to lieutenant commander in December 1942 and commander in March 1944. In 1944, Dempsey was assigned to the transport USS Wakefield (AP-21). In 1945, Dempsey was on the attack transport USS Arthur Middleton (APA-25) for the invasion of Okinawa. Dempsey also spent time aboard the USS General William Mitchell (AP-114), where he spent time showing the crew sparring techniques. Dempsey was released from active duty in September 1945 and he was given an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard Reserve in 1952.
True to his passion for the sport, Dempsey wrote a book on boxing called Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense, which was published in 1950. The book emphasizes knockout power derived from enabling fast motion from one's heavy bodyweight. Though no longer in print, Dempsey's book became and remains the recognized treatise in boxing and has influenced such works from Edwin Haislet and Bruce Lee.