Heavyweight idol of the “Roaring Twenties” Jack “Manassa Mauler” Dempsey, died 35 years ago today at his home in New York aged eighty eight, from a heart attack, just after reassuring his Wife: “Don’t worry Honey, I’m too mean to die!”
Jack Dempsey was the first heavyweight world champion who achieved true global fame.
From a humble family, he worked in his youth as a miner. In those lean early years in rough and tumble frontier towns, Jack who was skinny young man, often had fights for bets in bars, introducing himself with the immortal line: “I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but I can lick any man here!
He recalled: “When I was a young fellow, I was knocked down plenty of times. I wanted to stay down, but I couldn’t.
“I had to collect two dollars for winning or go hungry. I was one of those hungry fighters. You could hit me with a sledgehammer for five dollars. When you haven’t eaten for two days..you’ll understand!”
Jack’s power and ruthlessly honed fighting style, attracted attention, so he became professional in 1914.
On a blazing 4th July 1919 in Toledo, Ohio, he pulverized heavyweight champion Jess Willard. Willard nicknamed the “Pottawattamie Giant” stood six feet six inches tall and weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds.
Jack was five inches shorter and was fifty-eight pounds lighter!
Jack knocked down Jess seven times in round one. He left the ring presuming the fight was over.
But his Manager Jack “Doc” Kearns, who’d bet ten thousand dollars of their purse, predicting a one round victory, had to summon him back in haste.
Jess, who’d suffered a broken jaw, fractured ribs, a fractured cheekbone and lost four teeth, two of which were embedded in Jack’s right glove, wasn’t ready to surrender Sport’s richest prize on the canvass!
Jess wasn’t able to come out for round four, but won immortality, for his incredible bravery.
To coin Jack’s famous saying: “I champion is someone who gets up when he can’t!”
Jack successfully defended his title seven times, in mythical fights, against a vivid variety of opponents like Frenchman George Carpienter and the Argentinean Luis Ángel Firpo.
The fight against “The Orchid Kid” Carpentier, who was described as the best boxer in the World, by George Bernard Shaw, was held at Boyle’s Thirty Acres, New Jersey and was the first million dollars gate, attracting a crowd of 91,000.
Georges who was the reigning light heavyweight champion staggered Jack in the second with a short right hand. In doing so he fractured his thumb, against Jack’s hard head. He was overwhelmed a round later by a swarming Dempsey.
Firpo who was known as the “Wild Bull of the Pampas,” lived up to his nickname. Knocked down seven times in round one…enraged he got up and retaliated driving Jack through the ropes.
Jack’s head hit a typewriter, but friendly reporters didn’t hold that against him! They boosted him back into the ring, where he finished his typecast job one round later.
Jack began a cinematographic career taking advantage of his popularity, but that kept him inactive from boxing from 1923 to 1926.
The sweet life cost Jack dear, as he lost the title in 1926 to Gene Tunney via a ten rounds UD, in Philadelphia.
He quipped to his then Wife Estelle Taylor: “Honey I forgot to duck!”
Their rematch a year later in Chicago has passed into legend, and is known as: “The battle of the long count.” Outboxed and outfoxed by Gene for six rounds, Jack trapped Gene in a corner and dropped him with a massive left hook in the seventh.
But crucially and fatefully, Jack forgot to obey the new rule and go to a neutral corner. The Referee escorted him there and only after that, did the count start. Gene, who waited until the count of nine to get up, had gained an extra five seconds.
Gene briefly decked Jack in the next round and went on to win their second ten round encounter.
“The Big Guy” Al Capone who’d bet a bundle on Jack, reputedly lost a fortune!
Jack and Gene became lifelong friends. So much so that Jack campaigned for Gene’s son John, who was running for the Senate.
In 1935, Jack opened a restaurant just across the road from Madison Square Garden in New York. He lived in New York until his death on May 31, 1983.
Never a huge or tall heavyweight Jack, cut many opponents down to size, quipping: “Tall men come down to my height when I hit them! The best defense is an offense!”
He also modestly mused: “I was a pretty good fighter. But it was the reporters who made me Great!”