Today we share a tribute to the heavyweight legend ‘The Manassa Mauler’ Jack Dempsey – born on this day in 1895.

A mauler from Manassa, Colorado, known to the youngest ever heavyweight champion at one point in time at the age of 24 (succeeding James J Jeffries, succeeded by Joe Louis, age 23) and was one of, if not the most ferocious heavyweight of all time. Poor growing up, “a starving hobo” one source claims, he would fight for money, fight to eat, fight to survive – fighting was all he grew up to know. He idolized former heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan and former Middleweight champion, Nonpareil Jack Dempsey – the inspiration for his fighting name, as his real name was William Harrison Dempsey.

Dempsey turned pro in 1914 at the age of 19 and racked up a number of good results until facing his first real challenge against heavyweight contender, Fireman Jim Flynn. Shockingly, Dempsey was knocked out in 25 seconds of the first round, which was the only time in his long career that he was stopped. He claimed that he was beaten without controversy besides him believing his corner stopped the fight prematurely. He’d fight on, avenging the loss against Flynn a year later, knocking him out cold just 70 seconds into the first round of their rematch.

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Rising up the heavyweight ranks with notable wins over Fred Fulton, Billy Miske, Gunboat Smith & former champion Battling Levinsky, he got his title shot in 1919 against the 6 ft 6 inches tall heavyweight champion, Jess Willard. This was Dempsey’s most famous bout and was for sure his greatest performance as he destroyed Willard. The 6 ft challenger floored Willard over and over again, in fact, 7 times in the first round. Dempsey believed he had won the fight by KO as he left the ring for the changing rooms but the timekeeper and referee said the bell had ended the round before Willard was knocked out. He continued to beat on Willard until he couldn’t come out for the 4th round, making Dempsey the new heavyweight champion of the world.

A little over a year later, Dempsey defended the title for the first time against former opponent Billy Miske, scoring a 3rd round KO, it being the first bout ever broadcasted on radio. His second defense ended with a 12th round KO over Bill Brennan before defense number 3 in 1921, would also prove to go down in history. Dempsey fought former light-heavyweight champion, Georges Carpentier, in boxing’s first million-dollar gate, scoring a 4th round KO in the process.

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Dempsey took 2 years out of the ring before he defended again, this time against great defensive fighter Tommy Gibbons who had never been floored. Shortly after, came another famous fight with Luis Angel Firpo in front of 80,000 at the Polo Grounds where Dempsey floored the Argentinian 7 times in the opening round. Unbelievably, Dempsey was himself floored at the end of the first flying through the ropes and out the ring but he recovered quickly, finishing the job in round two.
Dempsey-through-the-ropesThe famous ‘Dempsey Through The Ropes’ painting by George Bellows.

Dempsey reigned the heavyweight division until 1926 when he finally lost his title to great champion, Gene Tunney in a unanimous decision in front of 125,000 fans in Philadelphia. The largest gate crowd at the time to ever to attend a single sporting event. Dempsey by this point was a tired champion and was beaten to the punch by the Tunney. It was Dempsey’s first loss in 6 years and only his 2nd loss in a decade. He’d have a chance to regain the title in a rematch with Tunney 364 days later but fell victim to a new rule in place where after scoring a knockdown, the boxer would have to go to a neutral corner before the count began. Dempsey poleaxed Tunney with many punches, flooring him hard in the 7th in what is known as “The Long Count”. Tunney was on the floor for almost 15 seconds which to this day, is one of boxing’s most controversial moments. Jack Dempsey would retire shortly afterwards at the age of 32.

A great champion, a walking highlight reel, an underrated fighter would have been 128 on this day and he will forever be missed.

Rest In Peace to the Manassa Mauler, Jack Dempsey.

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