Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey, the “Manassa Mauler,” was a heavyweight American boxing champion known for his aggressive style and knockouts. He won the title in 1919 and defended it successfully for years, but lost it to Gene Tunney in a controversial fight. Despite some defeats, Dempsey remained a beloved figure in boxing and beyond.

Early Life

William Harrison Dempsey. American boxer, who was world’s heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926. Jack Dempsey was born in the Mormon town of Manassa, Colorado, on June 24, 1895. Manassa supplied his nickname the Manassa Mauler. He was of Irish-Scottish American descent, and his early stage was the mining and shanty towns of the gold-rush days. Fighting came naturally: penniless and hungry and large, he became the fairground and barroom champion.

First fights of Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey’s first recorded fight was at nineteen around Utah and Colorado mining camps in 1914, when he beat Fred Woods and earned $3.50. It was pointless fighting as an amateur; cash was the only requirement and Dempsey fought under the name of Kid Blackie. He lost his second fight, to Andy Malloy on points, and then knocked out Malloy in round three a couple of days later. The early fights were at places soon to become famous in Westerns Durango, Goldfield, and Cripple Creek, by the time he was earning his living as a professional boxer.

Kid Blackie became Jack Dempsey

Disillusioned and disorganized, Jack Dempsey packed in boxing for a while and took a job in the Seattle shipyards. His elder brother Jack was a great influence in the early days, and when news filtered through to Seattle of his death, Kid Blackie began to fight again to pay for the funeral costs. Kid Blackie became Jack Dempsey as a mark of respect. Though known as Jack, his brother was christened with another name but took ‘Jack Dempsey’ from his boyhood idol, the former world middleweight champion of the same name.

Heavyweight crown

Jack Dempsey won the heavyweight crown from Jess Willard in Toledo, Ohio, on July 4, 1919, flooring the taller and heavier Willard seven times in the first round and knocking him out in three. He had compiled a record of so victories and 2 losses when he became a heavy-weight champion of the world by knocking out “Jess” Willard in the fourth round of their championship fight at Toledo, Ohio, July 4, 1919.


Five of his bouts in the 1920’s drew million-dollar gates. Dempsey suffered four more defeats during those early apprentice days. Jack Downey outpointed him (later reversed in round two), then Fireman Jim Flynn, who had fought for the world title, seriously inconvenienced the twenty-one-year-old on Friday, 13 December 1917, knocking Dempsey out in round one.


A year and a day later, the Fireman was extinguished in the first round. Then there was Willie Meehan, an awkward customer, whom Dempsey fought most weekends.

The fights were over four rounds and Meehan’s backpedaling tactics gave him a 2-1 lead with two drawn. the contenders in the latter half of 1918 and Moving amongst early 1919, Dempsey had eleven fights, winning ten on knockouts, and fighting a six-round no decision with Billy Miske.


The other ten fights took just thirteen rounds each. He had become a destructive hitter and bathed his hands and face in brine to harden the skin. Managed by Frank Price and increasingly by Jack Kearns, Dempsey was contracted to fight the Pottawatomie Giant.


He defended his title against Billy Miske and Bill Brennan in 1920, Georges Carpentier in 1921, and Tommy Gibbons and Luis Firpo in 1923, but lost it to Gene Tunney in Philadelphia on Sept. 23, 1926. He lost again to Tunney in Chicago on Sept. 22, 1927, in the famous “long count’ bout (he failed to retire immediately to his corner after flooring Tunney in the second round so that Tunney was down for 14 to 16 seconds).


His active ring career ended in 1928. Dempsey retired from the ring on Mar. 4, 1928, but he returned to fight 56 exhibition bouts in 1931 and 1932.

Jess Willard and Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey fought with Jess Willard, for the world heavyweight title on 4 July 1919. Dempsey weighed in at 189 lb and was 6 feet 1 inch tall and Willard, champion for four years, weighed around 250 lb and was a shade over 6 feet 6 inches. Dempsey’s battle plan was simple: “Tall men come down to my height when I hit them in the body.” Willard spent most of the first round six feet below Dempsey’s cranium. Having floored him seven times in the first round.

Dempsey thought that he had beaten the courageous champion at the end of round one. He put on his dressing gown and headed for the showers. Recalled to complete the job. Dempsey left the Toledo ring at the end of the third round as the new heavyweight champion. Willard received $100,000 for the pain and Dempsey $27.000. When asked why he was in such a hurry to finish the fight, Dempsey revealed. ‘I bet my purse at 10 to 1 that I would win in the first round.’

Georges Carpentier and Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey began to cash in on his apparent invincibility. His third defence was against the French man Georges Carpentier, the outstanding world light heavyweight champion. Dempsey won in round four, but that is only part of the story. Promoter Tex Rickard built a huge indoor stadium in New Jersey to house 80,000, and coined the phrase ‘Fight of the Century’. Boxing’s first million-dollar gate had been achieved.

Luis Angel Firpo and Jack Dempsey

The next defense but one was equally dramatic. Luis Angel Firpo, the ‘Wild Bull of the Pampas’, lived up to his name. Dempsey knocked him down seven times in round one but, unlike Willard, Firpo got up and knocked Dempsey out of the ring. Dempsey spared himself further embarrassment in the next round.

Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey

Increasingly involved in exhibitions, Dempsey fought twenty-six accredited demonstrations but was not match fit when he fought and lost his title to Gene Tunney. The New York Marine, in Philadelphia on points over ten rounds in 1926. A comeback fight, billed as an eliminator, in 1927. against future champion, Jack Sharkey ended successfully in the seventh round and set up the return against Tunney. They booked the Soldier’s Field, Chicago, for the night of 22 September 1927. Tunney’s shareout was $990,000. Dempsey’s $447.500. The kitty was $2.658,660.

The fight went much the same way as the first. Tunney outscored the heavier puncher until round nine. When a right put Tunney down. In some distress, his legs buckled under him. Referee Dave Barry twice motioned Dempsey to a neutral corner. Twice Dempsey failed to read orders. Only when Dempsey had realized his mistake did Barry start to count. At nine Tunney was on his feet. Some say the knockdown lasted 17 seconds. Tunney claims he would have been ready if the original count had reached eight. Tunney’s point advantage enabled him to retain the title.

Jack Dempsey
Jack Dempsey throws aright hook, and Gene Tunney goes down for the famous 'long count'at Chicago in 1927.

Dempsey retired and later life

Dempsey retired from the ring and gained even more public adulation by refusing to blame Dave Barry. His active ring career is over. Dempsey turned businessman. He opened a restaurant that has become one of the most famous in New York. He refereed both boxing and wrestling matches. After a four-year lay-off, he milked his popularity and, from 20 August 1931 to the end of the year, engaged in thirty-four exhibition bouts which drew crowds totaling 280,155, who paid nearly half a million dollars for the privilege. Dempsey had several legitimate bouts but was always spoon-fed and sensibly never stepped out of his league. He had his last fight in 1940, when just over forty-five years old.

Honour and other work

Refereeing fights of higher quality, he was honored with the world middleweight fight in 1939 between Cerefino Garcia and Glen Lee in Manila. He reputedly earned 10,000 dollars for his night’s work. In 1942, he enlisted in the US Coastguard and was commissioned as a commander. Dempsey served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, with the rank of commander. He was one of the first members elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame (1954). After retiring he became a successful New York restaurateur.

That healed an old wound: because of financial problems Dempsey had decided to fight for his family instead of enlisting for the First World War.


In his later years, Jack Dempsey cut down on his activities. Ill health was a handicap. He died in New York City on May 31, 1983.  Jack sadly died, but his restaurant survived. It’s full every day, full of people not only enjoying the cuisine but reminiscing about the great man himself.


A loser, but still a champion’ headlined the New York Times the morning after Jack Dempsey had failed to regain the world heavy- weight boxing championship from Gene Tunney at the Soldier’s Field. The phrase had a double meaning. During the fight there was the ‘Long Count’, still boxing’s most controversial incident. It also epitomized the respect and affection that the world public had for one of its greatest champions.


Despite some losses, Jack Dempsey’s impact on boxing is undeniable. He was a champion who brought excitement to the sport, broke attendance records, and turned fights into million-dollar spectacles. Even after defeats, the public’s admiration for him remained strong, solidifying his legacy as a legend in the ring.

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