Ninety Years Ago Today, The Great Jack Dempsey Becomes Heavyweight Champion Of The World

Jack Dempseyby James Slater - On July 4th, Independence Day, in the year 1919, one of the most astonishing heavyweight title prize fights took place in Toledo, Ohio. Fighting on the day so important to all of America, Jack Dempsey, a man to soon become known the world over as "The Manassa Mauler," was a 24-year-old tough guy of a contender, and the much taller Jess Willard was the defending heavyweight king. Underneath the scorching hot sun on the day of celebration, a savage performance was witnessed by Dempsey, one that is still stunning to watch ninety years later.

Surely every fight fan with even a slight interest in the history of boxing has seen the grainy footage of this one-sided slaughter of a fight. And after having watched it, after having seen how the stalking, bended at the waist challenger smashed the surprisingly (shockingly at the time) hapless Willard to the mat no less than seven times in the fight's 1st-round, the viewer cannot fail but to recognise how splendid a fighter Dempsey was in his prime.

Amazingly, Dempsey was an underdog going into the big fight, based largely on the fact that he was pretty small in comparison to Willard (6'1" and approx 187-pounds to 6'6.5" and approx 245-pounds for the champ). Never has the old adage The bigger they are the harder they fall been so perfectly proven.

Back in Dempsey and Willard's time, a number of big fights took place on July 4th. Indeed, one of the new champion's defences would take place on Independence Day in 1923, against Tommy Gibbons. This is not the case any longer, although tonight, in Germany, we will actually be watching a big, heavyweight title elimination bout - with Alexander Dimitrenko and the USA's Eddie Chambers squaring off in an attempt to move on to try and capture a portion of the world championship Dempsey held all to himself ninety years ago.

However, no-one should expect any action the likes of which took place back in 1919!
Dempsey, with his aggressive style, his ruthless punching ability and his crouching attacking approach, is generally considered to be the heavyweight who took boxing into the modern era. Shocking fans with his animalistic savagery, at a time when fighters were noble, "let's settle it like men" pugilists, Dempsey changed everything. The first heavyweight that looked like he might actually want to kill his opponent, Dempsey had to be seen to be believed.

After having despatched Willard at the end of the 3rd-round, when a battered and broken (literally, big Jess's cheekbone and a number of his ribs having been cracked) former champion refused to come out for the next round, Dempsey went on to become a star and a hero. It took time for the latter tag to be put on Jack due to the accusations of his draft dodging during World War I, but after his stunning July 4th victory Dempsey sure was boxing's newest star and top attraction.

In more recent years, Dempsey's impact on the sport has been no less great. Fighters such as Mike Tyson, one his own way to the top, spoke in glowing tones of how Dempsey meant so much to them. Jack only defended his title successfully five times, eventually losing his crown to Gene Tunney in 1926, but his legend is as strong as any other heavyweight champion's in history.

Ninety years ago this July 4th, Dempsey gave us what was arguably his most chilling performance.

Article posted on 05.07.2009

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