100 Hundred Years Ago Today – The Staggeringly Unforgettable Dempsey Vs. Firpo Shoot-Out!

By James Slater - 09/14/2023 - Comments

The two fighters entered the ring, where they remained robed, the two men then paid a brief visit to one another’s corners and shook hands. And then all hell broke loose. There was no need for any pre-fight pushing and shoving or any mouthing of bad words before a fight back in the 1920s.

The fights sold themselves. And 100 years ago today, more people than could have possibly gained entry inside the Polo Grounds in New York were willing to sell their very souls to be in attendance for the big fight.

It was a century ago the Jack Dempsey Vs. Luis Angel Firpo fight. One of the most celebrated, immortalized, and magnificent fights of all-time, the world heavyweight title fight of September 1923 lasted less than two rounds but featured 11 knockdowns, one of which sent the defending champ clean out of the ring, only for him to come back and smash the challenger to defeat just a violent minute or so later.

Much has been written about the Dempsey-Firpo fight/slugfest/all-out war, and today, on the 100th anniversary, scribes have been busy recalling this splendid and superbly violent fight all over again. Dempsey, who had all but killed Jess Willard to take (see tear away) the heavyweight crown in 1919, was making his fifth defence.

“Wild Bull of the Pampas” Firpo, who also owned a stoppage win over Willard, was having his first, and as it turned out his only, shot at the title. Both men put themselves into the history books courtesy of a fight that just might have been the greatest and wildest heavyweight brawl of them all.

Firpo, the bigger, heavier man, struck first, dropping Dempsey to one knee mere seconds in. “The Manassa Mauler” got up quicker than a heartbeat, and then proceeded to hammer Firpo to the mat – seven times! More than once, it looked as though Firpo was all in, done, dusted. Finished. But the gutsy challenger blasted himself into immortality in that opening session, this by cracking Dempsey with a huge right hand, the shot sending Dempsey through the ropes and onto the press section. The massive crowd now in a delirious state, Dempsey clambered (and may have been assisted) back into the ring and back into battle.

The bell rang. Dempsey staggered back to his corner, his senses obliterated. Smelling salts brought Jack round, and then the second round got underway. It was Dempsey’s sheer greatness for all to behold. The champ sent Firpo down once more and then, after Firpo had shown one last moment of defiance by getting up yet again, the champ ended matters with one last attack that resulted in the final knockdown of a fight that was absolutely littered with them. Firpo was laid out on his back, before he rolled over, only to be counted out.

YouTube video

The fight, further immortalized by the painting by George Bellows, just might have been the greatest ever captured on film.

Fight fans are ever so familiar with the following pairing of names: Ali-Frazier, Ali-Liston, Louis-Schmeling, Marciano-Walcott, Patterson-Johansson, Holmes-Norton, Holyfield-Bowe, Fury-Wilder. But Dempsey and Firpo may well have placed themselves in the constant memory of all boxing fans more than anyone else. And they did it with less than six minutes of fighting.