It was the very first million-dollar gate. It was the historic Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier fight: July 2, 1921. The first world title fight to be broadcast on radio, this “Fight of the Century” really did usher in the new era of boxing.
Shrewdly, if not callously promoted by Tex Rickard, who got every cent he could from the ‘draft dodger Vs. war hero’ angle (Frenchman Carpentier having served in WW1, Dempsey having not done so), the fight was truly a monster event.
Too big for a conventional boxing arena, Rickard had Boyles Thirty Acres constructed in Jersey City. Over 80,000 paying fans showed up that Saturday night a century ago. Rickard, who had borrowed money to make the fight, to the tune of £250,000, this a gargantuan sum of money in 1921, got his money back and then some.
Tickets sold for $50 down to $5. After the enormous success of the fight, Tex lamented the fact that he had not charged fans more dough for a ticket. Dempsey earned $300,000, while Carpentier got $100,000, with both men getting a 25 percent share of the broadcast rights.
Dempsey, 50-4-9(42) and the reigning world heavyweight champion since July of 1919, faced Carpentier, 81-11-5(52), and the ruling light-heavyweight champion.
It was “The Manassa Mauler” Vs. “The Orchid Man.” Dempsey outweighed his challenger by a considerable margin at 190 pounds to 174 for Carpentier.
Rickard feared a Dempsey blowout and he asked Jack to “go easy on the little Frenchie.”
Dempsey obliged and he was cracked by a right hand to the head from the smart counter-punching Frenchman, this in the second round. Dempsey shrugged off the effects of the blow and he went to work.
Dempsey’s legendary pressure, power, and savagery got the better of the game Carpentier in the fourth round. Decked twice, Carpentier took the full brunt of Dempsey’s raw power. It was all over after just over one minute of the 4th round.
The fight pulled in well over a million dollars – a reported $1,789, 238 to be exact – and Rickard never looked back. Jack Dempsey fights, if promoted with the right angle, were big, big business.
Following the Dempsey-Carpentier fight were four more million-dollar (or more) gates, with Dempsey-Luis Angel Firpo, Dempsey-Gene Tunney, Dempsey-Jack Sharkey, and Dempsey-Gene Tunney II all generating way over a cool million.
Dempsey was the first genuine boxing superstar, while Rickard was the first of his kind as a boxing promoter. Both Dempsey and Carpentier are true fistic legends and both men enjoyed massive popularity until their deaths: Dempsey passing in 1983, Carpentier in 1975.
(of an additional note, Dempsey-Carpentier was the first championship fight sanctioned by the WBA).