Jack Dempsey’s Annihilation Of Jess Willard: The Brutal Beating That Was Administered Under A Scorching Sun

By James Slater - 07/04/2022 - Comments

Some fights are celebrated, remembered, cherished even, even if they were not what could be called great. Case in point, the utterly and thoroughly one-sided beating of all utterly and thoroughly one-sided beatings: Jack Dempsey Vs. Jess Willard.

The fight of course took place on this special day – July the 4th – in 1919; and even all these decades later, when viewing the slaughter that had been advertised as a fight, a boxing fan can wind up feeling a number of emotions when revisiting the bout.

Pity, as in pity for the hammered hulk that was defending heavyweight champion Jess Willard perhaps being the most obvious emotion. It could be argued that, all this time later, no world heavyweight title fight ended up being so hopelessly and savagely one-way traffic.

Willard’s damaging beating has been well-documented: how Big Jess suffered a busted jaw, the loss of hearing in one ear, several shattered ribs, a broken cheekbone, a ton of bruising. Indeed, Dempsey, armed with skin-tight 5-ounce gloves, was a lethal fighting machine; one that was far too fast, powerful and hungry for the bigger, slower man.

Dempsey, all 187 pounds of him, all-but killed the 245 pound Willard. Dempsey, a 6’1-inch stack of crouching dynamite, tore into the 6’6-inch Willard, proceeding to score no less than seven pain-filled knockdowns in the very first round.

It’s nothing short of a miracle Willard survived these, surely the most vicious three-minutes of heavyweight battle ever seen. Not knowing what the hell was happening to him as he was being taken to the depths of the bad place that is said to lurk deep down, the yin to heaven’s yang, Willard’s tortured soul was operating purely on sheer instinct.

Dempsey felt he had won the fight, so bloody, so complete was the carnage he had inflicted; with Jack leaving the ring after the opening round had ended.

Dempsey had to be hauled back between the ropes to finish what he, and almost everyone else, felt he had already finished. The beating was permitted to carry on for a further two rounds, this under scorching, sap-melting 100-plus degree heat.

Finally – and completely forgivably – Willard quit on his stool after the completion of the third round in Toledo, Ohio. Dempsey was not only the new world heavyweight king, he was the biggest sporting sensation the world had ever seen. Dempsey was a one-of-a-kind superstar and people everywhere couldn’t wait for his next fight.

Willard later told anyone who would listen that Dempsey had beaten him while using “loaded gloves.” But this particular fight, this incredible beating of a boxing match, remains one of the most celebrated and sacrosanct in ring history. The fight is an untouchable as Jack Dempsey was that red-hot day.

Happy 4th of July.