On this day in 1983, the great Jack Dempsey passed away. Having lived well into old age, “The Manassa Mauler” being 87 long lived years of age when dying, Dempsey was as successful in all departments as he was so thoroughly appreciated and respected by the world’s fight fans. Dempsey left the ring with his fortune, and more importantly his health, well in place, and he saw out his later years whilst enjoying the earned adulation only a genuine hero can experience.
Dempsey reigned as world heavyweight king from 1919 to 1926, and although he made just five title retentions, Dempsey gave the sport of boxing some of the most unforgettable fights ever. Over 100 years on, fight fans of all ages still marvel over Dempsey’s fights with Jess Willard (a slaughter if ever there was one), Luis Angel Firpo (a knockdown-crammed slugfest if ever there was one), and his two losing fights with Gene Tunney.
Dempsey went pro in August of 1914, yet many of his early fights were not recorded. Also, Jack fought under an alias, that of “Kid Blackie.” Who knows how many fights Dempsey – officially 64-6-9-6 newspaper decisions (53 knockouts) – actually had?
Dempsey, with his crouching tiger, sheer aggression style, revolutionised the sport. Civilized people were shocked to the core over what they witnessed when a starving-hungry Dempsey smashed the lumbering Willard to the canvas no less than seven times in the very first round. It took time – more so due to Dempsey’s undeserved rep as a draft-dodger – but in time the new heavyweight ruler became a genuine hero.
Featuring in boxing’s first million dollar gate, Dempsey also set records for fight attendance figures. In short, everyone wanted to see a Jack Dempsey fight, and people from all walks of life were willing to pay a small fortune to do so. Tex Rickard made $millions from Dempsey’s fights.
When he did lose the crown, to Tunney, Dempsey had to try to regain it. And he almost did so, almost making more history. The famed “Long Count” fight of September, 1927 remains one of the most talked about, debated, and fascinating prize-fights ever.
In his later years, Dempsey appeared in films, he wrote books, he ran a restaurant/bar and he was so wholeheartedly welcomed into The Hall of Fame. Along with former rival Tunney, Dempsey enjoyed his retirement years, the two friends each basking in the glory they deserved.
Dempsey was still a dangerous man even when he was an old man. The famed story says Jack, when walking home alone one night in 1971, was set upon by two would-be muggers. The former heavyweight king, evidently not recognised by the two thugs, uncorked the kind of punches that ruined Willard and Co. leaving the two dummies laid out cold on the pavement.
God bless Jack Dempsey. Once a fighter always a fighter. And what a truly great fighter William Harrison Dempsey really and truly was.
Dempsey appears in any Top-10 Greatest Ever Heavyweights list that is worth taking the time to read.