Sweet Science History: Jack “Manassa Mauler” Dempsey

Sweet Science History: Jack “Manassa Mauler” Dempsey

Well, it looks like we’re in for another quiet(ish) week in the boxing world. There are a few bout slated to happen, but the outcomes seem like foregone conclusions (Beterbiev and Sor Rungvisai by KO are my predictions) so I wanted to take some time for another page out of Sweet Science History. Today, let’s take a look into the life of Heavyweight Hall of Famer Jack “Manassa Mauler” Dempsey.

To begin to explore the life Jack Dempsey, we have to look back to June 24th, 1895 in Manassa, Colorado. William Harrison Dempsey, or Jack as he was referred to, grew up in an impoverished, Mormon family. During his early years, his family relocated several times to try to find a more lucrative lives for themselves. Due to this unstructured upbringing, Jack’s childhood was unfortunately a difficult one, as he dropped out of school to find work and frequently slept in homeless camps. Often times Jack could be found trying to make ends meet challenging patrons at bars and wagering on himself to be the victor, which he often was.

History says that Dempsey’s first paid fight happened by accident. His older brother fought under the name “Jack Dempsey” and was slated to challenge George Copelin in 1914, but at the last minute substituted his younger brother in. Thus, young Dempsey received the fighting name “Jack”. The fight against Copelin ended by stoppage in the seventh round, with Dempsey scoring several knockdowns en route to victory. Newly coined “Jack” was outweighed by over twenty pounds in the bout, but was still able to knock his opponent out. That would be the start of one of the most successful careers in boxing history.

The first official bout on Dempsey’s record ended in a draw interestingly enough, but he would rebound quickly and by the end of 1917 he had amassed a record of 29 wins, 3 losses and 9 draws (draws were much more commonplace in those days). During that time span, he was able to log wins over veteran contenders Willie Meehan, Jim Flynn and Gunboat Smith, putting him in talks for title contention. It’s important to note that in this Golden Era of Boxing, there was only one Champion in each weight division. Unfortunately for the “Manassa Mauler”, he did not get that Title shot. It would have been easy to throw in the towel and settle for being overlooked, but that wasn’t in Dempsey’s nature. Instead, he fought an unprecedented 21 times in 1918 to further push his claim to the throne, finishing the year off with 19 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw (an overall record of 46-4-9 with 40 wins by knockout). This stunt gained him notoriety, and he would soon get his chance at the World Title.

Fast forward to July 4th, 1919, Independence Day. Jack Dempsey finally gets his chance at the elusive Heavyweight World Championship. Across the ring from him was his stiffest test, the reigning Champion Jess Willard. The 6 foot 6 inch tall, 245 pound Willard was much bigger in stature than the 6 foot tall, 185 pound Dempsey, but Jack had devised a clever tactic for dealing with taller men that he unleashed in full effect that night. The short, but strong Dempsey weaved himself around Willard’s punches moving forward with momentum throwing heavy blows that knocked the down Champion multiple times in the opening stanza. The technique, now affectionately referred to as the Dempsey Roll, has seen use from many other boxers since then such as Ray Robinson and Mike Tyson.   His one sided victory led to controversy, with many claiming that the fight was rigged by gambling rings and organized crime syndicates. There was speculation that Dempsey had loaded his gloves, but this accusation was later refuted by Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer who said “”Jack Dempsey had no loaded gloves, and no plaster of Paris over his bandages. I watched the proceedings and the only person who had anything to do with the taping of Jack’s hands was Deforest. Kearns had nothing to do with it, so his plaster of Paris story is simply not true.”

Dempsey would go on to defend his title five times, scoring four knockouts along the way before losing his title to Gene Tunney by upset decision. He won once more against Jack Sharkey to earn a rematch against Gene Tunney which took place on July 21st, 1927 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. In the fight, Dempsey was able to knock Tunney down, but due to new regulations being passed about going to a neutral corner before a count can start, Tunney was given much longer than 10 seconds to recover. Jack fought a hard battle, but was unsuccessful in defeating the Champion. This fight is now widely known as “The Long Count Fight”, with many believing Dempsey deserved the knockout.

Jack Dempsey would never fight in the ring again, deciding to pursue other endeavors and remove himself from the sport. He served during World War II from 1942 through 1945, seeing battle in Okinawa, Japan. A few years later, he would author a book describing the intricacies of his fighting style (including the “Dempsey Roll”) titled “Championship fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense” which would provide a basis for fundamental boxing development for generations. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and is still known today for his unique techniques. Dempsey passed away on May 31st, 1983 in New York City due to complications with his heart.

I hope I was able to shed some light on the life of a great former Champion today. Who do you think was the best Heavyweight to do it? Was it Jack Dempsey or another former great? Let me know below or on Twitter @TheGreatToddman.


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