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Defeats didn't dampen Dempsey

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Dempsey was quintessential 1920s figure
By Nick Acocella
Special to

Signature Bout
Sept. 22, 1927 - It was the most famous fight in the Golden Age of Sport. It was the night of the Long Count in Chicago. It was the fight when Jack Dempsey knocked Gene Tunney to the canvas for more than the 10 seconds required for a knockout, but lost the heavyweight championship fight.

Dempsey, the challenger seeking to regain his title in this rematch, had only himself to blame.

After Tunney hit the floor in the seventh round, and the timekeeper began his count, Dempsey ignored referee Dave Barry's attempt to get him to a neutral corner. Barry again pointed to the neutral corner, and only then did Dempsey leave his own corner and head across the ring. When Barry saw Dempsey in his proper place, he began the count. But instead of picking up the timekeeper's count of five, he called out, "One."

As Barry continued his count, a dazed Tunney raised his eyes from the floor and looked up at the ref. At nine, Tunney, holding the rope, pulled himself to his feet after being down for about 14 seconds. He survived the seventh round, and then knocked down Dempsey in the eighth. Badly battering Dempsey in the final rounds, he retained his title on a unanimous decision.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Dempsey's father Hyrum was a nephew of Devil Anse Hatfield of the infamous Hatfields who feuded with the McCoys in Logan County, West Virginia, in the middle of the 19th century.

  • Dempsey's parents converted to Mormonism.

  • Dempsey's standard approach in his early itinerant days was to walk into a bar in a Colorado town and announce that he could beat anyone in the room.

  • In the mid-1910s, after turning pro, Dempsey fought opponents with such colorful names as One-Punch Hancock, Battling Johnson, Two-Round Gilliam and the Boston Bearcat.

  • Damon Runyan nicknamed Dempsey the Manassa Mauler during the fighter's first, unsuccessful trip to New York, in 1916.

  • Famed lawmen Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp took it upon themselves to collect spectators' guns and knives before the bout in which Dempsey beat Jess Willard for the heavyweight crown in 1919.

  • Dempsey's first title defense was on Sept. 6, 1920, against Billy Miske, an old warhorse suffering from kidney disease who needed the payday. Dempsey knocked him out in the third round and then he helped the challenger to his corner.

  • Three months later, against Bill Brennan in the original Madison Square Garden, fans largely ignored Dempsey's Manhattan training site until Al Jolson started dropping by to help build enthusiasm for the bout. Dempsey won the bout on a 12th-round knockout.

  • Dempsey's third defense, against Georges Carpentier, was the first fight broadcast in its entirety on the radio; coverage began in the eighth round of a preliminary bout.

  • His Shelby, Mont., bout on July 4, 1923, against Tommy Gibbons resulted in the demise of two local banks after civic leaders couldn't make good on their financial commitments to Doc Kearns, Dempsey's manager who promoted the fight.

  • While training to meet Luis Firpo in 1923, Dempsey agreed to spar with New York Daily News writer Paul Gallico and knocked him cold in less than two minutes.

  • Dempsey also sparred with Harry Houdini and J. Paul Getty on separate occasions.

  • Before fighting Jack Sharkey on the comeback trail in 1927, Dempsey trained in the hills outside Ojai, Calif. He chopped trees, carried rocks, and did calisthenics to drop more than 20 pounds.

  • Dempsey traveled in the highest circles of Hollywood and Broadway, socializing with everyone from Rudolph Valentino to Babe Ruth; he was in many ways the quintessential figure of the 1920s.

  • At one time he shared an apartment with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

  • After Jack Dempsey's Restaurant was forced to shut down in 1974, no one ever found out the identity of the landlord who evicted the boxer-turned-restaurateur in favor of a fast-food place. However, persuasive rumors persisted that the building was owned by Great Britain's royal family.

  • On his 75th birthday, in 1970, Dempsey was invited to Madison Square Garden, where 19,000 people sang "Happy Birthday" to him.

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