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Jack "Manassa Mauler" Dempsey (June 24, 1895 – May 31, 1983) was an Americanmarker boxer who held the world heavyweight title from 1919 to 1926. Dempsey's aggressive style and punching power made him one of the most popular boxers in history. Many of his fights set financial and attendance records. He is listed #7 on Ring Magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.

Early life and career

Born in Manassa, Coloradomarker, with the name of William Harrison Dempsey, he grew up in a poor family of mixed ancestry. According to a January 11, 1955 Sports Illustrated article, his father, Hiram Dempsey, was Irish with a touch of Choctaw. Dempsey's mother, Celia Smoot, was English with a little Cherokee. Both parents became Mormon converts. Because his father had difficulty finding work, the family traveled often. He dropped out of grade school to work. Dempsey left home at the age of 16, eager to start a better life for himself. Due to his poverty, he frequently had to travel underneath trains and sleep in hobo camps. However, Dempsey was a strong, powerful youth who quickly discovered he had a talent for fighting. With the help of his older brother Bernie Dempsey, he began training to be a professional boxer. His other brother, John Dempsey, shot his own wife, then killed himself in a murder-suicide in 1927.

Desperate for money, Dempsey would occasionally go into saloons and challenge for fights saying "I can't sing and I can't dance, but I can lick any SOB in the house." If anyone accepted his challenge, bets would be wagered. According to Dempsey's autobiography, he rarely lost these barroom brawls.

Dempsey's exact fight record is not known because sometimes he boxed under the pseudonym, "Kid Blackie". This practice continued until 1916. In between, he first appeared as "Jack Dempsey" in 1914, after an earlier middleweight boxer Jack Dempsey, drawing with Young Herman in six rounds. After that fight, he won six bouts in a row by knockout (as Jack Dempsey), before losing for the first time, on a disqualification in four rounds to Jack Downey. During this early part of his career, Dempsey campaigned in Utahmarker frequently entering fights in towns up and down the Wasatch mountain range and keeping in shape with such sparring partners as Frank VanSickle day after day.

He followed his loss against Downey with a knockout win and two draws versus Johnny Sudenberg in Nevadamarker. Three more wins and a draw followed and then he met Downey again, this time resulting in a four-round draw.

Ten wins in a row followed, a streak during which he beat Sudenberg and was finally able to avenge his defeat at the hands of Downey, knocking him out in two. Then, three more non-decisions came (early in boxing, there were no judges to score a fight, so if a fight lasted the full distance, it was called a draw or non-decision, depending on the state or country the fight was being held in).

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Dempsey worked in a shipyard while continuing to box. After the war, he was accused by some boxing fans of being a draft dodger. It was not until 1920 that he was able to clear his name on that account, when evidence was produced showing he had attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but had been turned down. After the war, Dempsey spent two years in Salt Lake City, Utah, bumming around as he called it, then returned to the ring.

Taking the title

Courtesy of Cripple Creek District museum.

his opponents were Fireman Jim Flynn, the only boxer ever to beat Dempsey by a knockout when Dempsey lost to him in the first round (although many boxing historians, including Monte Cox, believe the fight was a "fix" ), and Gunboat Smith, formerly a highly ranked contender who had beaten both World Champion Jess Willard and Hall of Famer Sam Langford. Dempsey beat Smith for the third time on a second round KO.

Dempsey's first manager was John J. Reisler. Dempsey later hooked up with Jack Kearns, an experienced, clever fight manager who carefully and skillfully guided Dempsey to the top.

In 1918, Dempsey boxed 17 times, going 15–1 with one no-decision. He avenged his defeat against Flynn by returning the favor, knocking him out in the first round. Among others he beat were light heavyweight champion Battling Levinsky, who had never been knocked out before Dempsey did so, Bill Brennan, Fred Fulton, Carl Morris, Billy Miske ("newspaper decision"), heavy weight Lefty Jim McGettigan and Homer Smith.

He began 1919 winning five bouts in a row by knockout in the first round. Then on July 4, he and world heavyweight champion Jess Willard met at Toledo, Ohiomarker, for the world title. Few gave Dempsey a chance against the larger champion and many called this fight a modern David and Goliath. Minutes before the fight started, Kearns informed Dempsey that he had wagered Dempsey's share of the purse on Dempsey winning with a first-round knockout. As a result, the first round of the fight was one of the most brutal in boxing history. Dempsey dealt Willard a terrible beating and knocked him down seven times in the first round. Willard had a broken cheekbone, broken jaw, several teeth knocked out, partial hearing loss in one ear, and broken ribs. Kearns' own recollection of the event was the source of the loaded gloves' theory. The 20 January 1964 Sports Illustrated published an article interviewing Dempsey and Willard, on their recollections of the fight and of "Doc" Kearns. Kearns claimed he had applied plaster of paris to the customary wrappings under Dempsey's gloves, and that Dempsey did not seem to notice even when these reinforcements were removed after the fight. This has been refuted by a number of people, including Nat Fleischer, later founder of The Ring Magazine, who was there when Dempsey’s hands were wrapped: “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 Jacks’ hands was Deforest. Kearns had nothing to do with it, so his plaster of paris story is simply not true. Deforest himself said that he regarded the stories of Dempsey’s gloves being loaded as libel, calling them ‘trash’ and said he did not apply any foreign substance to them, which I can verify since I watched the taping.”. Historian J.J. Johnston ended all discussion when he pointed out that “the films show Willard upon entering the ring walking over to Dempsey and examining his hands. That should end any possibility of plaster of paris or any other substance on his hands.”

Under the rules at the time, a fighter was allowed to stand almost over a knocked-down opponent, and hit him again as soon as both knees had left the canvas. Several times Willard was knocked back down as he was trying to rise. Also, modern referees would step in to stop a fight if one of them was clearly defenseless, but the referee of this fight had the attitude that the only ending for a fight is an actual knockout. At the end of the third round the champion's handlers would not let him answer the bell for the fourth round. Although Dempsey had captured the Heavyweight Title, he never collected any money for the fight.

Title defenses

Dempsey and Carpentier in the arena before the fight

After beating Jess Willard and winning the title, Jack Dempsey traveled around the country, making publicity appearances with circuses, staging exhibitions, and even starring in a low-budget Hollywood movie. Dempsey did not defend his title until September 1920. This was against Billy Miske in Benton Harbor, Michiganmarker. Miske was a good fighter but past his prime when he challenged Jack for the title, and was knocked out in 3 rounds.

Dempsey's second title defense was much tougher, against Bill Brennan in December 1920 at Madison Square Gardenmarker, New York Citymarker. Brennan had given Dempsey a tough match two years earlier. After 10 rounds, Brennan was actually ahead on points, and Dempsey's left ear was bleeding profusely. Dempsey rebounded to stop Brennan in the 12th round.

The next fight for "The Manassa Mauler" was against Frenchman Georges Carpentier, who had been a war hero during WWI and was extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The bout was shrewdly promoted by Tex Rickard, emphasizing the differences between the two men, and George Bernard Shaw, who claimed that Carpentier was "the greatest boxer in the world" and stacked the odds 50 to 1 against Dempsey. The anticipation for this bout was tremendous.

Dempsey-Carpentier took place on July 2, 1921 at Boyle's Thirty Acres, Jersey Citymarker, New Jerseymarker, generating the first million dollar gate in boxing history. A crowd of 91,000 watched the fight. Though it was deemed "the Fight of the Century," and many people who didn't know much about boxing thought Carpentier had a chance to win, most experts anticipated a one-sided win for Dempsey, and they were right. RCA arranged for live coverage of the match making the event the first national radio broadcast reaching mostly homemade radio sets after first being telegraphed to KDKAmarker for broadcast.

Carpentier got off to a fast start and reportedly even wobbled Dempsey with a hard right in the 2nd round. A reporter at ringside, however, counted twenty-five punches from Dempsey in a single thirty-one second exchange soon after he was supposedly injured by the right. Carpentier also broke his thumb in that round, which crippled his chances. In the 3rd, the bigger, stronger Dempsey began to take charge and administered a brutal beating to Georges. The Frenchman was eventually stopped in the 4th round.

Dempsey did not defend his title again until July 1923 against Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montanamarker. Gibbons was a skilled, clever boxer, but was not powerful enough against the bigger, stronger Dempsey, who won a 15 round decision.

The last successful title defense for Dempsey was in September 1923 at New York's Polo Grounds. The opponent was the huge, powerful, yet limited contender Luis Angel Firpo, from Argentinamarker. Attendance was 85,000, with another 20,000 trying to get inside the arena. Dempsey won via a 2nd round KO, but it was an exciting battle. Firpo was knocked down repeatedly yet continued to battle back, even knocking Dempsey down twice. The second time Dempsey was floored he went sailing head first through the ring ropes, landing on a reporter's typewriter, and taking several more seconds than the ten stipulated by the rules. This scene is one of the most memorable in sports history. (This fight was so important that it was transmitted live to Buenos Airesmarker by radio, and people gathered in the streets to listen to it through primitive amplifiers.)

These fights, plus his many exhibitions, movies and endorsements, had made Dempsey one of the richest athletes in the world.

Time off from boxing

Jack Dempsey holding his wife, Estelle Taylor, on his shoulder

After the Firpo brawl, Dempsey did not defend his title for another 3 years. There was pressure from the public and the media for Dempsey to defend his title against black contender Harry Wills. Politics and racial fears prevented the Dempsey-Wills bout. There is disagreement among boxing historians as to whether Dempsey avoided Wills. Dempsey always claimed he was willing. Instead of defending his title, Dempsey continued to earn money by boxing exhibitions, making movies and endorsing products. Dempsey also did a lot of traveling, spending and partying. During this time away from competitive fighting, Dempsey married actress Estelle Taylor, and broke up with his long-time trainer/manager Jack "Doc" Kearns. This break-up did not go smoothly, and Kearns repeatedly sued Dempsey for huge sums of money. He was also appointed to the executive of the Irish Worker League (IWL) in April 1924. The IWL was Moscow backed communist movement founded by Irish labour leader, Jim Larkin, in Dublin.

Loss of title and the "Long Count"

In September 1926, Dempsey fought Irish-American former U.S. Marine Gene Tunney in Philadelphiamarker. Tunney was an excellent boxer who had lost only once in his career. Nevertheless, Tunney was still considered the underdog.

In a big upset, Dempsey lost his title on points in ten rounds. No longer displaying his legendary punching power or hand speed, Dempsey was easily outboxed by the slick Tunney who would dodge, use excellent pad level, and then let loose with a salvo of punches of his own. The attendance for this fight was a record 120,557, the largest attendance ever for a sporting event outside motor racing and Football. (the 1950 Football World Cup finals between Brazilmarker and Uruguaymarker had 150,000+ spectators and several other Football matches played in the 1920s and 1930s at Hampden Park, Glasgow, and Wembley Stadium, London, attracted official gates of between 125,000 and 138,000). When the battered Dempsey returned to his dressing room, he explained the defeat to his film actress wife Estelle Taylor by saying, "Honey, I forgot to duck." This phrase was later used by President Ronald Reagan to his wife after Reagan was shot during a failed attempt on his life in 1981marker.

Dempsey contemplated retiring, but after a few months of rest decided to try a comeback. In July 1927, at Yankee Stadiummarker, he knocked out future heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey in the seventh round of an elimination bout for a title shot against Tunney. Sharkey was beating Dempsey until the end, when the fight ended controversially. Dempsey had been hitting Sharkey below the belt, and Sharkey turned to the referee to complain, leaving himself unprotected. Dempsey took advantage and crashed a left hook onto Sharkey's chin, knocking him out cold. The referee then counted out Sharkey.

The Tunney rematch took place in Chicago, Illinoismarker, on September 22, 364 days after losing his title to Tunney in their first bout. This fight generated even more interest than the Carpentier and Firpo bouts, generating an amazing 2 million dollar gate, a record that stood for many years.It is said that Al Capone offered Dempsey that he could fix the rematch, but he would not hear of it. Millions of people around the country listened to the bout on the radio, and hundreds of reporters covered the event. Tunney was paid a record one million dollars for the Dempsey rematch. Dempsey earned about half that.

Dempsey was losing the fight on points when he knocked Tunney down with a left hook to the chin in the seventh round, and landed several more punches. A new rule for boxing at the time mandated that when a fighter knocks down an opponent, he must immediately go to a neutral corner. But Dempsey seemed to have forgotten that rule (compare his fight with Willard where he almost stood over his downed opponent ready to strike again) and refused to immediately move to the neutral corner when instructed by the referee. The referee had to escort Dempsey to the neutral corner, which bought Tunney at least an extra five seconds to recover.

The official timekeeper for the fight counted the time Tunney stayed down as 14 seconds. But, after Dempsey finally went to a neutral corner, the referee started his count, and Tunney got up at the referee's count of nine. Dempsey tried to finish Tunney off before the round ended, but he failed to do so. A fully recovered Tunney dropped Dempsey for a count of one in round eight, easily won the final two rounds of the fight, and retained the title on a unanimous decision. Ironically, the new rule (which was not yet universal) was requested during negotiations by members of the Dempsey camp. Another discrepancy was the fact that when Tunney knocked Dempsey down, the referee started the count immediately, not waiting for Tunney to move to a neutral corner. Because of the controversial nature of the fight, it remains known in history as the fight of "The Long Count."


He retired after this bout and made countless exhibition bouts. Dempsey's benevolence was also noteworthy. In June 1932, he sponsored the "Ride of Champions" bucking horse event at Reno, Nevada; the Dempsey Trophy went to legendary bronc rider Pete Knight. In 1935, he opened Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant in New York City'smarker Times Square, which he kept open until 1974. Although closed today, many years later people still have fond memories of the legendary hangout. He divorced Taylor and in July 1933 married Broadwaymarker singer Hannah Williams (who had just divorced Roger Wolfe Kahn) and had two children with her. Shortly after he divorced Hannah Williams in 1943, the boxer married Deanna Piatelli, and was married to her at the time of his death. Together with Deanna's daughter, Barbara, he would pen the book "Dempsey" later on in life.

When the United States entered World War II, Dempsey had an opportunity to refute any remaining criticism of his war record of two decades earlier. He joined New York State National Guard and was given a commission as a first lieutenant. He resigned that commission to accept a commission as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard Reserve. He reported for active duty in June 1942 at Coast Guard Training Station, Manhattan Beach, Brooklynmarker, New York, where he was assigned as "Director of Physical Education." He also made many personal appearances at fights, camps, hospitals and War Bond drives. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in December 1942 and commander in March 1944. In 1944 he was assigned to the transport USS Wakefield. In 1945 he was on the attack transport USS Arthur Middleton for the invasion of Okinawa. He also spent time aboard the USS General William Mitchell where he spent time showing the crew sparring techniques. He was released from active duty in September 1945 and he was given an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard Reserve in 1952.

True to his passion for the Sweet Science, Dempsey wrote a book on boxing called Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense, which was published in 1950. The book emphasizes knockout power derived from enabling fast motion from one's heavy bodyweight. Though no longer in print, Dempsey's book became and remains the recognized treatise in boxing and has influenced such works from Edwin Haislet and Bruce Lee.

Dempsey was also something of a cross-trainer, he wrestled in training camp and later took judo lessons. He later wrote a book on this, How to Fight Tough, which dealt with close-quarters combat incorporating boxing, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu.

He made friends with Wills and Tunney after retirement, and had many books written about his life. Dempsey even campaigned for Tunney's son John when he ran for the U.S. Senate, from Californiamarker. One of Dempsey's best friends was Judge John Sirica who presided over the Watergate trials.


In 1977, in collaboration with his daughter Barbara Lynn, Jack published his autobiography, titled Dempsey . In May 1983, Dempsey died of natural causes at age 87. With his wife Deanna at his side, he told her ... "Don't worry honey, I'm too mean to die." He is buried in the Southampton Cemeterymarker in Southampton, New Yorkmarker.

Dempsey is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Famemarker. The street where Madison Square Garden is located is called Jack Dempsey Corner.

Boxing record


  • A cichlid fish, the Jack Dempsey, has been named after him, because of the aggressive behavior they share.
  • The lead character of the anime Hajime no Ippo instinctively adopts Jack's signature fighting style, the Dempsey Roll, which is recognized and named by his coach.


  • "You're in there for three-minute rounds with gloves on and a referee. That's not real fighting."
  • "Honey, I forgot to duck."
  • "I can't sing and I can't dance, but I can lick any SOB in the house."
  • "A champion is someone who gets up when he can't."


  1. Fleischer, Nat, 50 Years At Ringside, p. 118.
  3. The Lawless Decade By Paul Sann
  4. Emmet O'Connor, Reds and the Green: Ireland, Russia and the Communist Internationals, 1919-43

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