William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey (June 24, 1895 - May 31, 1983),
also known as "Kid Blackie" and "The Manassa Mauler", was an
American professional boxer, who became a cultural icon of the 1920.
Dempsey held the world Heavyweight Championship from 1919 to 1926,
and his aggressive style and exceptional punching power made him one
of the most popular boxers in history. Many of his fights set financial
and attendance records, including the first million dollar gate. Listed
at #10 on The Ring's list of all time heavyweights and #7 among its
Top 100 Greatest Punchers, in 1950 the Associated Press voted Dempsey
as the greatest fighter of the past 50 years. Dempsey is a member
of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and was inducted into The
Ring magazine's Boxing Hall of Fame in 1951.
Early life and career
William Harrison Dempsey in Manassa, Colorado, he grew up in a poor
family in Colorado, West Virginia, and Utah. The son of Mary Celia
and Hiram Dempsey, his family's lineage consisted of Irish, Cherokee,
and Jewish ancestry. Following his parents' conversion to Mormonism,
Dempsey was baptized into the LDS Church in 1903 following his 8th
birthday, the "age of accountability", according to Mormon doctrine.
Because his father had difficulty finding work, the family traveled
often and Dempsey dropped out of elementary school to work and left
home at the age of 16. Due to his lack of money, he frequently traveled
underneath trains and slept in hobo camps.
Desperate for money,
Dempsey would occasionally visit 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 the challenge, bets would be made.
According to Dempsey's autobiography, he rearely lost these barroom
brawls. For a short time, Dempsey was a part time bodyguard for Thomas
F. Kearns, president of The Salt Lake Tribune and son of Utah's U.S.
Senator Thomas Kearns. The two men remained friends for years afterward.
Because he occasionally fought under the pseudonym "Kid Blackie"
until 1916, Dempsey's complete boxing record is not known. He first
competed as "Jack Dempsey" in 1914 as a tribute to middleweight boxer
Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey. Following the name change, Dempsey won six
bouts in a row by knockout before losing on a disqualification in
four rounds to Jack Downey. During this early part of his career,
Dempsey campaigned in Utah, frequently entering fights in towns in
the Wasatch Mountain Range region. He followed his loss against Downey
with a knockout win and two draws versus Johnny Sudenberg in Nevada.
Three more wins and a draw followed when he met Downey again, this
time resulting in a four round draw. Following these wins, Dempsey
racked up ten more wins that included matches against Sudenberg and
Downey, knocking out Downey in two rounds. These wins were followed
with three no-decision mathces, though at this point in the history
of boxing, the use of judges to score a fight was often forbidden,
so if a fight went the distance, it was called a draw or a no decision,
depending on the state or county where the fight was held.
the United States entered world War I in 1917, Dempsey worked in a
shipyard and continued to box. Afterward, he was accused by some boxing
fans of being a slacker for not enlisting. This remained a black mark
on his reputation until 1920, when evidence produced showed he had
attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army, but had been classified 4-F.
After the war, Dempsey spent two years in Salt Lace City, "bumming
around" as he called it, before returning to the ring.
Among his opponents for World Heavyweight Champion
were Fireman Jim Flynn, the only boxer ever to beat Deampsey by a
knockout when Dempsey lost to him in the first round (although some
boxing historians 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 knockout.
Before he employed
the long-experienced Jack Kearns as his manager, Dempsey was first
managed by John J. Reisler.