Tuesday 31 May 2022

Jack Dempsey: American Hero

Portrait of Jack Dempsey by Gregg Sellars.

Born on June 24th, 1895, William Harrison Dempsey who was better known as Jack, Dempsey, rose to fame as the World Heavyweight Champion during the “Roaring Twenties”.

While his rags-to-riches story personified the American Dream, his stunning ring achievements, which were underlined by a ferocious approach to boxing and personal charisma guaranteed him iconic status.

During his championship reign between 1919 and 1926, he set record breaking attendance figures. Many of his fights would in the course of time become renowned events. His championship victory of Jeff Willard was accompanied for decades by rumours that he may have hidden a horseshoe in his glove. Then million-dollar gate bout with the French light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier posited the Frenchman as a war hero and Dempsey as a wartime slacker. He fought what writer Frank Menke described as the “Fight of All Ages” with the Argentinean Angel Luis Firpo who threatened to dethrone Dempsey by dropping him twice and knocking him out of the ring before Dempsey come back and knocked out his opponent. His Independence Day bout against Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montana succeeded in bankrupting the town and his rematch with Gene Tunney in 1927, a year after he lost his title, came to be known as the “Battle of Long Count”.

His restaurant on Broadway, known simply as “Jack Dempsey’s” became an American institution.

He died on May 31st, 1983.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is based in London, England. He is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing, part of the Cambridge Companions to Literature series.

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