MANASSA — It’s been 100 years since Jack Dempsey was crowned world heavyweight champion by defeating Jess Willard on July 4, 1919.
It was more than 100 degrees in the shade and Dempsey was smaller than his opponent, Jess Willard, nicknamed the “Pottawatomie Giant.”
That fabled afternoon, Jack won the world heavyweight championship, badly battering Willard, a giant who weighed 245 pounds compared to Jack`s 187 pounds and towered over his challenger.
Another sunny afternoon a century later, that victory was celebrated with the presentation of a championship belt to the Jack Dempsey Museum at his birthplace in Manassa, Colo.
Presented by Rex Walker of the World Boxing Council, the belt was placed on a near-life-sized bronze statue in front of the museum and preserved in many fan photos.
Dempsey himself had never worn the championship belt, since his career ended before those awards were begun.
The statue itself has an interesting history. After the log house museum was in operation, sculptor Bob Booth suggested doing a likeness of Dempsey and launched a way to pay for it.
Small copies of the main work of art were made and sold for $1,000 apiece and members of the Dempsey family joined with residents and fans to kick in the rest.
Beloved by fans in the United States during the 1920s, Dempsey was the first boxer who managed to draw in more than $1 million to the box office, when there was no television or other means of multi media communication, apart from the radio airways. He starred in the first fight broadcast on radio.
Little is known of his childhood, though his parents moved to Manassa with other Mormons and made a living however they could, while he and his brother worked on farms and ranches, boxing in bars and saloons and riding the rails like hobos.
Born William Harrison Dempsey on June 24, 1895, the teenaged William was going by the name, “Kid Blackie,” boxing with and learning from an older brother.
Walker said he learned, through his research, that the older Dempsey boy had been fighting as Jack Dempsey until, on one fateful day in Creede, he wasn’t available, so his younger brother stepped in, knocked a man out and took the prize, as well as the name.
Sharing his own history with fans, he also picked up the nickname, "Manassa Mauler."
As time passed, young Jack built a reputation for himself until he faced the world champion,Willard, who was knocked down and out seven times in the first round, but officials allowed the fight to continue and Dempsey beat him badly, inflicting injuries that included, but were not limited to, a broken jaw.
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Beloved, respected and held in awe as well as the highest esteem, Dempsey is considered one most tremendous and spectacular fighters who have even risen to the ring.
Speakers recalled some important info from one of the greatest heavyweights in history.
Jack Dempsey was an American icon during a time when boxing was among the most respected and beloved sports.
Sharing popularity with Babe Ruth (baseball), Johnny Weissmuller (swimming), Knute Rockne and Red Grange (Football), Bill Tilden (tennis) and Bobby Jones (golf), Dempsey was one of the great American heroes during the 1920s .
He began his career in the ring in 1914 and retired on September 22, 1927, although the name and skill live on. Walker said Mike Tyson studied some films of Dempsey and adopted some of his moves.
The defeat of Willard wasn’t billed as “The Fight of The Century,” however. That one pitted Dempsey versus Frenchman Georges Carpentier, a world light-heavyweight champion. The bout took place on Saturday, July 2, 1921, at Jersey City, New Jersey.
In round two, a solid right to the jaw had Dempsey groggy, but Dempsey recuperated and began dominating the bout in round three.
Predictably, Dempsey was the aggressive pursuer throughout the fight, while Carpentier relied on boxing skill and counter-punching.
Dempsey outweighed Carpentier by 20 pounds, weighing 188 to the French challenger’s 168. According to Dempsey’s autobiography, promoter Tex Rickard feared that Dempsey would annihilate Carpentier inside of one round and specifically asked the champion not to score an early knockout.
Less than a minute into the fourth round, Dempsey’s relentless pressure resulted in Carpentier being floored with a stinging left-right combination from the champion. It looked like Carpentier would not beat the count, but he suddenly rose to his feet at referee Harry Ertle’s count of nine. However, the fight ended shortly thereafter, at one minute and 16 seconds of round four, when Dempsey knocked Carpentier out with another combination that included a hard right hook to the body.
The Dempsey versus Carpentier bout was the first-ever boxing fight to produce $1million in revenue, or a “million dollar gate” at a then-record of $1,789,238, enhanced by the country’s failing economy.
It was also the first heavyweight championship fight in which women attended in great numbers, Walker said. This can be attributed to the favorable pre-fight press Carpentier had received in many New York City newspapers that portrayed him as a dashing, handsome and stylish French war hero.
Dempsey kept the Heavyweight title until he lost it in 1926 to Gene Tunney on points after 10 rounds. In 1927, he attempted to regain it from Tunney in what became known as The Long Count Fight, but again lost by 10 rounds in a decision. He retired after that fight and operated a restaurant in New York, dying May 31, 1983 at age 87.
He “hung up the gloves” with an impressive record of 55 victories, 45 of them by knockout. He lost six times and had six draws.