by Andrea Wein
The Manassa Mauler. What came to mind when you read that? His image? How about his incredible form? One or both of the times he knew defeat at the hands of Gene Tunney? Maybe none of this. Maybe you thought, "who?" Jack Dempsey, people, that's who! Hopefully this is a name you have heard. If not, never fear! We'll hit all the major points of his life here and some of the slightly (only slightly mind you, he's Jack Dempsey) minor ones as well.
When Coach Justin asked me to write a blog for him I thought of a million different possibilities for what to write, but I just kept coming back to Dempsey. (I'll get into the “who I am” and “what I know and don't know” stuff later, for now I want to just dive right in.)
Now, I've heard bits and pieces of this impressive man's life over the years, but in researching him I found that the little bit of knowledge I had regarding him didn't come close to doing this man justice. In fact I thought this would fit neatly into just one blog... in a word, wrong. The highlights of his professional career are generally the only parts of Dempsey's life that are widely known (for example in the case of myself previously,) but calling Dempsey “impressive” doesn't even seem to quite cover it once you know the whole story.
First of all "Jack Dempsey" was born in 1895 in Manassa, Colorado and was called "William Harrison Dempsey" among a great variety of other names. William was number nine out of eleven children. In his youth many called him "Harry". At age sixteen he began boxing at Young Peter Jackson's Gymin Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1914 Harry began his professional boxing career under the name “Kid Blackie.” Kid Blackie became nomadic, travelling, boxing and working a variety of odd jobs, including a brief time with the circus, as he made a name for himself.
During Dempsey's first trip to New York, Damon Runyon would brand him "The Manassa Mauler." It was around this time, in 1916, that he changed his name to “Jack” as well.
In 1919, the Manassa Mauler took on Jess Willard in what The Charlotte Observer called a "speedy and one sided battle." Another large typeface from the article called out Willard, "Knocked Down Five Times in the First Round." The story describes him hanging on to the rope, "Blood covered his body and his arms hung so helplessly over the ropes that it seemed as if a child might hive him further abuse without arousing his interest." The article's graphic description may seem a bit harsh... until you view the video.
In The 12 Greatest Rounds of Boxingpages 17-18, Ferdie Pacheco (“The Fight Doctor”) wrote, “Willard's zygomatic arch (cheekbone) was shattered in 12 places. In the same round the champion sustained a broken nose, a jaw that was broken in 13 places, and 8 avulsed (avulsed = forcibly torn away) teeth. In addition to facial fractures, he suffered 2 fractured ribs.” Dr. Pacheco also stated, “I have been a physician in boxing for 40 years and I have never seen such anatomical damage as Jack Dempsey inflicted on Jess Willard.”
Dempsey beat Willard so badly that rumors started flying that Dempsey cheated by doing everything from using a railroad spike in his glove to coating his hands inside his gloves with plaster of paris, and the rumors have never stopped. I might be tempted to devote a blog to those rumors if they weren't such total nonsense and if they didn't already have entire websites devoted to debunking those ridiculous types of myths, but I digress....
The crowd, Dempsey, and Willard all thought the fight was over as Willard was down. The count would have been up if not for the gong ending the round. No one heard the gong; Dempsey left the ring but was hauled back to punish a bewildered and already badly injured giant, Jess Willard, for two more rounds. Dempsey won the Heavyweight boxing title that day and held it for seven years. (I could never describe the fight more vividly than the writer from The Charlotte Observer did in the original article announcing the win. That particular piece of history is worth reading in my opinion, it's listed in my sources at the bottom if you're interested.) For those that need to see the fight....
As much as I would love to delve into detail regarding all of this Heavyweight champ's fights, the man had over 80 pro fights by the time he was twenty four. The golden years of Dempsey's career will have their own blog later, he deserves it. NEXT TIME: The Manassa Mauler: Part Two (a.k.a. “Defeat, thy name is Gene Tunney....”)