WHEN THE GLOVES COME OFF: JACK DEMPSEY

By Michael Bailey

The Manasa maulerĀ  Jack Dempsey is one of boxing’s most famous ever champions. His style of going straight after his opponents made some of his bouts the most spectacular in the history of boxing, with his 2 round battle with Luis Angel Firpo being perhaps the most exciting bout in 50 Heavyweight boxing annals. The ex-world Heavyweight champion (1919-1926) was part of the 61 first three million dollar gates, but his career didn’t end as glamorous as that. A 4 round exhibition victory over Kingfisher Levinsky, in which his much younger opponent came within a whiskers length of defeating him, signaled to Jack Dempsey that it was time to hang up his gloves.

Jack was 35 years old at the time and with property investments yielding good returns, so he wasn’t like so many boxers of the 30’s who left boxing with less money than they seemingly entered with. Dempsey stayed in the boxing world as he became a referee for hire for promoters who wanted to use the Manassa Maulers box office gold. In 1935 the first of Jack Dempsey’s famed restaurants opened across from the then second Madison Square Garden. Despite being so fierce on the ring, Jack was just as compassionate outside of the ring as he helped numerous people from his past.

The man who he took the world title from Jess Willard was down on his luck financially and was in need of a job. So Jack gave his ex-opponent a job as a celebrity endorser for a whiskey he was trying to sell. Even people who had slighted him was given help from this calm hearted champion of men. Jack “Doc” Kearns, his ex manager claimed in his autobiography that his charge had his gloves loaded when he defeated Jess Willard in Toledo, Ohio 1919, knew Dempseys generosity as he was on the receiving end of it.

One day as Jack was sat in his restaurant telling some of his customers famous ring battles he was involved in, his ex-manager came in and he was the poorest you could imagine. He had no money whatsoever and was hungry as he hadn’t eaten in over three days. Despite falsely claiming he cheated to win boxing’s most celebrated title, Jack still didn’t think anything of lending the elderly gentleman some money. Jack “Doc” Kearns offered to pay back the money when his financial situation improved, but the Manassa Mauler told him it was a little thank you helping him become the world Heavyweight champion.

In 1940 Jack Dempsey faced a wrestler called Cowboy Lutrell in a special boxing match to help raise money for the US Navy. Nat Fleischer, Founder and Editor of The Ring magazine, acted as the referee. Dempsey might have been 45 years old, but the bout was certainly vintage Jack as in the second round he managed to knockout the wrestler through the middle rope. Fleischer counted Lutrell out as he was sprawled out on the ringside floor. The capacity crowd cheered the ex-world heavyweight champion as his arms was raised and even though he had been retired for eight years he was still widely popular with the fight fraternity.

After the US entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor that became known as the “Day of Infamy”. He held special benefit events in his restaurant that helped to raise funds for the impending war. Despite holding over $75,000 of war bonds Jack Dempsey felt he wasn’t doing enough in aid the nations defense, so he enlisted in the US Coast Guard as a Physical Instructor. Unsurprisingly he was in charge of a band of hand-to-hand instructors that included ex-world Heavyweight challenger Nathan Mann, Lou Ambers and Marty Servo.

His military career was a successful one and more importantly emotionally cleansing for the Manassa Mauler as it helped to ease all the regretfullness for being labelled a draft dodger during the First World War. He landed at Okinawa before the Japanese soldiers had been pacified and luckily for him their bullets never made contact with his skin.. After leaving the US army after World War II ended Jack went back to his restaurant and referee duties. Jack Dempsey was a strong advocate for a Federal boxing commission and voiced this opinion when he appeared before the Kefaurfer committee about widespread gangster involvement in boxing.

In 1969 a special celebration was held in tribute to the Manassa Maulers achievement in boxing as Georges Carpentier, Joe Frazier and Jack Sharkey presented him with a special plaque showing him how much the boxing world cherished him. In 1981 perhaps boxing’s most exciting champions died at the age of 86, leaving boxing fans with a mountain of history defining moments. In 1950 Jack Dempsey was voted the best athlete of the first half of the 20th Century, beating amongst others Babe Ruth and Joe Louis. Only Muhammad Ali and Jack Dempsey could top them in a poll, such is the Manassa Maulers popularity.