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Jack Dempsey

Heavyweight Champion

Jess Willard was one of the many boxers who had been to referred to as the "White Hope." He was thirty-seven when he met Dempsey in the ring. Six-feet-sixinches tall, and 245 pounds, he made the 195 pound Dempsey sign an agreement that he would not be held responsible if Dempsey was killed or seriously injured in the ring. The fight, promoted by George L. "Tex" Rickard, was held in Toledo, Ohio, at an outdoor arena specifically built for the title fight. In the 100 degree heat on July 4, 1919, Dempsey knocked Willard down seven times in the first round. Badly battered, Willard couldn't come out for the fourth round and Dempsey became, at twenty-four, the heavyweight champion of the world.

With his newfound fame, Dempsey became a magnet for publicity both good and bad. Kearns wanted to capitalize on the champ's instant celebrity and began signing Dempsey for everything from Vaudeville appearances to a fifteen episode serial, Daredevil Jack. Although Dempsey had planned on enjoying the fame and fortune he now had, the press came after him just as quickly. The day after his championship fight with Willard a story in the New York Tribune alleged that Dempsey was a draft dodger. He would be eventually acquitted of the charges, by the San Francisco US District Court in 1920, but the story, and the testimony of his ex-wife Cates, would plague Dempsey for nearly six years.


1895 Born June 24 in Manassa, Colorado
1910 Begins training with brother Bernie
1914 Fights in first recorded professional bout
1915 First uses name "Jack Dempsey"
1916 Marries Maxine Cates
1917 Meets manager Jack "Doc" Kearns
1917 Younger brother Bruce stabbed to death in a street fight
1919 Divorces Maxine Cates
1919 Wins heavyweight championship against Jess Willard
1920 Acquitted of draft evasion charges
1921 Successfully defends title against Georges Carpentier
1923 Fights Luis Firpo
1926 Marries Estelle Taylor
1926 Loses title to Gene Tunney
1927 Loses rematch to Tunney in "The Battle of the Long Count"
1928 Stars in The Big Fight with his wife, Taylor
1929 Promoter "Tex" Rickard dies
1933 Marries singer Hannah Williams
1936 Opens Jack Dempsey's Restaurant in New York City
1943 Divorces Williams
1954 Charter inductee into Boxing Hall of Fame
1958 Marries fourth wife Deanna Piatelli
1963 Jack "Doc" Kearns dies
1974 Closes Dempsey's restaurant
1983 Dies at age 87
1990 Hall of Fame induction

Related Biography: Manager John "Doc" Kearns

"Doc" Kearns was born John Patrick Leo McKernan in 1882 on a farm in Michigan. He worked as everything from a fighter to a cemetery plot salesman before becoming a manager. It wasn't his work experience, however, that led to his success. Kearns's success was due in large part to his lack of ethics. He was a loud and flamboyant man and the exact opposite of his most successful fighter. A master of hype, he was pushy and irresponsible with his fighter's money. Not many people trusted "Doc" Kearns, but he was respected for his ability to do his job and get his fighters where they needed to be. Kearns and Dempsey maintained a business relationship for eight years that took them both to the top of their chosen profession. It is doubtful they could have accomplished as much on their own. Their differences, however, kept them from becoming close friends and eventually led to the dissolution of their relationship. Kearns went on to manage many boxers, but never another Jack Dempsey. He played an important role in bringing big-time boxing to Las Vegas and managed into the twilight of his life. He died of pneumonia on July 7, 1963. He was memorialized with the traditional final 10-count before the second Liston-Patterson heavyweight championship, the first genuine championship to be held in Kearns' adopted town, Las Vegas.

Dempsey's 1921 match against French war hero Georges Carpentier was called the "Battle of the Century." The fight took on international significance because of Dempsey's sullied reputation and Carpentier's as a French war hero. It was the first fight ever to be broadcast

Jack Dempsey

on radio and the first to gross over one million dollars. Held at Boyle's Thirty Acres in Jersey City, the fight drew the largest crowd ever at a sporting event and forced Dempsey to defend his reputation during the short four round fight. He was given a cold reception in comparison to the loud ovation that greeted Carpentier upon entering the ring. But Dempsey's knockout of the French hero proved too much for the patriotic crowd who cheered his victory wildly.

Dempsey would successfully defend his title over the next few years, but it was his battle with the "Wild Bull of the Pampas," Argentinean Luis Firpo, that would become his next big fight. On September 14, 1923, at the Polo Grounds in New York, Dempsey took Firpo in four-and-a-half of the most intense minutes in boxing history. The crowd of 88,000, including many top celebrities like Babe Ruth and Ethel Barrymore, witnessed Dempsey knocking Firpo down seven times before Firpo landed a powerful right that threw him clear out of the ring. Landing on the press table he was thrown back in the ring by journalists and spectators only to lay Firpo out in the second. The fight's few minutes were of such ferocity that one man in the cheap seats died of heart failure.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBoxingJack Dempsey - The Early Years, Heavyweight Champion, Chronology, Related Biography: Manager John "doc" Kearns