Re: Is it feasible to rank Wills over Dempsey in an ATG list?
Interesting article written by Dempsey in 1963 for Ebony magazine.
“From the inception of boxing in this country it has been dominated by men who developed out of struggle with life. Our first real heavyweight champion, Tom Molyneaux, was born a slave in Virginia and won his freedom with his fistic talent. Fighting as a freedman in New York he beat all challengers and earned the right to be called the first American heavyweight champion.
All of the great old-time Negro boxers were born under poor and depressing circumstances but rose above their environments to win acclaim wherever they fought. Peter Jackson, Sam Langford, George Dixon, Joe Gans, the immortal “Old Master,” and Jack Johnson all knew what it felt like to be up against the wall and cornered. Their bitter experiences were reflected in their superb endurance and their toughness of spirit. Their early poverty showed itself in the way they handled themselves as men and boxers.
I am personally indebted to a number of Negro boxers who worked as my sparring partners in the years when I was learning how to handle myself in a ring. When I was fighting I had many Negro sparring partners at my training camp. One of these, Bill Tate, became one of my best friends. Now living in Chicago, Illinois, he is one of the finest men I have ever known. Then there was Panama Joe Gans, a great and clever fighter, who taught me a lot. The Jamaica Kid, a very fine heavyweight, worked with me before the famous 1919 fight with Jess Willard. The Kid did a lot to get me into the superb condition that enabled me to beat Willard and win the world’s championship.
Sam Langford, one of the greatest of all heavyweights, is another Negro fighter who showed me some tricks and gave me the benefits of his vast experience. I worked with Old Sam in Chicago when I was a youngster. I never forgot what Langford taught me. He was cool, clever, scientific and a terrific hitter besides a fine man.
Battling Gee and Battling Jim Johnson, both Negroes were also on my payroll as sparring mates. I was a pretty rough customer in those days and my sparring partners had to be good and tough to stay with me. All of these men more than made the grade.
Many times I’ve had the charge hurled at me that I was prejudiced against Negroes. It is time this utter fiction was laid to rest once and for all. All my life I have believed that all men are basically brothers and that differences of color and religion are superficial. I hate prejudice. I hate discrimination. I hate intolerance. Boxing has been guilty of its share of color bias but I categorically deny that I ever practiced it either as a fighter, manager or promoter. The several Negro fighters who have been under my management will testify to my long-held belief in equality of treatment for all men, regardless of color.
Since I am on the subject of the color line in boxing, let me clear the air of the many rumors and suspicions and charges that have been moving around me as a result of my failure to fight Harry Wills. I have never run away from a fight in my life. Ever since I left public school to work in the Colorado mines, my credo has been to fight all comers and may the best man win. Harry Wills was a great fighter in his prime and I would have liked to have been matched with him. But it was not to be. The reasons had nothing to do with color prejudice on my part (which I have never held), nor fear of Wills fighting skill. I wanted to fight Wills badly, but Tex Rickard, who had the final say, never matched us.
Rickard was a Texan. He had a rough time of it out in San Francisco, California, after the Johnson-Jeffries fight which he promoted in Reno. The repercussions of that fight swirled about Rick’s head for a long time after the fight and he was a victim of ugly charges and a wicked smear campaign. This experience soured him on mixed fights for the heavyweight crown. As a result he was never anxious to promote a match between Wills and myself.
The facts clearly show that in 1926 I tried desperately to arrange a fight with Harry Wills but the deal collapsed when my guarantee was not forthcoming. Wills and I had signed to fight with a promoter named Floyd Fitzsimmons of Benton Harbor, Michigan. Wills, I understand, received fifty thousand dollars as his guarantee for signing the contract. I was to have received one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars in advance of the fight. As the date of the fight grew nearer and my money did not appear, I became anxious and asked Fitzsimmons what was the matter. He wired me to meet him in Dayton, Ohio, assuring me that he would have the money for me there. I met Fitzsimmons in Dayton who handed me a certified check for twenty-five thousand dollars and a promise to let me have the balance almost immediately. I balked at that, demanding the full amount right away. Fitzsimmons tried to placate me by calling the bank where he said he had deposited the money. The bank, unfortunately for Fitzsimmons, informed him that it did not have that much money on hand, that there wasn’t enough to cover the twenty-five thousand dollar check he had given me. Furious, I returned the check to Fitzsimmons and told him the fight was off. Later, the Fitzsimmons syndicate financing the fight sued me for failure to honor a contract. I won the case.
When the Wills fight failed to materialize, Tex Rickard jumped back into the picture and matched me with Gene Tunney. The rest is history. And that is the real story behind the negotiations for the Harry Wills fight which never came off. I am sorry Wills and I never got a chance to square off in the ring. I am sure it would have been one beautiful scrap.”