ESB Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2006
Re: Dempsey v Langford
Jack Johnson’s Own Story by Jack Johnson – Installment No. 1
(Copyright, 1929, Graphic Syndicate, Inc.)
There is one question that is always asked of us old-timers whenever we are drawn into conversation by fight fans. Sooner or later someone in the crowd asks: “Say, Jack, how would Dempsey have compared with Jeffries and Fitzsimmons and Corbett?” Yes, sire, they always ask that one and generally I try to sidestep it.
It’s one question I don’t like to answer, because after I tell them truthfully my opinion of Dempsey, I can see them looking at me peevishly.
“He’s just one of those old-timers,” they say. “Nothing is good to them unless it has gray whiskers.” No, they don’t say it to me. But that’s what they say to themselves and each other when they have left me.
How good was Jack Dempsey?
I think he was the most highly overrated fighter who ever held the world’s championship. And before you shake your head pityingly at these words of a veteran, let Lil’ Arthur explain to you why he thinks so.
Let the sport writers paint Dempsey as they will and let them rave about what he did to Carpentier and Firpo and Willard and after all has been said and done, what have you got? You have a picture of a slugger, pure and simple. There are two kinds of fighters, boxers and sluggers. All right, Dempsey was a slugger.
Everyone will admit that he wasn’t a master boxer. Tunney, a fair boxer, proved that Dempsey knew little or nothing about elementary boxing. Whatever Dempsey won he owed to his punching. Jack Dempsey couldn’t have hit Jim Corbett with a handful of buckshot the best day Dempsey ever saw. Against Corbett he could have thrown that terribly, fearful left hook away, because Corbett would have made him look silly trying to land it. However, it’s unfair to compare Dempsey to the great boxers. Dempsey was strictly a slugger. Let’s compare him to the great hitters who cracked jaws in my day.
Contrary to general belief, Dempsey was not a one-punch knocker-out. Show me any fight which he won with a punch outside of his win over Fred Fulton and I’ll buy you a new hat. He had Firpo down seven times in one round, and couldn’t keep him down; he had Willard down five times in one round and couldn’t keep him there; he finally knocked out Billy Miske by hitting him when his back was half turned; he hit Tunney seven punches on the ropes at Chicago and Tunney got up and was strong enough to pedal away from him.
You can’t expect an old-timer to rave over that sort of slugging. You modern fans claim that Dempsey was a great slugger, a knock-em-dead puncher. We veterans must be pardoned if we laugh up our sleeves. We remember punchers who would knock you dead in a punch.
Why, listen here while I tell you about slugging that was slugging and sluggers that was sluggers.
Take Bob Fitzsimmons, for instance. You take him because nobody else could. Now, brother, there was a puncher. When old Bob hit you, you stayed hit. He never had to knock anybody down seven times to keep him down like Dempsey. When Fitz flopped them the first time, they never got up. He hit that big Peter Maher one punch and started for his corner. Martin Julian, Bob’s manager, yelled from his corner: “Look around, Bob, be careful.” Fitz just grinned at him. “He won’t get up.” He didn’t. Fitzsimmons hit Corbett oen punch in the body and paralyzed him.
Dempsey wasn’t in the same class with old Bob.
And I’ll tell you of another fighter of my time who could outhit Dempsey 3 to 1. I refer to Sam Langford, the little sawed-off black man who had shoulders as wide as a wardrobe trunk and who had arms that almost reached to the ground. What a punching fool that little man was. I can still hear the wind whistling as his right hand passed by my face. He had the greatest right cross the ring ever saw, past or present, and when he laid it in, the party was all over.
Now, why do I saw that they would have licked Dempsey and knocked him out? That’s simple.
Dempsey was easy to hit. Everybody who ever fought him hit him. Anybody who could be hit was duck soup for Fitzsimmons or Langford. Fitzsimmons would have knocked out Dempsey in four rounds; Langford would have knocked him out whenever Sam got made enough. Fitzsimmons would have torn Dempsey’s body to pieces and Langford would have beaten him to this left hook with a right cross.
Don’t make us old-timers break right out and guffaw by comparing Dempsey to the old-timers. He didn’t fit in with them. Dempsey was the best of a poor lot. Argue it that way if you wish and let it go at that. Everyone will admit that he was game, had plenty of heart and punch. But don’t go beyond that or you’re over your head.
When I sat at the ringside at Soldiers Field, Chicago, in 1927, and watched the Dempsey-Tunney return fight, I felt sorry for Dempsey.
Here was the great Dempsey, and no one had taught him how to GET AWAY FROM A LEFT HAND. Do you wonder that we old-timers refuse to take him seriously and insist that he was the most highly overrated fighter who ever held the title? Tunney just stuck out that left hand and Dempsey ran right into it. That may be courage to the ringsiders, but it’s just plain foolishness to a veteran of the game.
Dempsey’s chief fault was that no one had ever taught him the elementary facts about boxing. He started with a left hook and ended with a left hook, and a hooker always has been and always will be a sucker for a boxer. The shortest path between two points is a straight line; a straight puncher has nothing to fear from a fellow who hooks his punches in an arc.
Sam Langford would have knocked out Dempsey, yes, the Dempsey who beat Willard at Toledo.
Langford’s right cross would have reached Dempsey’s jaw a split fraction of a second before Dempsey’s left hook could reach old Tham. Everything in the ring is style, or rather a comparison of styles. Had any one ever taught Dempsey how to get away from a left hand, or if anyone had ever taught him to use a right cross, he would have been twice the fighter he was. As it was he never was more than a left hooker and you can’t pin greatness on a left hook and get away with it.
Dempsey would have been easy meat for Fitzsimmons, Sam Langford, Jim Jeffries, Jim Corbett or myself.
I can see in my mind’s eye what would have happened if Dempsey had ever fought Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons would have come out of his corner, sort of shuffling along. I can see them reaching the center of the ring and I can see Fitzsimmons feinting with his left hand. Dempsey would have weaved to the left to get away from it, and, baby, as he weaved, Fitz would have shifted and driven his left into Dempsey’s body. At the end of four rounds, Dempsey would have been flattened. He had nothing to prevent Fitz from hitting him with a solar plexus punch, because, as I say, Dempsey never learned to box.
The best proof that Dempsey was overrated is right in his record. He could beat the sluggers, but the boxers always gave him trouble. Bill Brennan, Tommy Gibbons and Tunney made him look ridiculous.
Corbett beat boxers and sluggers; Jeffries beat boxers and sluggers; Fitzsimmons beat boxers and sluggers, and I beat boxers and sluggers. And the easiest fights I ever had were against left hookers.
A great champion can beat any type of fighter. Dempsey never could. He came up in a poor class and he never got the worst of it from referees. That Mister Jack Kearns compared with the great managers of all time, but Dempsey didn’t compare with the great fighters of all time, and I say that in all seriousness.
Fight fans have asked me how I would have gone against Dempsey and I’ve often wondered myself.
If Dempsey had fought me when I was in my prime I would have hung up my gloves if he had gone past the ninth round. I wasn’t the hardest puncher in the world; I could not punch like Langford or Fitzsimmons, but believe you me, I could cut anyone to pieces with that little old right uppercut. In nine rounds I could have taken all of the steam out of Dempsey and I’ll guarantee that he couldn’t have landed ONE punch in nine rounds.
Time and again, I tried to get Dempsey to box with me. At Chicago, I went to Leo P. Flynn, Dempsey’s manager, and asked him to let me work with Dempsey, but they all gave me the old applesauce. I told Flynn that I could teach Dempsey how to beat Tunney. Dempsey would never put on the gloves with me.
They say that he never liked to fight colored fighters. Whenever you hear of a white fighter who won’t fight a colored fighter, paste this in your hat:
What that white fighter means is that he won’t fight a good colored fighter. Give him a colored fighter who’s a sucker and he’ll forget all about the color line.
Gene Tunney would never fight Harry Wills. Yet Tunney tried to get a match against the laughable Battling Siki, who couldn’t fight a lick. It’s the same all down the line. That color line is not black, brethren; it’s yellow.
Last edited by Cmoyle; 01-21-2013 at 07:08 PM.