Re: If Jack Dempsey was fighting Harry Wills tomorrow...
Jack Dempsey: Society's Most Adored. And Boxing History's Biggest Fraud?
By Alex Hall
Right at the height of the prohibition era, Dempsey's violent style made his fights so exciting that for just a few short rounds, the crowd forgot the need for alcohol as other basic lusts and violent instincts took over. Dempsey was the first Mike Tyson minus the biting and outside fighting. What more could one ask for? His image outside the ring was clean and the leather on his gloves was stained with the blood of countless victims.
From a personal perspective, Dempsey and Tyson have little in common other than a taste for a 'dandy' style of clothes at times. But in the ring they might have more in common than one initially suspects. Both were savage but fast and with a good mind for defense on the attack but there was more. It is now accepted by many that Tyson was lucky to come along among a crop of weak heavyweights. Was Dempsey a truly great heavyweight or was he just a man who lifted the popularity of the sport and gave us thrills?
Dempsey is regarded as being on the same level as Ali, Louis, Marciano and Johnson or whomever else you regard as a great heavyweight? Did Dempsey really beat anyone of such importance that we should hail him as a boxing legend? The definition of an all-time great is very flimsy indeed. Basically, you have to dominate your particular era no matter how weak it may be. By that measure we would regard Tyson as an all-time great too. But we don't do we? Why not, you may ask. In one word: Holyfield. Tyson fought on with the wrong people backing him and got caught out by a seasoned old pro. But wait, was not the same scenario acted out 70 years earlier with Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey? Indeed it was.
If one looks closely one will see that it was not just Dempsey and Tyson who were extremely similar but their chief adversaries were extremely tough, skilled boxers from the division below heavyweight who's defining fight came against a menacing man despite being small for a heavyweight who happened to be leaving their best years with the second of the two encounters being a huge attraction and one of the biggest controversies in boxing history. Was this coincidence or has Dempsey just been grossly overrated? Come to think of it, a better case can be made for Tyson's greatness than for Dempsey's. But Dempsey has been regarded as a great heavyweight and Tunney is dismissed by all but a select few hard-core experts, Tyson on the other hand is dismissed by all but a select few while Holyfield is regarded as an all-time great by all but a select few. My personal views on Tyson on Holyfield will not be discussed here nor will the worth of Gene Tunney but the general opinion of Jack Dempsey will be heavily questioned and criticized below.
The Hurly, Burly, Early Years Of The 'Manassa Mauler'
Here we see one of the few areas of Dempsey's boxing career that did not mirror Mike Tyson's. Dempsey's rise to the title included several four round defeats to the Buster Mathis of the day - Willie Meehan. The decision of those fights has been criticized but it is generally accepted that Dempsey lost at least one most likely two of their encounters. The length of the bouts - four rounds (note: in California four rounds was the maximum number of rounds allowed.) - has been used as a sort of scape-goat. If we were talking about Julio Cesar Chavez or some other notorious slow starter that argument might be prudent, but with a savage killer like Dempsey it must be said that the argument might well have been quickly established with little care or thought as to the true facts of the case. People will criticize my argument by saying that despite Meehan's blubber, he was a good mover, yet these same people worship Dempsey for his speed. That in a way is like saying that Ali can be forgiven for almost getting clocked by Henry Cooper because 'Our 'Enry' was a hard hitter and then say Ali had the greatest chin of all-time. So which is it? You cannot blame the losses on Meehan's speed and then praise Dempsey's for his. The best argument most can come up with to counter that is to question the validity of the decisions recorded. This argument does hold water as fixing the fights in order to win big by betting on Meehan would make sense (although that is mostly just a theory that happens to fit the facts). However, if Dempsey knew he was likely to get jobbed no matter what then would it not be sensible to adopt a new fight plan that would enable him to flatten the 'Phat Boy'? Of course it would, yet Dempsey did no such thing which strongly suggests a total lack of ability to adapt to a new style when his usual one proves ineffective. He had the tools to knock out Meehan. Pernell Whitaker suffered horrendous decisions but the only way he could beat most fighters was to go the distance with them, this is not so of Dempsey.
Fred Fulton is a name known to many common boxing enthusiasts. His name eludes most though in all but one situation: His first round knockout defeat at the hands of Jack Dempsey. His name rarely crops up again and when it does it is usually to mention his amazing size (note: Fred Fulton stood 6'4). Is Joe Louis revered for his demolition of Abe Simon or looked up to for defeating Primo Carnera? Certainly not, so why must we credit Dempsey for knocking out Fred Fulton even if it took a mere 23 seconds. Here I will relieve that nagging bug at the back of your mind that implores you to find out where else you have heard of Fred Fulton: He holds two victories over Sam Langford. Langford is regarded as perhaps the greatest fighter ever to walk the planet. Langford had everything a heavyweight could possibly want - well, almost everything! It is regarded as a miracle that a former lightweight like Langford could compete so successfully with boxing's biggest men. Jack Johnson was credited for beating Langford. But Johnson also beat every other heavyweight of the day, beat a younger version of Langford, was smaller than Fulton and was not stopped in one round by Jack Dempsey. There you see it. Fulton's credentials rest on beating this small man who was past his prime. Therefore Dempsey's victory over Fulton would not equal Evander Holyfield knocking out Lennox Lewis or Michael Grant today, but rather a considerably smaller version of one of the Klitschko brothers or a smaller Andrew Golota or maybe even Mount Whitaker.