Originally Posted by Duodenum
Okay Maxmomer, this one's for you.
I've studied the movie films of both Marciano and Dempsey, frame by frame, as well as extensive newspaper accounts. I've read "Championship Fighting:Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense" by Dempsey, and also have "Rocky Marciano's Book of Boxing and Bodybuilding" by Marciano and Charlie Goldman. I've read Dempsey's autobiography, as well as the Marciano biography by Everett Skehan. I have Nat Fleischer's autobiography, "50 Years at Ringside," as well as the Fleischer's 1957 edition of, "The Ring Record Book and Boxing Encyclopedia," and numerous newspaper clippings about boxing events going back to the late 1800's.
At Jack Dempsey's draft evasion trial in 1920, legally binding testimony was given and accepted under oath that Dempsey's camp accepted $500.00 to throw his first meeting with Jim Flynn, so that was a staged performance with a pre-planned outcome, not a competitive boxing contest. That is a matter of public record, and Nat Fleischer set a very bad precedent in 1922 by including this "affair" (as Dempsey termed it during his trial) in the "official" records of both Flynn and Dempsey.
There is footage of only one showing of a peak Dempsey, his title winning effort against Willard. Nat Fleischer was already a skilled veteran ringside observer of boxing (and in fact performed as a broadcaster, referee and judge during his career, in addition to functioning as Max Schmeling's manager of record for a time), and of course was at ringside for all Dempsey's major fights, as well as those of Louis, Marciano, Ali during his peak, and most other major bouts during his career. Fleischer stated that Dempsey's handspeed in Toledo was actually slightly superior to that of Joe Louis against Max Baer (the peak physical performance of the Bomber's career according to Louis himself, the outing when he was at his fastest and most mobile), and event of which Louis said he, "felt as though I could fight for three or four days."
Fleischer identified Ali as the fastest heavyweight in history, so he wasn't someone automatically inclined to dismiss newer boxers as inferior to the old timers, as many might. It is therefore extremely significant that he rated Dempsey's handspeed against Willard as slightly superior to what Louis displayed at his fastest. As for Dempsey's footspeed and lateral mobility, that is readily apparent on those early films.
The first hook Dempsey dropped the steel chinned and ultra durable Willard with caved in Jess's cheekbone. It came up from the floor, cloaked behind his right to Willard's chest, and even though Willard was retreating and knew it was coming, he couldn't avoid it, as tall as he was. Read Dempsey's detailed instructions on how to execute a left hook perfectly, and then compare his description against a frame by frame analysis of that first knockdown, and you will see that he got everything into it.
How tough and durable was Willard? He took everything that modern sized (not steroid inflated) Luther McCarty, Carl Morris, Frank Moran, Floyd Johnson, and Gunboat Smith could dish out, all for at least ten rounds. When Jess was combacking at 41, it took Firpo everything he had to finally land Willard in round eight. (Even then, Jess took the count on a knee, with his hand on a rope, looking as though he was about to rise.)
Finally, Big Jess took absolutely everything a beefed up Jack Johnson could throw at him in 110 degree heat under the Havana sun for 26 rounds, before winning the title. If nothing else, Willard was an insanely tough and durable customer.
Concerning Dempsey's power, in the third round against Willard, he buried a hook into Jess's right short ribs, fracturing them and hopping Willard into the air. (This was not like the delayed hop knockdown which Frazier sustained against Foreman. This time, the force behind Dempsey's hook alone was responsible for propelling Willard skyward.) Nobody had ever floored or stopped Bill Brennan in 67 fights, when Jack squared off with him for the first time. He floored Brennan six times, hitting him so hard for the last knockdown that KO Bill's legs locked up, with the resulting bone fracturing putting Brennan out of comission for four months.
In round 12 of the title fight rematch with Brennan, trailing on points after a lackuster showing, Dempsey demonstrated his late round power by flooring the larger, rock hard Brennan for the count with devastating body punches to the chest. Dempsey was the only one who knocked out Brennan twice.
Dempsey was always modest about his power when comparing it to that of Louis and Marciano, claiming that he had to knock down an opponent repeatedly before they stayed down. Read between the lines here. Dempsey could have never knocked out Billy Conn with the sort of multipunch combination Louis used, because every single one of those punches would have been a knockdown blow coming from Dempsey's fists.
Only one person ever dropped the rock hard Tony Galento in competition. Louis. But even Louis could not floor Galento for the count. The one man who was able to pull that trick, did it while sparring against Two-Ton. Dempsey. ("That's how you throw a left hook Tony. Now, go get yourself a manager!")
How tough was Dempsey? Well, when he was 21, he got the best of John Lester Johnson over ten rounds, despite Johnson breaking one of his ribs. How much endurance did he have? Well, he took 12 of 15 rounds against a late peaking Tommy Gibbons, and was having Gibbons going at the end. (After that match, when Gibbons was asked how hard Dempsey hit, Tommy didn't say a word. He simply removed the hat he was wearing, which revealed the lumps, bumps, welts and bruises all over the top of his head. Years later, when Jack Blackburn was discussing his charge's rematch with Godoy, Blackburn talked about how Louis would give ground to Arturo, sliding from side to side as he did so, and pummel the sides of Godoy's low crouched body and head, "but not the top of the head, because that's too hard." Not for Dempsey it wasn't, as Gibbons could painfully attest.)
Miske only had one official defeat in his 103 bouts (a 12 round decision to Kid Norfolk). He was dropped for the count by Dempsey in three rounds. The three knockdowns Miske sustained in that title fight were the only three visits to the floor that Miske sustained in all those 103 contests.
Dempsey's hip hurt him for the rest of his life, when he landed on it after Firpo shoved him out of the ring. But turnabout's fair play, and when ringsiders shoved him back in, he finished the round, then had his back to the ropes early in the next round, when he triggered that massive uppercut which put Firpo out of his misery.
Gene Tunney admitted that in 20 rounds of action, he was only able to get three or four clear shots at a worn, hampered and misfiring Dempsey. For his part, Dempsey only got two good shots in on Gene's head, but they resulted in the only knockdown of Tunney's 87 match career.
What about Marciano? Well, he wasn't even able to get Charles against the ropes in their first match, and was trailing after 12 rounds. Tiger Ted Lowry went the ten round distance with Marciano twice, and said that Archie Moore was actually the aversary he was hit hardest by. For his part, Moore told reporters after his loss to Marciano, "He's the strongest man I ever fought. I don't know that he hits the hardest, but he certainly hits hard enough (which is really what matters anyway). However, by the end of Archie's career, he was able to assert in no uncertain terms that the hardest single punch he was ever struck by was the first right hand Yvon Durelle dropped him with in their classic initial encounter.
Rocky took a fantastic beating in the opening round of his title challenge of Walcott. He'd have a really rough time staying on his feet against the faster and harder hitting Dempsey, who would have been continually on the balls of his feet, knees bent, moving laterally in that pigeon toed manner of his, feet always pointed towards his target. Dempsey had height, reach, speed, balance, mobility, resistance to cuts, longer experience behind him at his peak, and proven punching power against naturally modern sized heavyweights. He'd also be getting under Rocky's overhand right.
The referee would not be counting ten in this one. Dempsey either forces a late stoppage on facial damage to Marciano, wins a clear cut 15 round decision, or forces the referee to stop it early with repeated knockdowns, ala Johansson/Patterson I, or Foreman/Frazier I.
Very few who eyewitnessed both Dempsey and Marciano at their peaks favored Rocky to win such a fantasy matchup, and some of these nostalgic oldtimers did believe that Louis would have taken Dempsey, so it wasn't simply a matter of older always being better with these veteran observers.
To me, the final clincher is an examination of his movement in round 15 against Gibbons. A comparison of Dempsey's final round performance against his opening round performance hardly presents any discernable difference. Marciano would not have been able to wear a peak Dempsey down over 15 rounds, considering how the post prime Dempsey looked against Gibbons at the end.
I have tremendous respect for what Marciano was able to achieve however. Being under six feet tall, with short arms, slow feet and tender skin, he truly made the most of what he was born with, and it was always good enough. My choice of Dempsey is based on the expectation that Rocky's heart would not be enough to overcome the physical disadvantages he'd have against Dempsey.