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This Champion Was a Real Bum : Jack Dempsey, the Man Who Inspired Boxing's First Million-Dollar Gate, Was Born 100 Years Ago

June 25, 1995|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dempsey next knocked out two contenders, Billy Miske and Bill Brennan, and Kearns and promoter Rickard stoked the flames for the first million-dollar fight--Dempsey vs. Georges Carpentier, a French war hero.

Rickard signed them to fight on July 2, 1921. With the contract as collateral, he borrowed $250,000 and built a seven-acre, 91,613-seat temporary stadium at Boyles Thirty Acres, near Jersey City, N.J.

Pro boxing was illegal in New Jersey in 1921, but this was an easy one for Rickard. His stadium contractors, C.S. and J.W. Edwards, were brothers of New Jersey Gov. Edward I. Edwards.

It turned out to be a routine Dempsey fight, a fourth-round knockout, but the story was the gate.

Until that day, boxing's biggest gate had been $270,775, for the 1910 Jim Jeffries-Jack Johnson fight in Reno. Dempsey-Carpentier sold out and made $1,789,236. Even Rickard was astonished. He had scaled the house from $50 to $5.50, but said later he should have doubled the prices.

Then came three more million-dollar fights:

--Sept. 14, 1923: Dempsey and Luis Angel Firpo drew 82,000 to New York's Polo Grounds. Dempsey was knocked out of the ring in the first round, but crawled back in and knocked out Firpo in the second. Gate: $1,188,603.

--Sept. 23, 1926: In a driving rain before 120,747 in Philadelphia, former Marine Gene Tunney took Dempsey's title with a 10-round decision. Gate: $1,895,723.

--Sept. 22, 1927: In the rematch, before 104,943 at Chicago's Soldier Field, Tunney was down for 14 seconds in the seventh round when Dempsey, confused, at first refused to obey a new rule and go to a neutral corner. Tunney won a second decision. Gate: $2,658,660.

For the first time since 1919, Dempsey was no longer boxing's dominant figure. Tunney won 19 of 20 rounds in their two fights.

Dempsey later went into business and ran his restaurant in New York for many years. He had tears in his eyes when he announced in 1974 that he had to close it.

Dempsey and most of his famous foes lived into their 80s.

Willard was 86 when he died in 1968 in Pacoima. Carpentier died in 1975 at 81. Firpo died at 63 in 1960. Tunney was 80 when he died in 1978.

Rickard died at 58 in 1929. Kearns was 80 when he died in 1963.

And Jack Dempsey, "the Manassa Mauler," was 87 when he died in 1983. He's buried in Southampton, N.Y.

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