Category Archives: Prize Fighters Jack Dempsey

In his prime, Jack Dempsey, was the consummate blend of unparalleled ferocity, durability, speed and devastating punching power the heavyweight division had ever known

Was the ferocious Jack Dempsey the hardest puncher of all time?

Many boxing enthusiasts consider the ferocious Jack Dempsey  to be the most brutal heavyweight fighter of all time.

The ferocious Jack Dempsey training
Jack Dempsey in training. My step grandfather, who had been a boxer himself oftentimes spoke of Dempsey’s ability to knock a man out with a punch that traveled 6 inches or even less.

But does this claim for unparalleled ferociousness really stand up

against other fearsome Heavyweight champions who were perhaps equally noteworthy at knocking their opponents out?  At his best fighting weight of 190 pounds, Dempsey could easily knock out any opponent with a single short punch delivered from only 6 inches away.  But so could Joe Louis.  Ring Magazine rated Louis as number one on its list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time.  And Louis held the heavyweight championship for a record 12 years during which he knocked out 57 out of his 70 opponents.

Dempsey’s record stood at 57 knockouts out of 83 fights.  Which gives Louis  a knockout record of 81 % versus Dempsey’s 61 %.  But—when  you take Dempsey’s last 36 fights from 1918 through 1927 he knocked out 29 of his opponents.  Which comes out to an 80 % knockout rate, a figure that’s nearly identical to Joe Louis’s.

With the possible exception of Muhammad Ali  most boxing experts rate Joe Louis as the greatest heavyweight of all time.

If it were up to me, I’d replace the word possible with probable, but I’m not about to explain that right now.  So you will just have to wait for me to defend my position in my next article, which will focus on Ali.  But I will say right now that it’s almost impossible to fault Louis’s style in any respect.   And as far as Louis’s ability to quickly put away a weakened opponent–to watch him is like watching poetry in motion.

But there’s nothing poetic about Rocky Marciano who knocked out 43 out of his 49 opponents for a knockout percentage of 86 percent.  And unlike Louis or the ferocious Jack Dempsey Marciano never lost.  Being able to retire as the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the world put Marciano in an elite category of one.

Or how about George Foreman?  In his prime before Ali defeated him, Foreman was 40 and 0 with 37 knockouts for a 92.5 percent knockout rate.  And whereas Louis was at his best fighting weight at 205 pounds while Dempsey was just 188 pounds when he knocked out Jess Willard for the heavyweight title, Foreman was a six foot four giant who weighed 220 pounds.

There were others who could justifiably be considered the most fearsome heavyweight puncher of all.  For example, Mike Tyson won 26 out of his first 28 professional fights by knockout.  He won 12 of them in the first round.

The ferocious Dempsey was oftentimes called a tiger in human form.

But how would one compare Dempsey to Tyson who tried to bite off both of Evander Holyfield’s ears during a fight leaving part of one ear on the canvas?

I’m going to let all of you readers be the judge.  Before I’m through I am going to have some of the best fights of Marciano, Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Sonny Liston all together in this forum.  But now it’s time to get to the ferocious Dempsey who is, after all, the subject of this piece.

Let’s check this fight out first, when the ferocious Jack Dempsey defeated Jess Willard for the heavyweight championship of the world. The 6 foot six and a half inch  Jess Willard is fighting Dempsey at 235 pounds.  Dempsey’s a mere wisp of a man in comparison, at a mere 187 pounds and being nearly six inches shorter at 6 foot 1.

This bout is generally considered to be the most brutal heavyweight championship bout in History.

If Dempsey appears as if he’s made of iron, he nearly was.  Earning his fearsome reputation as a devastating puncher in the mining camps of the American West, Dempsey used to ride the rails for transportation to his earliest fights.  He was a pimp, bouncer and exhibition fighter who would take on all comers.

On December 7, 1920 Dempsey fought Bill Brennan for his second title defense.   The fight lasted 12 rounds, ending with Dempsey scoring a left hook to Brennan’s jaw which he instantly followed with two devastating punches to the body.

Jack Dempsey vs Bill Brennan 1
Jack Dempsey vs Bill Brennan II 12-14-1920

Once he became champion, Dempsey’s ex wife came out of the shadows to tell the world about how

Dempsey had dodged the draft during World War 1.

Although he was World Champion, this made Dempsey a traitor to many who felt a man should never shirk his duty to God and Country.  This setup the fight between Dempsey and Georges Carpentier, a Frenchman who was regarded by his fellow Frenchmen as a war hero.   In this fight Dempsey played the role of anti hero and draft dodger while the handsome Frenchman became the white knight of France.  The two fighters would become lifelong friends but up to and during the fight both men were able to play their parts very well.   Carpentier was a fearless fighter with excellent boxing skills.    The Frenchman succumbed to  the ferocious Jack Dempsey’s  firepower  in the fourth round.

Jack Dempsey vs George Carpentier 2-7-1921

Dempsey’s next fight was with Luis Firpo,

who was applauded by his fellow Argentinians as the Bull of the Pampas.  This became one of the most exciting fights in History.  Dempsey knocked Firpo out 7 times in the first round.  Yet  Firpo managed to knock Dempsey out of the ring.  To this day there is still controversy over whether or not Dempsey could have managed the ten count had he not been aided by several sports writers pushing him back into  the ring from their front row seats.  The ferocious Jack Dempsey does manage to get back into the ring, however, where he finishes Firpo off in the 2nd round.

Jack Dempsey vs Luis Firpo September 1923

Just keep in mind that in his earlier professional fights Dempsey weighed just 85 kilos (187 pounds).  But here he’s utterly demolishing huge men such as Firpo and Willard with body punches.  Willard suffers several broken ribs from Dempsey’s tremendous blows to the body.  It is said that Dempsey had developed a special technique that put his entire body behind his blows.

In July 1923 Tommy Gibbons fought an entire 15 rounds against the ferocious Jack Dempsey.

This is an interesting fight because Gibbons was then considered the number one boxer in the heavyweight division.  Note, that I wrote boxer, not fighter.  Gibbons weighed only 175 pounds so he was giving away 15 pounds to Dempsey.  Dempsey was given the decision however, so this was not a case of the fearsome puncher beating up the weaker but much faster and skillful boxer.  In his prime Dempsey had fast hands along with some excellent boxing moves.  So when you watch this video you might ponder how a Jack Dempsey in his prime might have fared against Gene Tunney, a man who was far more renowned for his technical boxing ability than his raw punching power.

Jack Dempsey vs Tommy Gibbons 4-7-1923

Three years pass, and Dempsey’s not fought one championship bout.  He’s been spending  a lot of time traveling.  He dabbles in the movies, as an actor, although not a very good one.

Tunney and the ferocious Jack Dempsey
Tunney’s got the size, strength and the courage to mix it up with Dempsey
Jack Dempsey vs Jack Sharkey 7-21-1927

Meanwhile a new star has arisen from the Heavyweight ranks, in Gene Tunney.

Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney first fight
Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney second fight 9-22-1927
Jack Dempsey vs King Kevinsky (exhibition bout) 1932

Like Tommy Gibbons, Tunney’s an excellent boxer although he’s not renowned for his knockout punch.  But unlike Gibbons, who fought Dempsey at 175 pounds, Tunney is the same size as Dempsey at 190 or so.  It’s 1926.  Tunney beats Dempsey on points.


There’s a rematch in 1927.  Dempsey’s outclassed almost as totally as he had been in 1926.

But in the later rounds, Dempsey scores heavily with a barrage of punches that send Gene to the canvas.  However, the rules of the ring had recently been changed.  Under the new rules once a fighter knocks his opponent down he must immediately go to a neutral corner.  Dempsey’s not used to the new rules so he winds up hovering over his opponent.  In all likelihood he’s probably planning on demolishing Gene as soon as he starts to get up off the canvas.

The referee doesn’t start the count until after Dempsey finally goes to a neutral corner.  4 seconds have elapsed with Gene sitting on the canvas before the referee finally begins the count.  At the count of nine, Gene finally regains his feet.  A total of 13 seconds have passed with Gene either unwilling or unable to rise off the canvas.  Gene gets up and immediately gets on his bicycle as he backpedals away from Dempsey’s punches.  After several minutes he’s back to his normal form.  Once again he shows that he’s the superior fighter and wins the fight by unanimous decision.

Could Tunney have risen off the canvas

before the count of ten had Dempsey gone immediately to a neutral corner?  There’s been a lot of controversy on that one.  But no matter what anyone else says, you can see the long count for yourself and make up your own mind from the following video on You Tube.  This video is silent.  It also happens to be of superior quality than all the other videos I’ve seen of the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney rematch.


Gene Tunney didn’t remain champion for long.  Gene gave up his championship, after fighting one more fight in which he scored a technical knockout against Tom Heeney .

So how good was Jack Dempsey?

He most certainly faded fast once he started playing movie star and spent all that time over in Europe.  As you can see in the videos above the Jack Dempsey who knocked out Jess Willard and Luis Firpo was not the same fighter who later succumbed to Gene Tunney.  After he emerged from riding all those rails and fighting for small money in Colorado’s mining towns, Dempsey was a very hungry fighter.  He was lean and mean. In the ring he was pure animal with a single thought in his mind, which was to utterly destroy his opponent.

When the rules allowed it in his earlier professional bouts, he wouldn’t wait for a floored opponent to rise off his feet and regain his footing.  He’d hit the man as soon as he attempted to rise off the canvas.

And how about Tunney, the man who defeated the great Dempsey?

Ironically, although Dempsey was reviled as a draft dodger soon after he defeated Jess Willard, he became extremely popular later on.  His style was pure aggression and that appealed to the fans.  Dempsey also had a wonderful outgoing personality.  In time he became a real American icon, a hero who embodied the true spirit of the old American West.

Tunney never enjoyed such widespread acclaim.

For one thing, he was a book worm and an intellectual.  Americans in the 1920’s did not feel comfortable with intellectuals.  They still don’t.  The public also found Tunney’s boxing style to be boring.  He was generally regarded as a light puncher while his highly refined skills as a ring technician, did not bring on the excitement that a Dempsey or Luis Firpo brought to the ring.

Unfortunately there’s not a single video of the great Middleweight Harry Greb who had been Tunney’s nemesis

while fighting in the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions.  But those fights Tunney had with Greb were gory blood baths in which both men proved they were as brave as they come.  Tunny’s professional record stands at 65 wins out of a total of 66 fights with 48 of those wins by knockout for a Ko percentage of 72 %.  Which is not bad for a man who had been considered a  light punching heavyweight.

You’ve got the fights now so you can be your own judge over how  Jack Dempsey stacked up against the other great Heavyweight champions.

Was Jack Dempsey  the most fearsome heavyweight of all time?

There’s no question that the fights against Willard and Firpo prove that Dempsey was absolutely devastating in his prime.  They also show a  much faster fighter than the Dempsey who faced Gene Tunney.

But it’s also difficult to measure the true greatness of Tunney.  He was an intellectual after all, and let’s face it, his style no matter how effective it might have been, was boring.

I regard the ferocious Jack Dempsey in his earlier years as a fighter cut in the mold of Joe Louis.  Or is it, Joe Louis was cut of the same cloth as Dempsey?  Both men could easily take out virtually any opponent with a punch that traveled no more than six inches.  And both men were almost without peer when it came to putting away an opponent who was already in trouble.  They were roughly comparable in speed.

As great as he was, Joe Louis had been punched out by Max Schmeling.

So Louis would have been potentially very vulnerable to the ferocious Jack Dempsey.  Who’d win is anyone’s guess.  But I  still think the greatest of them all was Muhammad Ali who  was simply too fast for even a Joe Louis to beat in his prime.   My take on Ali will have to wait for my next prize fighting story.  But first I will leave you with one more Jack Dempsey video you might find interesting.