Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dempsey vs. Willard

Hello from 1919 and one of the fights of the century.

The underdog Dempsey's first heavyweight title bout, which he won with a combination of savagery, speed, and a devastating barrage of left hooks.  Willard, the reigning champion, was knocked down seven times in the first of three atrociously bloody rounds.  (A crowd of 70,000 people came to watch the fight and the storied Damon Runyon reported from ringside.  There's a frightful yet stupendous newsreel film showing the entire wild punchfest on the website-- "The injuries that Willard sustained," writes one boxing historian, "were [...] comparable to those suffered by shell blast victims in the recent Great War. One of his cheekbones had caved in. His jaw was broken, as was his nose. Many of his teeth had been knocked out. His ribs were busted, his eyes were swollen shut and he had lost his hearing in one ear. His face and body bore multiple contusions, cuts and abrasions. His lips were badly cracked."  He was so badly mangled some observers thought that Dempsey had loaded up his gloves with plaster of Paris before the fight, a charge Dempsey vigorously denied.

Oddly enough, the illustrator responsible for this commemorative postcard seems to have mixed up the fighters: the boxer on the left--positioned here as if dominating the other--is in fact the 6' 6" Jess ("the Giant") Willard.  The ducking fellow on the right is the speedy, maniacally bobbing Dempsey. Nicknamed the "Manassa Mauler" after the fight, Dempsey here seems to sport an anachronistic hip-hop style haircut and looks very brown-skinned.  He was Irish and part Cherokee--from Colorado--and like Babe Ruth, an iconic American of the 1920s.