By Sean Crose
Long before Floyd Mayweather decided to grace the world twice a year with his presence in the ring, long before Manny Pacquiao decided to spread his awesomeness from Las Vegas to China, long before people imagined that a Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara might be pay per view worthy, there was the Dempsey-Carpentier bout of 1921.
Although people with a sense history are aware of who Jack Dempsey was, few have ever heard of his throwdown with Georges Carpentier. That’s a shame, because the fight wasn’t only a part of American popular culture, it actually created American popular culture.
Dempsey, for those not in the know, was the heavyweight champion of the world at the start of the decade known as the Roaring 20s. At less than 190 pounds, Dempsey wouldn’t even be a heavyweight today. He was vicious in the ring, though. Really, really vicious. Just how vicious, you may ask? Well, Mike Tyson literally modeled himself after Dempsey early on in his career.
Yet Dempsey, domineering though he was, lacked popularity in America. He had a bit of an unusual past, you see. For starters, he had spent time as a drifter. Some also believed he had dodged the draft during the World War One era.
To make matters worse, he had reportedly liked the company of prostitutes as a young man and was rumored to have even married a woman of that particular profession. Accusations of pimping also eventually came into play – though, in fairness, no proof of those ghastly accusations ever came to light.
Dempsey, then, was known to be a man from life’s seedier side. Frenchman Georges Carpentier, on the other hand, was presented to the American public as a knight in shining armor. Unlike Dempsey, Carpentier was slick and polished in the ring. He was also an aviator and war hero. In short, he was everything Dempsey wasn’t.
The fight was scheduled to take place on July 2nd, 1921 at a place in Jersey City called Boyle’s Thirty Acres. An arena was specially constructed for the bout (the governor’s brother won the building contract, of course) and at least 80,000 people showed up.
Luminaries from across America and the world arrived, as well. A number of former president Teddy Roosevelt’s children were there, for instance. As was Henry Ford. As was Damon Runyan. As was Al Jolson. As was George M. Cohan.
Picture Brad and Angelina joining Chelsea Clinton, Stephen King and Bill Gates in the crowd at a sold out boxing match at Yankee Stadium and you get the general idea. The rich and famous weren’t the only notable elements of the event, however.
In fact, some bright people came up with the bright idea of broadcasting the fight live on the radio. Such a thing had never been done before. In fact, radios weren’t to be found in a whole lot of homes at the time. Therefore, promoter Tex Rickard thought a live broadcast would be good for both the world of radio and the world of boxing.
Needless to say, Americans thronged Times Square, stepped into theaters and gathered on rooftop gatherings to hear the insanely publicized fight. For the first time in history, the America public was united by a live broadcast event.
The fight itself only lasted a few rounds. The slick Carpentier hit the champion hard, but broke his hand in the process. It was all down hill for the Frenchman from there. Dempsey put his man down and out in the fourth, his aggressive style and relentless determination clearly paying off.
Dempsey then did something you’d never see a fighter do today – he helped his opponent to his feet after the bout had ended. The heavyweight champion of the world had won the public over. So had the sport of boxing. And so had the live broadcast of a sporting event. Life would never be the same.
The Demspsey-Carpentier bout went down ninety-three years ago this week – and we’re still living in its shadow. If that doesn’t make the fight a relevant piece of American history, I don’t know what does.