By Charles Jay
The impact of the 1921 Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier fight in Jersey City was not lost on anyone in Atlantic City. Aside from the economic benefits to the area, there was a certain cachet that the fight could have produced that was like nothing else. The fight took up nine full pages in the sports section of the New York Times, and to borrow an oft-beaten phrase, everyone who was anyone was there. According to the website “Jersey City: Past and Present,” many of the most prominent members of society at the time, along with all the important politicos, were present:
“In attendance was a roster of notables: Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague and New Jersey Governor Edward I. Edwards; the three children of Theodore Roosevelt–Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and Alice Roosevelt Longworth; industrialists John D. Rockefeller, Jr. William H. Vanderbilt, George H. Gould, Joseph W. Harriman, Vincent Astor, and Henry Ford; entertainers Al Jolson and George M. Cohan; and literary figures H.L. Mencken, Damon Runyon, Arthur Brisbane, and Ring Lardner. Prominent Long Island residents, such as Ralph Pulitzer, Harry Payne Whitney and J.P. Grace, made the trip to Jersey City.”
There was quickly talk of both Dempsey and Carpentier getting into the ring again for promoter Tex Rickard, in separate fights; by the end of the summer, Carpentier was being tentatively slated to fight Tommy Gibbons, while Dempsey was said to be considering a rematch with Jess Willard, from whom he had taken the heavyweight title at Toledo in 1919.
Business leaders mobilized without much haste, and they were thinking big. Spearheading this effort was B. George Ulizio, a prominent local figure, both in business and politics, who had housed Dempsey’s sparring sessions in Atlantic City in preparations for the Carpentier fight and was also instrumental in building the stadium at Boyle’s Thirty Acres in Jersey City which played host to the fight. Ulizio knew that his city had missed out on a golden opportunity with Dempsey-Carpentier, though there may not have been much they could do. Truth be told, the more powerful people in the area, generally those who controlled the hotels on the boardwalk, were not convinced that many people beyond the boxing community itself actually attended the fights. Of course, the “Fight of the Century” dispelled that notion entirely, and the important players were ready to go “all-in,” as they envisioned the pillars of society flocking to their properties.
Ulizio jumped on top of things literally days after the Dempsey-Carpentier epic. He wired an offer of $100,000 for the proposed Carpentier-Gibbons fight, and expected full support from the movers and shakers to make it happen. The general plan included using land at the local airport, some of which had served as the training facility for Dempsey, to build a permanent stadium to house fights and other large sporting events. There were over one hundred acres out there, which was plenty of room for construction and parking. Ulizio’s notion was that the stadium at Boyle’s Thirty Acres, or at least some of it, could be torn down, once the big fight was over, and the materials could be transported to the airport site.
That seemed practical enough, although Rickard, the Don King of his day, had not been heard on the issue. Optimism, as well as ambition, grew all by itself, however, as the city hoped to score a “double play” that would have been unique for the area, and for the industry in general.
They wanted it all, though they didn’t get it.
To be continued…..