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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Jack Dempsey wants a rematch against Gene Tunney, but first he has to get past favored Jack Sharkey

Jack Dempsey wants a rematch against Gene Tunney, but first he has to get past favored Jack Sharkey

Publish Date: 01/30/2024
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster


Jack Dempsey was no longer the heavyweight champion of the world.

Big underdog Gene Tunney had slipped and countered his way to a decisive decision in Philadelphia, PA., the year before. Tunney’s smooth boxing and excellent footwork were too much for Dempsey to overcome.

The boxing world was stunned.

Dempsey told his actress wife Estelle after the fight.

“Honey, I forgot to duck.”

Tunney had worked his way up the ranks by being active. After a draw against Harry Greb, Tunney had banked ten wins in succession before facing Dempsey. He defeated Greb in a rematch and stopped clever Tommy Gibbons in 1925.

Before facing Tunney, Dempsey had been out of the ring for three years – having disposed of Luis Angel Firpo in a brawl for it all at the Polo Grounds in 1923. The fight was crazy by any standards. Dempsey knocked Firpo down seven times in two rounds – while being floored twice and ending up through the ropes and outside of the ring. He crawled back into the ring and knocked Firpo out in the next round.

A fight with Harry Willis never materialized – though both had signed contracts. Dempsey kept himself busy doing something else – making movies.

He starred in 14 shorts in 1924, portraying a character named “Tiger Jack O’Day.” He enjoyed Hollywood but missed fighting. The inactivity had slowed him down, as did his lifestyle.

He wasn’t the quick, explosive, and hardscrabble fighter who had wrecked Jess Willard in Toledo seven years before.

Mercurial Jack Sharkey wanted to fight Dempsey. When interested, “The Boston Gob” was quite a fighter. While Dempsey played a daredevil in the movies, Sharkey had won 16 of 17 fights. Victories over Johnny Risko, George Godfrey, and Willis impressed.

Dempsey,32, would need to defeat Sharkey to get a Tunney rematch.

Close to 80,000 boxing fans packed “The House That Ruth Built” to witness the fight.

Dempsey and Sharkey weighed in (on the day of the fight) at Madison Square Garden. Dempsey tipped the scales at 194 pounds.

Sharkey 196. Dempsey looked glum, while Sharkey was cocky and talkative. Sharkey was the betting favorite at 7-5. Sharkey entered the ring second and said something to Dempsey. The former heavyweight champion didn’t bite. He looked straight ahead – his eyes on something only he could see.

The younger and fresher Sharkey surprised Dempsey by taking the fight to him. Rarely did a fighter do that. Tunney hadn’t, but Sharkey was fearless and perhaps a little overconfident. He figured Dempsey was ripe for the pickings.

In the opening heat, Sharkey scored with hard uppercuts. Later in the round, he popped Dempsey with two left hooks and a right. Dempsey wobbled back to the ropes.

“I thought he was going to knock me out,” Dempsey said afterward.

All Dempsey could do was hang in. He could always take it. When close, he worked the body. His trainer had told him that Sharkey “didn’t like it in the guts.”

Sharkey was winning, but Dempsey’s belly work was having an impact. Some might have strayed low.

In round seven, Dempsey continued to work the midsection. Forty-five seconds in, Sharkey complained to the referee and exposed his chin.

Bad idea.

Dempsey clocked him with a short jolting left hook. Sharkey went down on his face.

“I never thought anyone could hit that hard,” Sharkey said several years after the fight.

Two months later, Jack Dempsey would fight for heavyweight laurels in what would come to be known as “The Long Count ” fight.

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