Boxing’s Best: Dempsey vs Willard

Dempsey vs Willard 100 years on

This week I am throwing back to one of boxing’s best and most brutal rounds of the past century. 

As the 2020s are fast approaching, it is fitting that we roll back the clock 100 years. To when the USA was on the brink of the roaring 20’s and boxing produced its first superstar.

It’s July 4th 1919 and an undersized, relatively unknown challenger is about to step into the ring against the Pottawatomie Giant, Jess Willard. The newspapers of the time feared that Willard would be much too strong for his challenger and may even kill his opponent. 

This had been the case with previous opponent, William Young, who died from a broken neck after a clash with Willard. 

But, a young Jack Dempsey believed otherwise. 

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A fierce first round

When the first round began the bronzed challenger, who had been fighting for survival since day one, circled and grappled for the first minute before he unleashed a ferocious onslaught at the unsuspecting Willard. 

The champion hit the canvas and, with no neutral corner rule in place, Dempsey was free to savage him as soon as the referee completed the count and Willard was on his feet. 

A hellacious two-fisted attack dropped him for the second time and the champion was in big trouble. 

Dempsey, poised like a tiger, crowded the referee from behind and, as soon as Willard rose, the attack resumed and he was dropped again. 

Willard back on his feet

By this point, the writing was on the wall and, bravely, Big Jess got to his feet. 

Ruthlessly efficient in his attack, Jack drove a hard-right hand to the side of Willard’s head which sent him to the floor once more. Almost crashing through the ropes as he fell. 

Again, he got to his feet. Again, he was hounded by the younger man and brutality knocked down. 

Summoning the courage that only a champion has, the 38-year-old pulled himself up for the sixth time. 

Defencelessly he span around centre ring trying desperately to hold off Jack who was fixated on his demise. 

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On the ropes

After taking several shots flush to the jaw, Willard hung over the second rope before crumpling to the floor. 

This time he wearily clasped to the ropes, not knowing where he was but only that he must rise. 

A hard right to the rib cage, perhaps the most damaging of the fight, was landed. Followed by two rights to the face. For the seventh time, dazed and helpless, the champion sat on the floor looking up at the beast above him. 

A new age for heavyweight boxing

After some confusion with the bell, the round ended and so had one of the most electrifying rounds in boxing history before or since.

To the amazement of all at ringside Willard showed the courage of a champion and was able to continue the fight into the 3rd round. 

A new age had begun for heavyweight boxing. The roaring twenties were on their way and so was boxing’s first global superstar!


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