Sunday, 06 January 2008
The Fight Game from The Inside
By Jack Kearns 1926
The Syracuse Herald
26 July 1926
The Fight Game from The Inside
By Jack Kearns
I welcomed the chance to clear up Dempsey’s record even though there wasn't to be any money worth while in the fight with Jim Flynn at Fort Sheridan. At the same time, winner take. all, was good enough for us and we went after it. There was no money at the fort, but reputation was hotter than the dough right then. Jack Curley and Torn Jones were managing Flynn and were making quite a fuss over him. I decided that because of what Jones had tried to do to Dempsey in Chicago I'd not spare his Fireman. Dempsey whaled him down in just one minute and 20 seconds.
Half the small -crowd was composed of Chicago newspapermen who had come to Racine to see for themselves whether or h not I had been bunking them on the Dempsey stuff. Jack opened their eyes. They all admitted that. We took on Homer Smith, a hard hitter, and knocked him out in one round. The ballyhoo went over big again and then they began to take the first real serious notice of Dempsey. All had been taken as pure bally before, but when he speared. Flynn and Smith in a round apiece they began to take plenty of notice.
Leo Flynn had a fellow called Bill Shanks who had gone along and run up a record of 20 or 30 straight knockouts. Flynn finally changed his name to Brennan. Yes, that's the fellow, big Bill Brennan, He was going at his best right then and I proposed a match. We agreed to meet at Milwaukee. Flynn said he would bring him on and the match was closed. Of course, Leo was laughing up his sleeve. He didn't mind a bit about slapping- over my fellow, especially as Jack was getting more and more publicity every day.
Brennan was a 2 to 1 favorite over Dempsey on the night of the fight. There were many bets that Brennan would stop Dempsey. He had a good reputation around Milwaukee and they were going hook,. line and sinker on him to stop my fellow.
PLENTY OF NOISE
It was a whale of a fight. One of the best I ever saw. Dempsey knocked Brennan down in the second round, but Bill got up and came back for more. The end came in the fifth. It came with one of the strangest accidents I've ever seen in a ring, Brennan was hit so hard in that fifth round that the force of the blow broke his ankle. Actually broke it! I know that it crumpled under him before he hit the floor. The force of Dempsey's punch had twisted Bill's body around so that the ankle simply had to snap.
Poor Bill, now dead and gone, was on crutches for months after that. When we picked him up we saw that his leg was gone, for he couldn't stand on it.
I know of only two other instances like that. Al Neill, the California middleweight, hit Hark Shaughnessey in Tacoma one night and broke his leg in the first round with the first punch of the fight. Then, too, Dixie Kid hit Eddie Cain so hard in the preliminary to McGovern and Hererra that his ankle was broken. In this case, however, Cain fell in a sitting position with the leg under him.
I made plenty of noise out of this latest feat of Dempsey. I flooded the East and West with papers telling of the new wonder who was breaking legs like pipe stems with a single blow. It had actually, happened, but how I drove it home!
ON WILLARD AGAIN
I started on Willard all over again. I blasted him from one end of the country to the other. I would make him fight Jack or quit the ring, and I began .to think that this latter was what he would do, The stories of Jack's hitting were being laid right before his eyes at every meal. He couldn't duck them. The news of Dempsey's achievements electrified Charley Murray, the leading promoter at Buffalo. He sent me a rush offer to meet Carl Morris.
I wasn’t quite ready for that match, for I had put Dempsey in Burlesque following the fight with Brennan and he was going biig. I was offering $500 to any man who would stay four rounds with Jack. The old John L Sullivan revived, but it was riot.We made quite a little tour and I took up the matter of the Morris fight with Murray. The match was closed by wire and I promised to have Dempsey in Buffalo a few days before the fight. We started on time all right but ran into a blizzard on the way and were snow bound. I’ll never forget the morning we finally arrived in Buffalo.
CHARLEY MURRAY RAVES
It was the day of the fight and Murray was leaping. He had had no chance to show Dempsey at work in Buffalo and the newspaper boys had about decided that he had run out on the match. It certainly looked that way. Rather unusual for a fighter to get in on the same day of an important bout, and this was important with Buffalo and us, too. We went to the Iroquois Hotel. I got Murray on the phone and he came tearing for us.
Dempsey lay on the bed resting. And to tell the truth he looked pretty low physically. When Murray came into the room he took one glance at Dempsey and then began to look all over, winding up in the bath room. All the time he was chattering about the big house and the crowd that we would have had had I brought my man in a few days earlier. Looking at Dempsey on the bed again, he turned to me and said; "Where's Dempsey? I thought you said he was in the room. Are you kidding me? Where's Dempsey?" Jack still lay stretched out on the bed, not giving Murray a tumble. I pointed and said, "Who the devil do you think this is if it isn't Dempsey?
"What!" shrieked Murray, "You don't mean to tell me that is the fellow who is going to fight Carl Morris the giant ?.
Charley Murray was a scream tome all| that day in Buffalo, He raved like a mad man. I'll admit Dempsey didn't look like a man big enough to fight Morris as he stretched out on the bed but Murray, saw him dwindle to a lightweight when I finally got Jack up on his feet to shake hands. Murray almost wept. "You've kidded me, Kearns. I've sold my house out and here you bring a welterweight to fight this big guy. I'm going good in this town. I’ll be here when your forgotten and do you think I’m chump enough to
risk my-future here by-putting this little fellow in to be slaughtered by big Carl Morris?
“The fight is off”.
"I wouldn't even show this little-un . You must be daffy to think that he can fight Morris? You can pack up and go, so far as I'm conceded. I'll call the sheriff. My partners will shoot me when they see this fellow. You've made a sweet sucker out of me."
Well, I had to let Murray get it of his chest. He had expected some sort of a giant, I guess fellows who were going around breaking legs in a single punch ought to look the part of the hairy monster, I suppose, and Murray was stumped.
When he had finished sputtering I horned in. I didn.'t blame Charley so much, for Dempsey had always been deceiving in his looks. Tex Rickard had to do a lot of talking at Toledo to convince visiting scribes that he wasn’t putting on a murder instead of a bout. And down in his heart Tex always thought that Willard would win that fight as Dempsey was "too small. He told his close friends this the day of the fight: I know that. He had even planning a tour of the world for Willard following the fight with Dempsey.
I felt sorry for Murray. He pleaded with us to duck out of town. It wouldn't be too late. He could tell them anything and he had the blizzard to fall back on. Do it quick before the cops saw Dempsey. On our way. I had to talk some against that kind of stuff, Murray was in a panic and my assignment was to push him down. "Murray I began, "there is no cause for all this noise. Just because that big stiff Morris weighs a ton is no reason why we have to. This fellow I've got will knock him out for you. He'll stiffen him ,We're here to fight Morris .
DEMPSEY MAKES PROMISE
Murray protested. He was walking around the room his hands clasped behind his head you'd have thought that it was his last hour before the electric chair.
Dempsey took a hand, listen, Mr, Murray. I'll beat this fellow," threatened Dempsey. Size means nothing to me. You needn't worry . I've taken care of myself against better men than Morris. I'll hang him over the ropes for you. If I don't hang him over the ropes I don't want a nickel. I'll go into the tonight with that agreement, hang him over the ropes for pay.'
"Listen, sonny," said Murray putting his hand on Dempsey's shoulders, "you look a nice kid. You are a nice kid. I don't want to see you get killed. Take my advice, will you., I'll give you your end of the purse if you'll fold right up now and go to station. Get to hell out of town before I'm lynched. You don't know what this means to me. I'm made here. The fight is off now."
"I'll tell you what I'll do Murray," I began. "I'll give you $1,000 cash if you let Dempsey fight this fellow. We have a reputation to uphold as well as you. You heard what Dempsey said.. If he promises to hang Morris on the ropes he’ll keep his word.
FINALLY A FIGHT.
We paced the room, the three of us. Murray was being talked to good and plenty, I’d never seen Dempsey so earnest before and he began standing on his toes and swelling out his chest to give Murray best possible eyeful. I began to think we were in a fix, There seemed no way to convince Murray that he was too small to fight Morris. Carl had been going great and Murray was certain that he'd slap Jack down in the first.
He finally decided to get his partners on the telephone and have them come over Dempsey the once over. He said he knew that they'd be no match no sooner than they saw Jack. Well they came over and joined Murray in the terror talk, I heard iron doors banging shut, I began to doubt my own as theirs was a powerful argument against letting Dempsey into the ring with Morris.
I repeated the offer to fight for nothing or to pay for the privilege and pointed out again that we had all to lose if Morris beat us and if I was willing to take the chance with our reputation why shouldn’t they. I was going good now and Dempsey spoke up again, and said; “I’ll hang him on the ropes in six rounds”. One of Murray's partner had cooled off and He turned to Murray and said "Well, let him go, Charley.This fellow will make-good he'll do what he says, or come close to it. We'll Chance with him. The fight is on,"
That was a great session up in that hotel room in Buffalo. I told Murray and his partners they need have no fear of Dempsey not making good and that fear of him being hurt by big Morris was quite unnecessary. “This boy can lick any sucker in the world. You don’t think we’re going to let Carl Morris stop us in our drive on Willard do you” I asked them. “He’ll do as he says tonight. Get good strong ropes, for he’ll keep his word. He’s going to hang Morris over the ropes for you. Hav’em strong for Morris is big boy at that”.
And so we finished the argument. They went away a glum lot of promoters. They felt sure that Morris would crush Jack to death and we were just as sure that Dempsey would hang Morris just as he said he would.
Before Murray and his friends departed I asked them who the referee was going to be. “Dick Nugent” Murray told me. “Well I want to talk with Nugent” I said “You know and I know that Morris is afoul fighter. He isn’t particular where he hits you. Now we want this understood. We don’t want to win over Morris on a foul. Were in tonight to win and winning on the straight is the only thing that will help us. We don’t want to win on a foul. There’ll probably be some but under no circumstances is Nugent to halt it and give it to Dempsey on a foul. We want to knock him out. We may have a rough trip but we’ll stand for anything. Were a little rough ourselves if we have to be. Is that agreed, no award on a foul. Agreed ?
"That's agreed," said Murray, "I'll tell Nugent and it will have to be pretty raw before he'll give it to you on a foul, though I think you're a chump” .
In the course of the next few hours Murray had sent up a-small army to look "little" Dempsey over* He was worrying about the boy's size. He came back himself after awhile and had another look.
”You know Jack," Murray said, Morris told me about that four-round fight he had with Dempsey on the Coast. He says he wasn't in condition and he's going to break this little fellow in two tonight”
"'Well stand for all the breaking that's to be done. We intend to knock out Morris. You might just as well' get the stretcher crew ready for he's an awful mess to cart out, this Morris." If there was to be any bullying about this, I was certain that Murray wasn't going to hand me anything.
We came to the club that night and it was packed. Murray was running around white-faced. He still couldn't get Dempsey's size through his system. He couldn't figure how a little hundred and seventy-five pounder was going to handle big Carl and his 210 pounds of weight.
Everywhere I turned I was met with the warning that Carl was big and rough and tough and my rejoinder always was;
“Were tough and rough ourselves, though were not big. We whipped this fellow before and we will do it again.
Jack Curley had been in town several days with Morris. I was on the door watching the tickets when he came along. He greeted me like along lost brother. “Hello Jack” he began “glad to see you, I’ve been at the Statler. Why didn’t you call me up”
“Why didn’t you call me up in Frisco before you ducked out “ I came back. You left me holding the sack on the Strangler Lewis and Zbyskzo match. And I’m still holding it”
“Well lets forget about that, what kind of boy have you got here tonight”
“Good enough to knock out that big egg of yours, were out to stop him you know”.
“Don’t be silly, I’ll bet that you’ll not knock him out, and you will be knocked out yourself”. “I’ll lay you $200 at the odds that we stop Morris” I says to Curley. “Tut, Tut, run away. I don’t want your money. Your raving. Morris is in condition this time, don’t forget that”.
I bandaged Dempsey’s hands and put on plenty. We came to the ring and Morris came lumbering over to have a look at Jacks hands. He began to squawk like a crow over the thickness of Jacks bandages. I expected that. That’s why they were thick. Curley came over and took a peek.
“Aw, nothing doing; nothing doing. You’ll have to take off some of that junk. What do we look like a couple os Sammy Saps, get it off, get it off” he bawled. “We won’t fight if you don’t take off some of that stuff” said Curley.
Morris was bellyaching for fair. He was threatening to leave the ring, and the more he roared the less we moved to take any of the tape off. We had his goat, I called the referee over, and speaking loud enough for Morris to hear, I said: "This big stiff is a rough-house sucker, Mr. Nugent, He's a foul fighter and Dempsey knows it. Yet we don't want to win on a foul. We're hear to knock him out. He's crying about the bandages. He seems to think we've got a couple of bolts under the tape. We don't need 'em. Dempsey will slap him over with his bare hands any time. Just don't you give it to us on a foul, when he does foul. We want a knockout over Carl Morris in our record."
All this time old Carl was getting an awful earful. He was steaming mad. He threatened to leave the ring again, and Murray, fearing that he would do so, made a personal appeal for us to cut down on the thickness of the bandages. Of course, I had three times as much on as I needed, and after faking a terrible protest, injured feelings and downright injustice, I took the most of the bandages off. I was tickled pink. I wanted just that. The less Dempsey had on the surer he was to knock Morris kicking. Dempsey without any bandages at all was far more dangerous than he was with all the wrapping on his hands.
I kept up the bellowing about the foul fighting and our keen desire to win with a knockout at any cost. We'd stand for being crippled if we got that K.O. on the record books. Every time I got within a foot of Morris I repeated the knockout talk. He was sputtering and ready to bawl, he was so mad. They called us to the center and I repeated the rough stuff. The bell rang.
My final word in Dempsey’s ear was “Go out and feign this big stiff fast once and hook over your left to his whiskers. Let it go with all you got. Floor him with the first punch or don’t come back to this corner. This is the softest thing we have had so far” I want to say this about Dempsey. Never in any fight I’ve had him in was it necessary for me to tell him to do a thing a second time. He lived up to instructions every time. He wasn’t swell-headed about his fighting, and it was a pleasure to second him because you could plan things and see them carried through. Never once in all the time that I've been with him has he displayed a disposition to fight the way he" thought he ought to fight. I fought his battles before hand in the corners most times, and he ran true to instructions always. I can't and don't intend to take that away from him.
The bell rang, "Remember, now, kid two and over with the left hook and down." Dempsey slipped out of his chair like a lightweight. The crowd groaned when it saw the difference in size, and there were boos and catcalls for Murray, I suppose. For once they figured that Charley had handed them a lemon match.
Dempsey tiptoed in with a little crouch and feigned twice for Morris' stomach. He brought Carl’s shoulder down from his chin and—wop—over went the left hook to the jaw and down goes Carl! What a crash! Flat on his back went 210 pounds of Carl Morris with-the worst thud I ever heard in a ring. I thought for a moment that he had cracked all the boards in the platform and that it was going to collapse. The building actually shook. He's a big, rough, game sucker, and he got up. And then what a whale of a fight it was. Dempsey put Carl down couple of times more and gave him a terrible shellacking. Foul followed foul so fast that the crowd was yelling, "Kill him, little feller—kill the big murderer." Dempsey kept going at top speed. Never once did he even look around to complain to the referee. Low, back heel, thumbs, back hand everything went with Morris, and no peep from Dempsey.
I never knew him to complain in the ring. Morris was making a frantic effort to win somehow. He knew he was cooked, and just as he landed a low one Dempsey hooked him one on the jaw and another in the belly and fairly lifted Morris off the floor and onto the ropes. Morris-went right across them like an old. dishrag.He couldn't get up and he couldn't go down. He was hung over the ropes and out. As he made a last effort to foul Dempsey the referee stepped in and gave the fight to Jack. The first thing Dempsey did was to look down to Murray, who was sitting with the newspaper writers. It so happened that Morris’s finish had come right in front of Murray. "I told you I'd hang him on the ropes for you, Mr. Murray. Little longer than I expected to be on the job, but here he is, hung on the ropes just the same. Didn't I tell you that I was big enough? "
Murray, of course, was too much overjoyed to say anything. He could only scratch his head in appreciation. He had put over the greatest fight of his whole career as a promoter, but how close he came to blowing it. He let it go on under pro. test, and from that day to this he has thanked his lucky stars that he didn't call in the cops to have Dempsey and myself pinched for trying to obtain money under false pretenses. This fight was Dempsey's first appearance in the East following the fight in which John Lester Johnson outpointed him in ten rounds. We had made good in first rate fashion. I flooded the country with the stories of that fight. It went all over the world.
RIGHT TO CHICAGO,
Offers began to pop in on us by the hundreds. I hopped him right on a train for Chicago. I wanted to get within shouting distance of Jess Willard now. The Carl Morris victory had been a convincer in many ways, and we made the most of it.The old ballyhoo was tuned up to its sweetest pitch. Posters and dodgers hit every boxing center in the country, Right in the middle of it I got a wire from Charley Murray asking me to call him back on the long distance phone. He had an offer. I called Charley up and he wanted to match Dempsey with Gunboat Smith. He offered us 15 per cent. Big-hearted Charley. He'd give-you a, glass-of nice fresh milk for a Jersey cow ".Fifteen per cent, and we were a riot in his town. We got what we
wanted, for he wanted us badly. We took the match. Jimmy Johnston was managing. the Gunner at that time, and Jimmy felt so sorry for us. We were going to ruin a bright prospect, I ought to be ashamed of myself. I was. The Gunner would be to soft. If we could whip him when Dempsey was green, how about now ? so they met.
Folks still talk about it in Buffalo. It was one of the greatest crowds that they ever had in buffalo up to that time and for years afterwards. The Gunner was knocked wriggling in just one minute and some seconds. He was on the floor and out before some of the big bugs had properly arranged their overcoats and became seated. Many of them had their backs turned looking for their seats when Jack put the crusher on.
That fight put Dempsey on the map in the east. The Gunner had a rep in the Atlantic coast and when Dempsey smacked him down in a little over a minute the rest was easy. The old ballyhoo for fair now. I worked on Willard. I did everything in my power to smoke that bird out. In every manner, shape and form, I challenged him. He must fight Dempsey. The public demanded it, I said, and I kept saying it.
I told them that it would only require a meeting to prove that Dempsey could lick this big fellow in a round. A few more victories like the Gunner smack-over and there would be a generous outcry for Willard to come forward with some word of what he intended to do. I knew Jack could lick him. The ballyhoo wasn't the bunk now. I had seen Willard fight, and I knew that Jack could take him without any trouble. The thing to do was to spread the alarm. Make Willard feel our presence. That was the thing to do- He would become the laughing stock of the world if we pounded him hard enough. So I whipped West on a barnstorming tour. That's the best channel for a ballyhoo
We went down through the Southwest knocking out any number of fellows and all the time I was shouting for the Willard match. Everywhere I went the people seemed to be with us and if they were not I soon ballyhooed Dempsey into favor. It's human nature to be against the champion. It's been that way since the world began. I worked on that theory always. Create the impression that the title holder is ducking a man and you've got him on the run. I.had Willard galloping. Of course since that time Dempsey has learned what it means to be hounded by challengers.
I didn't let a minute go by that wasn't devoted to keeping Dempsey before the public and keeping the ballyhoo up. It took work. It was all work and no play. Our travels brought us back to Chicago, and while there our draft questionnaires were sent on from Frisco. Dempsey's was signed in Chicago and returned to the. Court. We heard nothing more on that subject for a while.
I had been pounding Willard so hard in an effort to smoke him out that he began to make threats. That was the temper I wanted in him. When you get the champion cat scratching. you've got him on the run every time and Willard was no different from all those who had gone before him. He was bitter in his denunciation of me.
"Dempsey was all 0. K." but that fellow Kearns—well he was "no good." That was the way Jess summed up. I had got on Willard's nerves so much that be announced that he was coming out to fight the real contender, Fred Fulton. Oh ho! So that was it. Going to side track my man, eh?; Well there’s one way to break up sidetracking and that is to whip the man the champion names as his next opponent. I must beat Willard to it, I got on the job with a hundred different angles working. We must get Fulton and knock him off. If Willard had honored him by naming him as the official challenger then it was enough for us to smack him down. That would be duck soup. I made my plans known to a few friends and they tapped their skulls . I was plain loco. Chuck Dempsey in with that big egg. I must be mad. Fulton had torn the heads off a lot of good. ones. Why chance getting Dempsey licked when he seemed to be right up there ready for a- shot at Willard's title? I had my way of whipping Fulton. I'll come' to that later. I never had any fears about
the outcome and we set out in earnest to hook the match.Colonel .Miller of the 101 Ranch tried to-promote the match in several States but each time he was balked by some Governor.
I felt that I was wasting time and Willard might get "hep" to our plot to beat him to Fulton. He had made his choice and that was the big thing. It was Fulton and I was more determined than ever that Fulton would be our meat. What was the best thing to do. I didn't ponder long, I took the next train to New York. We landed and the ballyhoo started all over again. I went to Lawrence Weber and Jack Curley and they were interested right off the reel. They'd get the match they said if-Fulton was agreeable. Fred fell like a ton of brick. He didn't know what he had picked up in his travels. I had-my way of whipping that, bird. I knew Dempsey would knock him off.
Weber and Curley got Fulton signed,, We went to Long Branch, New Jersey, and established training quarters. Any place by the water. Another secret of making the other fellows see things. I had made it.a plan always to send Dempsey into the ring as sun burned and brown as it is possible for a man to get. It has a strange effect on the other fellow when he sees his man all browned up. I don't know what it is but there is a mental and physical fear of a.man who is tanned, and sun-tinted, I'll leave that to anyone who has seen Dempsey stripped for action. You'd hesitate about tackling a man of the sea or a cowboy, wouldn't you? You know you would. Don't know what it is but I know it scared Willard, Carpentier, Brennan, Firpo and Miske. The tanned Champion had them buffaloed before he put up his hands. That's only one of the tricks of the game I taught Dempsey.
Weber and Curley put the bout on at the ball park in Harrison, New Jersey, and it couldn't have been staged in a better setting so far as Dempsey and his tanned body was concerned. His arms were almost black, and where his little bathing suit upper had covered his body the skin was more or less white. The optical illusion of those big sun burned arms and shoulders attached to his white torso almost made Fulton feint when he saw Dempsey’s robe fall carelessly from his body. We had Fulton licked before he started. He actually walked around Dempsey getting an eyeful from every angle. He was frightened stiff.
The contrasts between the browned shoulders and arms as against the white body that had been protected by his bathing suit was too much for Fred. One thing more remained to be done. I must make Dempsey fight harder and faster than he had ever done in all his life, I had drummed that into him at the camp. When I saw Fulton's tail curling, I told Jack to have a look for himself.
"He's cooked now. He's washed up and ready to go. You just give him what you gave Morris at Buffalo only faster and harder. A feign and a hook to the jaw with the left. It will be over in a punch. Dempsey didn’t have to be told twice. He was a bird At following the cue. Give it to him and you could sit tight on his going through with it.
On the day of the fight every writer picked Fulton to win. Bat Materson, famous boxing expert, since dead, was so impressed with Fulton that he bet on Fred to stop my battler. Fulton was 2 to 1 favorite. He was sure to knock Dempsey out in a round or two.
It was a hot afternoon, the ball park was packed. They were still coming in when the bell rang for the first round. Many had rushed down from the Empire race meeting at Yonkers, New York, after the fourth race to be at the ringside, the fight being set for 5:30, daylight being on in full blast at the time. Many of these race goers had made record trips from the track in New York to the ring. I'm sorry to say, I met many of my best friends coming in as I was rushing Dempsey back through the crowd to his dressing room.
He whipped Fulton in just four punches and he wanted to apologize for having missed my orders by three socks. He put Fulton down on his back where he wriggled like a stuck pig unable to get up. It was a corking win. But it had its knockers.
Dempsey had flattened Fulton over in Jersey in a little over one minute. When Big Fred went down, he hit right on his spine, He got his head up a little from the floor as well as his two big yams but he couldn't make it further. He rocked back and forth as he tried to get off his spine but there wasn't a chance. Dempsey had driven them in to stay.
There was plenty of talk of fake. Fulton afterwards said that he had been double-crossed. Yes he was double-crossed two rights to the chin and two lefts to the belt did the crossing. He was looking for an excuse to say something. He had taken Dempsey on for a push over and he couldn’t believe the echo as he hit the floor. He had cheated himself out of a Willard match for no promoter would accept him now. He had sunk himself and Dempsey was the man of the hour.
There was a lot of war charity work to be done. Dempsey did his share for I saw to that. I’ll speak of what he did and don’t do in the war times a little later on.
They began to admit that I really had a fighter after all, even the experts. The ballyhoo went on great guns just the same but it was easier now. They were anxious to read all they could get about this new wonder. Gradually the sentiment toward a Willard and Dempsey bout took hold but there was always that cry of difference in size. That was the one thing I had to combat. It was the thing I was always thinking about when I sent Dempsey in to bump off the big fellows. If I could have him spear Brennan, Morris, Smith and Fulton in record time, why not a chance to do it with Willard. That began to sink in. I saw to that.As long as I could prevent their coming together before the actual fight I wouldn’t have any trouble. Willard looked the giant at any time but Dempsey began to fill out himself though it would have been fatal to have them get close to each other for comparisons. You must remember that Jess weighed close to three hundred pounds and was six feet six inches tall. Dempsey weighed less than 180 and was only six feet one inch tall. He didn’t stack up.If it came to that.Jim Coffroth, the Californian promoter had been appointed by the government to get up athletic shows, especially boxing, to get funds for athletic equipment for the soldiers. It was the big thing among the soldiers and Coffroth was the man to put it over.
He sent me a wire asking me to come to California to fight Willie Meehan for the cause. Meehan was the big shot out there just then. His previous fights with Dempsey made him a card to begin with.As Dempsey’s fame ascended, so did Willie’s as a natural course. I accepted Coffroth’s offer and started west with Dempsey. On the way out I stopped of at Dayton, Ohio to put Dempsey in against Terry Keller. Terry was one man in the world who believed he could always whip Dempsey. He was a game sucker and they put up as tough a battle as you’d ever want to see. I’ve never seen a tougher one. What a fight. He had fought Dempsey a couple of draws in previous bouts and he was still certain that he had jack’s number. That’s what made him hard to beat. He wouldn’t be convinced.
Wickedest of All
He had little idea of how Dempsey had improved and how he himself had stood still.They fought in the ball park. The bell rang and terry started after Dempsey as if to finish him in the first round. At the end of the second round they were both covered with blood and fighting like bull dogs. Dempsey’s ear began to swell and in the 4th round Terry landed a haymaker on top of Dempsey’s head shaking him to the toe nails and splitting a gash in his scalp three inches long. You could have hidden a cigar in it. Dempsey had hurt his left hand badly and was somewhat handicapped. Terry was in such a dreadful state at the end of the 4th that I begged the referee to stop it. I was quite willing as I didn’t know how bad Dempsey’s left was. No use taking further chances on a sucker, tough as he was. The referee refused to stop it. I told Dempsey to give him the business feign for the body and a left hook to the jaw. He dropped him cold, bad hand an all. It was the wickedest fight I ever looked at, including all my own and Dempsey’s too.
Dempsey and I were in our hotel room the next morning. I was trying to close the wound on the top of his head and was working on the bad hand when there came a knock on the door. I hollered “come in”. Dempsey and I nearly fell to the floor when we saw our visitor. I don’t think in all my life I ever saw anything that looked funnier to me than the individual who walked in. It was the Honorable Terrence Keller. One of his ears was sticking out like a balloon, both his eyes were closed almost tight and his at was straddled across a big lump that made it hang on his head. In his kisser was big dollar cigar.
Facing Dempsey, Keller said “ Well kid that was some battle we had. I don’t mind telling you that you surprised me considerably. I didn’t think it was possible for a man to improve like you’ve gone ahead of me. You couldn’t always fight like that. I’m not kidding you now jack but you’re the next champion of the world.
Poor Terry. they didn’t make them any gamer than he was.
I put Dempsey on the train for Denver where we were matched to fight Arthur Pelky. He had just gained some unwelcome notoriety because of having killed Luther McCarthy in a fight in Canada. At least Arthur died from heart failure in the progress of the battle. On the train on our way to Denver Dempsey opened up. He was convinced that he couldn’t fight. The Keller fight had made him sure of it. He was a little put out by the finish and he renewed his old old cry of not being there with championship stuff.
“I simply can’t fight” he said. “I know I can’t fight, that muss the other night proved it.That fellow smacked me all around. I’ certain that it’s only the ballyhoo that’s carrying me along. It can’t always do that. Sooner or,later I'll blow up right in your face, I'm not there, I tell you."
I 'suppose It was a sort of reaction I've known of famous actors to go to pieces the same way after a hard performance or a hectic rehearsal where things didn't go just right. I know how Dempsey felt. I've felt the game myself when 1 seemed to be going my best.
"You don't have to worry about anything," I told him.' "All you've got to d is to bowl them over. - I'll attend to the rest. I'll pick them and you lick them. That's simple, isn't It?". "Yes, Jack, but I can't fight." Came the thread-bare plaint. "What's the use. I've got nothing. Besides I never wanted to fight in the first place. I told you that when I went to the ship yards."
"Now don't you worry. We're to win the title. You're getting set for Willard now. I'll pick them and you lick them. It’s all I ask”
" Now there’s another thing about Dempsey. Aside from admitting to me that ho didn't think. He could tight a lick, he never questioned my matching him with this fellow or that. Never once did he confess a doubt of his ability to whip any certain man. Aside from these little spells of doubt as to his own ability, he was always ready to take on the man I had selected as his opponent . He’d never ask the weight, the name, the place or how much. Simply when he must be ready and what day he ought to begin work for the bout. We never had a single argument as to any match we made in all the time he was fighting. I am sure Dempsey will admit that much today.
In yesterday's article I said that Dempsey was easy to handle at all times. He was. If I told him toe to toe, it –was toe to toe. If I told him to ease off this round and go next, it was as so. He fought perfectly to orders. I never knew a man like him. He could come nearer to making a fellow fall the way you wanted him to than any fighter I've ever been behind, and I've handled many of the best. In all our fight associations I never had a word o£ argument with Dempsey.
It wasn't necessary. He was quick to see the logic of an order and fighter enough to know that a general can lead. Anyway, he knocked out Pelky. Quick. stuff. Feign to the stomach and a left to the chin. They all went that way. I insisted on it. Storm them. "Whale right through. Those were the orders, and they were obeyed . We left Denver for the coast where we were to fight Meehan for the war fund. Jack's left hand had not come around as yet and we had been crowding it too much. When we landed in Frisco, the big ballyhoo was turned on again. We had done things since we last saw the old Cliff House and we made the most of it.
Coffroth, a good promoter, came to me and sounded me out on a decision bout. The law out there limited bouts to four rounds — no decision — but Coffroth had arranged to have special permission to give a decision at the end of four rounds if we were agreeable. "We can draw $25,000 to $30,000 more If you will consent to let Dempsey fight this fellow to a decision, even if it is four rounds." "I'm for that," I told Coffroth. "I think it is a good idea."
It can't hurt us any even if we lose and I'll promise we'll beat him this time. You know, the Meehan thing has been brought up many a time. Folks have a sited why he always beat Dempsey. In the first place Meehan was a clown. He was hard to hit because he was always clowning and ducking. He didn't win this last fight as I'll explain.
Coffroth had asked me if Eddie Graney, the old and popular referee Would be agreeable to me. Certainly. Eddie hadn’t been on the job In a long while but he knew the racket and he was selected, helping the house a great deal.
An Unpleasant Thrill
When the first bell rang, Dempsey rushed across the ring and belted Meehan plump on the jaw so hard that he busted the belt around Willie's waist. Honest to God. The punch turned Willie upside down. He was game. He got up. He took a devilish hiding. Dempsey hooked him with a left a little later on and Willie began to sink to the floor slowly. Then he said the funniest thing: I ever heard in the ring: As he sank towards the floor from the effects of the left hook he pipes up: "I'm going down Johnny -but I'll be right up." And he was. What a plucky sucker he was. And what a great fight it was. The. pudgy little fellow took a hard beating but he was always there for more.
We were winning by a mile and I was glad that Willie was standing up so, as to give them a run for the money. The last bell rang. I hopped .into the ring and started To wipe.Dempsey’s face off so, he'd, be nice and clean when Eddie lifted his hand.
Graney turned around a couple of times like a poodle after its tail and Then headed right for Meehans corner.without looking at his subject Graney lifted Meehan’s right glove in the air. I nearly died. You could have bowled me over with a putty blower. The man must be mad. Graney was out of the ring before he knew it and you never heard such a din as they set up.
Willie was popular but right is right and the crowd started to yelp good and loud.
Well everybody figured that I’d blown the Willard chance. Why, a bad decision is a boost, I started to laugh, but it was serious just the same. But let me say this for the record book—after it was all over Graney admitted to me that he had held up the wrong hand.. Can you imagine such a thing. The papers bulldozed him the next day but it was done and that was that.
We left that night for Reno where we had a date to meet Jack Moran the following night. Dempsey's left hand was sore, good and sore by now.
On the train I picked up the Papers. The out. of town papers were strong for Meehan of course, not having seen the fight their sports editors had strung with Willie. Dempsey had but one hand the next night but he knocked out Moran with his right in a round.
The papers were still harping on the Meehan thing and vowed that Dempsey was out of it so far as Willard was concerned. That didn’t bother me in the least except that it made me step a little lively. There was ballyhoo to be sprung again and bad decisions are soon forgotten.
I had a great fighter and no poor decision was going to change his fighting ability
We went on to Denver, I determined to blast the truth, I walked into the Denver Post to sec Gene Fowler . When I sauntered in to see Harry Tannan, the owner of the paper, who do you._suppose was standing there gassing with him? Take a dozen, guesses. Jess Willard in person. Honest it was a blow. I walked right over to the big egg and stuck out my hand.
"Of all people, Jess, how are you?" . He took one withering look at me and pulling himself up to what seemed eight feet high, an old trick of his, he growled. “I ain’t goin to shake hands with you Kearns. You’ve been too doggone fresh. Shake hands with yourself”
Well my first thought was to slam the big stiff. I drew back but Tannan quick to see trouble coming reached out and taking my right hand asked me how I was and about Dempsey’s health. I probably blew the heavyweight title as my own personal property right there, for in the old days a always carried a mean right and I was still good for one final sock.