I thought that some who hadn't already read the Billy Miske book might enjoy reading about his title fight with Jack Dempsey. The following is an excerpt from the beginning of chapter 11:
"At 4:49 p.m. on September 6th, 1920, Billy stepped between the ropes and into the ring of the Benton Harbor Arena to face Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight championship of the world. He was greeted with wild applause from the St. Paul contingency seated directly behind his corner, and a warm reception throughout the rest of the arena. He was wearing silk trunks with the initials “BM” embroidered on the left leg.
The ring was immediately swarmed with photographers, attendants and state officials. At one time, no less than eleven cameras were focused on Billy, but he remained unfazed by all the attention, smiling throughout, as the photographers scrambled for the perfect photo opportunity.
Despite the fact the fight was already an hour late, the champion kept Billy and the large crowd waiting for fifteen minutes before joining him in the ring. While he received an enthusiastic welcome, he showed no interest in returning the greeting of his many admirers. He appeared with a glum and determined expression on his unshaven face, and he was wearing the same old red sweater he wore into his battle with Jess Willard.
The introductions of officials that followed Dempsey’s arrival, and the accompanying commotion, seemed to irritate the champion. To those at ringside, he appeared ill at ease and anxious to get under way. On the other hand, Billy appeared completely at ease, laughing and talking with those folks who were nearby.
Once all the introductions were completed and the fighters had received their instructions, the ring was cleared. The arena buzzed with excitement as the two men waited for the bell to signal them into action. Finally, the bell rang and Billy rushed forward to meet Dempsey with a determined look on his face.
It was Billy who landed the first blow of the fight, a left to the jaw, followed by a left hook to the champion’s stomach. Dempsey responded with two hard left hooks of his own to the challenger’s stomach. The two men measured each other with cautious left and right hand probes.
It quickly became apparent Billy had chosen a different strategy for Dempsey than he had in their first two meetings. Rather than box at long range, Billy stood flat footed and appeared as though he intended to slug it out with Dempsey. Dempsey, on the other hand, assumed the role of the boxer in the opening session, and actually demonstrated the better skills of the two men in that area, either brushing away, ducking, or sidestepping the majority of Billy’s attacks.
Dempsey said later that he had decided beforehand he would focus on boxing during the opening round. He had his sights set on a future bout with the Frenchman, Georges Carpentier, who many believed to be the greatest boxer in the world at the time. As a result, he had devoted a fair amount of his time in training, and the first round of this fight with Billy, on improving and testing his boxing skills.
That didn’t mean the champion didn’t land any telling blows during the opening round. At one point, Dempsey crossed a left to Billy’s jaw and followed with a big right to the stomach that “fairly boomed upon impact.” Billy quickly backed away and covered up.
Billy fought back as hard as he could for the balance of the round, but he was plainly tiring as it ended. It was clear Dempsey was the much faster of the two, and Billy was already weakening. The round came to an end as Dempsey feinted with a left to the body and landed a right to Billy’s head.
The bell opening the second round signaled the arrival of the Dempsey everyone had been expecting. No longer was he a boxer, the slugger had returned. For nearly ten seconds, neither man threw a punch, each searching for an opening. And then, Billy tried a left to the body. Quick as a flash, Dempsey countered with a terrific left hook to the body that shook Billy, and the latter clinched. Once separated, Dempsey resumed his body attack with such speed that Billy was unable to block the blows. They clinched.
After being separated, Dempsey rushed in and missed with a big right hand aimed for Billy’s head. Billy countered with a series of blows to the body, but they had little effect.
What happened next is probably explained by Dempsey as well as anyone:
Miske is tough. Don’t make any mistake about that. I fought him twice before and remembered that he could take an awful socking. So, I decided that rather than try to bring him down with one terrific blow I would just chop him down gradual. Cagey boy that he is, he never would give me a fair crack at his jaw or body until I tricked him into it.
And I did it with the old right-hand lead that went straight through. Most of the fighters leading with the right usually do it merely to whirl around to the other fellow so they can land with the real blow, a left hook. Naturally, every fighter, when he sees a right coming, turns in toward that right, not figuring the right is going through, and that is why I was so successful, because I follow through with the right. I led with the right for Billy’s body in the middle of the second (round). He expected that I was going to land a left, that the right was only a bluff. But, I sent that right straight through, and Miske went down as the blow flashed under his heart. It was the same punch that I had used to start Jess Willard to defeat, and it sent Billy along the same road. That body smash I landed under his heart was about as hard a blow as I ever hit anybody.
For a second, it didn’t seem as though the blow had much of an impact, but, as Billy took a step, his legs collapsed beneath him and he fell to the canvas.381 It was the first time in eight years of fighting, and more than 80 professional bouts, Billy had ever been knocked off his feet.
He propped up the upper part of his body on his straightened right arm. It looked as though he was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, and he might take the count while conscious, but unable to rise to his feet. His face was distorted in pain.
But, Billy struggled to his feet at the count of five and backed away, covering his stomach. He was plainly dazed and his knees were wobbly. A less game fighter would have quit at that point. There was a large red welt under Billy’s heart where the blow had landed. Dempsey, in an effort to bring an end to the fight, rushed Billy, but was wild and missed badly with two heavy swings, a right hook aimed at the jaw and a left aimed at the body. Billy clinched, but Dempsey kept one arm free and landed three short blows to the chin.
For the balance of the round, Billy clinched, weaved, and managed to stave off the furious efforts of Dempsey to bring the fight to a conclusion. “It was a marvelous exhibition of gameness, for he was really hurt,” Dempsey would later say.
Billy looked “all in” as he staggered back to his corner at the end of the round. He was bleeding from the mouth and his face was flaming red.
Of the blow that sent him to the canvas for the first time in his professional life, Billy said, “I never was hit so hard in my life. The blow took all the steam out of me, and I hadn’t recovered from its effects when the third round opened.”
When the third round began, Dempsey was confident one good punch would finish the job. But, Billy wasn’t going to go down without a fight. He desperately tore into the champion and landed two lefts to the face, followed by a right hook to the point of the jaw. If it had occurred earlier in the fight it may have done more damage than it did, but by this time Dempsey’s blows had robbed Billy of his strength. Dempsey retaliated with a left to the face, and they clinched. Dempsey uppercut Billy with a right and then missed when he tried to repeat the blow.
Once they were separated, Dempsey circled Billy a couple of times, and then bluffed a rush. When Billy came in, Dempsey hooked a short left into his stomach. When Billy winced, he knew he had him. He faked another punch to Billy’s midsection to get him to drop his guard, and then whipped over a right hook that crashed into Billy’s jaw and sent him down for the second time in the fight. Billy fell onto his right side with his left arm covering his face. Dempsey was sure Billy wouldn’t be able to rise from the blow. But, somehow he did what Dempsey later said he didn’t believe any fighter in America so badly hurt could, he climbed back to his feet at the count of nine.
As Referee Dougherty conducted his count, one the St. Paul Pioneer Press observed as unusually fast, Dempsey walked behind his fallen foe and stood leaning against the ropes. As Billy rose, dazed and bleary-eyed, he put his hands up thinking Dempsey was in front of him. Instead, the champion had positioned himself directly behind Billy. And the moment Billy was back on his feet, Dempsey moved a fraction to the side and delivered a brutal right hook to the jaw that sent Billy down and out, one minute and thirteen seconds into the third round. There were a few hisses from the crowd for Dempsey’s action.
H.C. Walker, Sporting Editor of the Detroit Times, was probably the most vocal in his criticism of the way Dempsey brought an end to the fight. His comments concerning the champion’s lack of sportsmanship are provided below:
Jack Dempsey is a bad sport. As a fighter, he’s one of the best the pugilistic game had developed. I think Dempsey can hit harder than any fighter who ever got into a ring. When I say this, I remember Peter Maher, Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Jeffries. He can hit a harder wallop than could any of these terrible punchers. But, I don’t believe the man has any sand. He certainly is a bum sport. He got behind helpless Billy Miske the other day and knocked him cold when Billy wasn’t looking, and, furthermore, when Dempsey didn’t have the right to hit him. The knockout blow that put Billy Miske to sleep was one of the most cowardly blows I have ever seen. And, it doesn’t lessen the offense that Jack Dempsey’s personal referee didn’t want to prevent that blow.
Dempsey sneaked up on Miske, hit him from behind and knocked him out. In the third and final round of the fight, Miske was knocked down. It appeared as if he was down for keeps, but, at the count of nine, he got up. He was helpless and a child could have licked him then. But, contrary to the rules under which that match and all others in this country are held, Dempsey did, despite the fact that he had no right to do it. The Marquis of Queensberry rules say:
If either man falls through weakness or otherwise, he must get up unassisted, ten seconds to be allowed him to do so, the other man meanwhile to return to his corner.
The idea of forcing the fighter to return to his corner while his antagonist was down came to Marquis of Queensbury in 1865 when he revised the old London Prize Ring rules to rob them of their brutality. These rules have therefore stood for 55 years. Under them, boxing has become more respectable, and less brutal. But, Dempsey violated the rules and hovered over Miske, behind the helpless fighter, and hit him as soon as both knees were off the floor. The bully needn’t have done it, for he could have licked Miske squarely quite as easily. Only he didn’t."