Best known as heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey's manager, Jack (Doc) Kearns spent over 60 years in boxing. Kearns and Dempsey, both rough-and-tumble characters with a great zest for life, were partners for six years.
Born in 1882, Kearns grew up in the state of Washington. When he was fourteen, he joined the Alaska Yukon gold rush by stowing away on a freighter. The young Kearns did not strike it rich and, on returning home, worked as a ranch hand. He also accepted pay in return for helping to smuggle Chinese immigrants into the United States. He gravitated toward boxing and, in 1900, first fought professionally in Billings, Montana. Kearns later claimed to have had over 60 professional bouts.
Kearns operated a bar and a boxing club in Spokane. But San Francisco, then the boxing center of the nation, was the place to be, and Kearns eventually found his way there. He thrived in the active boxing world and quickly started managing and promoting fights. Harry Wills was prominent among the boxers he managed.
In 1917, Kearns and Dempsey met. Though Kearns claimed Dempsey came to his aid in a bar fight, others said that Kearns had seen him fight in New York and was impressed with his crude power. Kearns guided Dempsey to the championship in 1919 with a victory over Jess Willard. He was a master of publicity and was largely responsible for making possible the first million-dollar gate in boxing history when Dempsey fought Georges Carpentier. Kearns' managerial acumen also allowed Dempsey to receive $300,000 for a fight in Shelby, Montana which virtually bankrupted the town.
Dempsey split with Kearns after the Dempsey-Firpo fight in 1923. Dempsey and his new wife, actress Estelle Taylor, believed that Kearns had been mishandling the fighter's funds. The parting was acrimonious and involved multiple lawsuits.
Although Kearns's greatest success was with Dempsey, he remained active as a fight manager until his death on July 17, 1963. Among the other fighters he managed were Hall of Famers Joey Maxim, Archie Moore, and Mickey Walker. He spent five years in the employ of the International Boxing Club, setting matches. When asked to testify before the Kefauver committee, Kearns positively impressed the panel of senators and did not prove to be directly linked to the organized crime figures who heavily influenced the International Boxing Club. Kearns has also been credited with staging the first fight in Las Vegas-a 1955 bout between Moore and Nino Valdes.
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Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.