Now largely overshadowed by his namesake, the heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, the original Jack Dempsey was a boxer of enormous talent. At the peak of his career, he was the best around, which earned him the nickname "The Nonpareil" (without equal). Born in Ireland, Dempsey came to New York as a child and worked in a Brooklyn barrel factory before venturing into wrestling and then boxing. He turned professional as a lightweight in 1883, at age 20.
Dempsey was unbeaten in his first 14 fights. In 1884, he earned a chance to battle George Fulijames, who had recently claimed the middleweight championship. Dempsey knocked Fulijames out in the 22nd round to become the American -- some said world -- middleweight champion.
Fighting on both coasts, Dempsey remained undefeated until 1889 when he fought George LaBlanche in San Francisco. In their first encounter, three years before, Dempsey had knocked LaBlanche out in 13 rounds. This time the two battled for 32 rounds. Dempsey was getting the better of LaBlanche when the challenger executed a pivot punch that dropped Dempsey in his tracks. The pivot punch was thrown using a backhand motion so that the puncher's elbow, forearm or fist would connect with the victim's head. This move was declared illegal, and though Dempsey lost the fight, he was permitted to retain the title.
Dempsey became undisputed middleweight champion with his victory over Australian Billy McCarthy. In 1891, he faced Hall of Famer Bob Fitzsimmons in New Orleans. Fitzsimmons, who would later go on to take the heavyweight championship, dominated the fight. He knocked Dempsey down 13 times in 13 rounds and pleaded with him to give up. Dempsey refused, reportedly saying, "A champion never quits." Finally, Dempsey went down in the 13th for the the knockout defeat. A punch to the throat in this fight affected Dempsey's speech for the remainder of his life.
Though only 28 at the time of the Fitzsimmons fight, Dempsey fought only three more times. Hall of Famer Tommy Ryan stopped him in the third round in his final fight in 1895. By this time, Dempsey was already weakened by the tuberculosis which would claim his life later that year.
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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.