>>> On lists of all time greats Dempsey's name often comes
>>>up.Is it not true that Dempsey never fought any black contenders?
>>>Would this cast doubt on his greatness?
>> I know I should have let this post stand on it's own merit but
>>I just can't resist. I don't recall Joe Louis fighting any Mexicans.
>>Does this mean he cannot be included in a top Heavyweight list?
> If the number one contender (or #2, or any top fighter) for Louis'
>heavyweight championship was Mexican, you would have a point. As that
>wasn't the case, you don't.
> Harry Wills was recognized as the leading contender for Dempsey's
>crown. By virtue of the color of his skin, he was cheated out of a title
>shot by various athletic commisions, Doc Kearns and Jack Dempsey, amongst
What athletic commissions are these? The New York Athletic Commission
urged Dempsey to accept a bout with Wills, after the original contract
fell through. (There had been a contract for a Dempsey-Wills fight.
Tickets were printed,and the bout was, I believe, to be staged in
Kearns was no longer Dempsey's manager.
The governor of New York reportedly urged Rickard, Dempsey's promoter,
not to accept the fight (for 'patriotic" reasons, whcih really meant
avoidance of the race riots that occurred after Johnson won the
title). The Albany political machine also was concerned about such a
What seems to ahve happened is that political influence was used
privately to stop a Dempsey-Wills fight, at the same time that the
Athletic Commission was pressured into taking an opposite and public
stand, mainly because it would have been unwise to alienate black
Tunney suggested an elimination bout between himself and Wills, to see
who would get to fight Dempsey. Paddy Mullins, Wills's manager, knew
that the Athletic Commission would, because of the blackvote, urge
Wills as the contender. He was right, although such an elimination
bout would have been logical. Paddy was concerned about the longevity
of his fighter, probably with good cause.
Dempsey, as far as I've read, did not have a whole lot to say. He
promised never to fight a black contender after he was roundly
criticized when he fought a series of exhibition matches with blacks.
As for what kind of competition Wills would have offered, he was near
retirement and wanted a good paycheck. During the mid-Twenties he beat
two fighters of note in order to become ranked as contender.
As for Rickard, he obviously figured there was more upside to staging
a fight with Tunney, which also lacked the considerable downside of a
match with Wills, if rioting should again break out in New York. Plus,
a fight with Wills semed like a political minefield, where he was
bound to alienate some faction or other.
The NY Athletic Commmission barred Dempsey. The Boxing Board appealed
to Rickard to stage Dempsey-Wills, but Rickard decided instead to hold
Dempsey-Tunnney in NYC. The Boxing Board refused the venue. The bout
was finally staged in Philly.
> When assessing Dempsey's place in history it must be taken into
>account that--for whatever reason--he would not fight the top contenders
>because of their race, and that fact does take him down a notch or three.
There was one black contender Dempsey did not fight.That there were no
more is due no doubt to the segregation of the period. But whereas
Tiger Flowers could beat Harry Greb without causing riots, there was a
history of racial unrest associated witht he heavyweight crown. That
Dempsey-Willsneve occurred seems largely a matter of political
influence, money and conflicting interests.
When you cnsider tha tboxing itself was politicized in NY, where it
had been illegal for many years, it becomes clear that Wills, Dempsey,
and even boxing and the issue of race itself, were used as pawns in a
game of power plays.