Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Nonpareil: The Original Jack Dempsey

Remembering…Nonpareil Jack Dempsey
December 15, 1862 - November 2, 1895

By Peter Silkov

Long Before the ‘Manassa Mauler’ Jack Dempsey reigned as World heavyweight champion in the 1920s, there was ‘Nonpareil’ Jack Dempsey. This Dempsey was considered one of the greatest boxers ever seen, pound-for-pound. Fast and clever, with a good punch, Dempsey was a boxer-puncher who was decades ahead of his time in his ring generalship. Dempsey could adapt to any style of opponent, and in his prime, he ranked only below heavyweight champion John L Sullivan in fame and popularity. Technically, he was a far greater fighter than Sullivan, and many boxing followers at that time believed that he would be able to beat Sullivan if he was just a stone or so heavier than the 152 pounds, which he weighed at his prime. Fans gave him the name "Nonpareil" because he was considered unrivaled in his fistic prowess.

Nonpareil was the first internationally recognized World Middleweight champion, and helped bring acceptance and recognition to the middleweight division at a time when the heavyweights dominated boxing.

Dempsey was born in Curran, County Kildare, Ireland, on December 15, 1862, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York, after his family moved to America while he was still very young. Dempsey’s real name was John Edward Kelly, and it is not clear why he changed his name to Jack Dempsey, but it is likely to be because he did not want his family to know that he was boxing. After training to be an apprentice Cooper, Dempsey began to box for pay in 1883. 

In just over a year, Dempsey had picked up the Lightweight championship of New York and then the Lightweight Championship of America. On February 3, 1886, Dempsey knocked out John Forgarty out in the 27th round to win the Middleweight Championship of America. One month later, The Nonpareil knocked out George Lablanche in the 13th round, and gained recognition as the World middleweight champion. Dempsey was to hold this title until 1891. In August 1899, Dempsey was knocked out in the 32nd round by George Lablanche, but retained his status as the World middleweight champion as Lablanche had weighed in for the fights at 161 pounds, over the middleweight limit. Lablanche had also knocked Dempsey out with the illegal ‘pivot’ punch. Other than this dubious setback, Dempsey reigned supreme at middleweight until January 14th, 1891, when Bob Fitzsimmons shockingly beat him in 13 rounds. In what was a sensational result at the time, the gangling and freckled Fitzsimmons handed Dempsey a terrible beating, and the Nonpareil gave a great exhibition of courage to last as long as he did, before he was finally pulled out by his corner-men in the 13th round.

Fitzsimmons would go on to become one of the greatest fighters in the ring, and the first man to win world titles at 3 weights, however for Dempsey, it was all tragically downhill after his defeat by Fitzsimmons. After he lost his world championship, Dempsey’s life went into a downward spiral, he started to drink heavily, and then contracted Tuberculosis. He would fight just 3 more times, winning once. His last fight was on January 18 1895, against the Welterweight world champion, Tommy Ryan. Dempsey’s condition and display in the ring was so poor that he was unmercifully jeered and booed from the ring after the fight had been mercifully stopped in the 3rd round. Nine months later, on November 2 (some sources say Nov 1st) 1895, the Nonpareil died of tuberculosis, at just 32.

Nonpareil Jack Dempsey’s final record was 54(23koes)-4-11.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to www.theboxingglove.com
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