Deseret News archives: Remembering favorite son Jack Dempsey

The front page of the Deseret News after Jack Dempsey lost his heavyweight bout with Gene Tunney in September 1927.
The front page of the Deseret News after Jack Dempsey lost his heavyweight bout with Gene Tunney in September 1927.

A look back at local, national and world events through Deseret News archives.

He was the Manassa Mauler. He was Jack the Giant Killer. He was a popular sports figure in the New York City nightclub scene in the Roaring ’20s, and owned and operated an iconic restaurant across the street from Madison Square Garden.

But apparently, boxer Jack Dempsey, who spent much of his early life in Utah, wanted most to be known as a gentleman.

The former heavyweight champion, who began his boxing career in Utah and the West, died on this date in 1983 at age 87.

Looking back in the archives, boxing matches made headlines all across the United States in the 1900s, including the Deseret News. For one of Dempsey’s title fights, the Deseret News invited fans to come to the newspaper’s offices to listen to a blow-by-blow report of the fight, along with telegraphed details, to be announced to the crowd as they came in.

William Harrison Dempsey was born in 1895 in Manassa, Colorado. His large family soon moved to Provo, where the young man fought his first professional bout. According to reports, he was the third member of his family to fight under the name “Jack.”

Dempsey had many fights around the West, including places like Salt Lake’s Garrick Theater and Grand Theatre, the Ogden Armory and Ogden’s Alhambra Theatre, Provo’s Mozart Theater and the Eko Theatre in Price. Later, he fought at the Trocadero Hall and Fire Hall in Murray before moving on to bigger venues. He also fought under the names Kid Blackie and Young Dempsey.

Dempsey’s later fights were at Madison Square Garden, Soldier Field and Yankee Stadium, drawing in some cases more than 100,000 fans. His official pro record is 60 wins — 49 by knockout — in 81 fights. His unofficial record is 68-6, with 10 draws.

On July 4, 1919, Dempsey won the world heavyweight crown from Jess Willard, and held the title until 1926. He is said to have made more than $2.7 million for nine fights during that time.


His two losses to Gene Tunney, both by decision, are among the most memorable. Tunney upset him in 1926 to take the heavyweight title, then in the rematch at Chicago’s Soldier Field, Dempsey knocked Tunney down, but the famous “long count” gave Tunney time to regain his wits and prevail in the final rounds.

In 1950, Dempsey was voted the greatest fight of the first half of the century, ahead of Joe Louis.

Some other Deseret News archive stories about Dempsey:

Jack the ‘Gentle’ Giant Killer always considered Utah home”

Dempsey still the champ in Colorado town”

In Utah, professional boxing absorbed several heavy blows”

One of the more enjoyable archive stories involves Dempsey’s widow, Deanne, who had hoped her husband would be honored with a commemorative U.S. postage stamp. So she wrote “Dear Abby.”

Widow hopes for Dempsey stamp”

According to the National Postal Museum, the 32-cent Jack Dempsey stamp was issued Feb. 3, 1998, as part of the Celebrate The Century series.