Independence day In 1919 was to begin a new era in heavyweight boxing. The era of the Manassa Mauler.
The Heavyweight Championship was in a poor state of affairs in 1919. The champion Jess Willard had only made one title defence since beating Jack Johnson in 1915. This was against Frank Moran. Dempsey however in the seven bouts prior to Willard was travelling round the country knocking out everyone he fought in the first two rounds.
The bout was to take place in Toledo, Ohio and temperatures that day raged well into the 100 degree mark. Tex Rickard a professional gambler was the promoter who was to promote some of the biggest fights in the 20s.
Dempsey was first into the ring wearing white shorts. He looked tanned and at 6 1 and around the 190 pound mark he looked in perfect condition. Willard then followed. Dressed in all black he looked like an apparition. At 6 7 he towered over the challenger but it was evident when he disrobed that he wasn’t in the shame shape he was against Johnson.
Dempsey had assured everyone he would win the title and if he had not put enough pressure on himself then he certainly did with a $8,000 side bet at 10-1 for him to win in the first round. Ollie Paccord was to referee the bout.
The bell sounded but no-one heard it. Both challenger and champion looked around appearing puzzled. A second bell sounded and one of the most brutal rounds in heavyweight history commenced. The fight started calmly with Dempsey circling the taller champion. This surprised Willard who was probably expecting Dempsey to charge at him. Willard landed the first blow, a light left to the head. He then followed up with a couple more blows which probably gave the champion even more confidence. But this was Dempsey was waiting for. Like a greyhound out of the trap Dempsey exploded with a right to the chest then a left to the chin and the champion dropped to the canvas like a fallen tree.
Back in 1919 there was no rule stating that a boxer had to go to a neutral corner following a knockdown so Dempsey stood over the champion and as soon as he rose clubbed him again. The vicious onslaught continued and Dempsey knocked Willard down no less than seven times. After the final knockdown the referee counted Willard out. The bell had sounded on the referees count of seven. Dempsey, however had left the ring thinking he would won the title and his $8,000 sidebet. Jack Kearns the manager of Dempsey screamed at Dempsey to come back saying the fights not over.
Willard was in a sorry state however, with at least 3 cracked ribs and battered face. He spent rounds 2 and 3 lumbering round the ring. The challenger however couldn’t put him away despite landing murderous blows.
The bell then sounded for Round 4 and Willard couldn’t continue becoming the first champion to lose his title sat down. No-one could blame Willard though as he had took a savage beating.
Willard would fight on well into his into 40s but to the day he died well into his 80s always believed that Dempsey had something in his glove that day and went to his grave a bitter man. Dempsey however was to about to enter the era of the million dollar gate.