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Jack Dempsey vs. Jack Sharkey

July 21, 1927

Dempsey’s last bout had been been a devastating decision loss to Gene Tunney in 1926 - his first competitive bout in three years and the last in which he wore the heavyweight championship belt. Feeling robbed after “the long count” and hungry to regain his championship status, Dempsey went into training to face future champion Jack Sharkey. The winner would face Tunney.

The bout did not go well for Dempsey, who by ‘27 was a shadow of his former glory. The Manassa Mauler was beaten soundly both from the outside (row 1, gif 1) and inside (row 1, gif 2 and row 2, gif 1). By the fifth round, Dempsey was sporting two cuts - one over his right eye, one under his left - and a bloody nose and mouth. Always a warrior, Dempsey refused to deviate from his game plan, locking himself into the clinch or half-clinch and delivering blows to Sharkey’s abdomen all the while Sharkey was cracking his head open.

In the sixth round, some of these blows started to go one or two inches south of the belt line - a foul that, in Dempsey’s heyday, was to be ignored (similarly, clinching is actually listed as a foul under the Marquess of Queensberry rules, but it has evolved as part of modern boxing, and fouls are very seldom called for holding). The referee warned Dempsey once in that round and again in the seventh, but when Dempsey landed another, Sharkey, who had had enough, deviated from the cardinal rule (“protect yourself at all times”) and turned his head to complain to the referee. Seeing his opponent open, Dempsey landed a short left hook to Sharkey’s jaw. Sharkey crumpled, blindsided by the unexpected punch and still suffering from Dempsey’s low blow.

The referee, who hadn’t recognized Dempsey’s body shot as low, began the count. Sharkey, clutching at his crotch, couldn’t rise in time. Dempsey had won the bout and a rematch with Tunney. Controversy abounded.

For his part, Dempsey was dismissive. “It’s all in the game,” he would later say. “What was I supposed to do, write him a letter?”

Tags: boxing Jack Dempsey Jack Sharkey July 21 1927 martial arts sports
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