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vs. Dempsey:

Promoter Tex Rickard

conquered logistical mountains

to stage his 'Battle of the Century'


On an overcast, humid July afternoon in 1921, Frenchman Georges Carpentier challenged Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight championship at Boyle’s Thirty Acres in Jersey City, New Jersey. The fight was billed as the “Battle of the Century” by world famous boxing promoter Tex Rickard.

 More than 80,000 fans were in attendance to witness the fight Rickard cast as the “hero vs villain.” Carpentier, a European light heavyweight/heavyweight boxing champion and decorated French Army veteran of WWI, was cast the hero. Jack Dempsey was easily cast as the villain, having been labeled a “slacker” for avoiding the military draft. (Dempsey had been found not guilty of the offense in 1920.)

Carpentier was paid $200,000 for the fight; Dempsey got $300,000, as well as an equal share of 25 percent of the film profit. The official attendance for the day was 80,183, but according to most accounts the stands were built to hold over 91,000 and were packed to capacity. The receipts showed the fight grossed $1,789,238.
A roster of notables in attendance included Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, New Jersey Governor Edward I Edwards; the three children of Theodore Roosevelt (Kermit , Theodore Jr and Alice Roosevelt Longworth); industrialists John D Rockefeller Jr, William H Vanderbilt, George H Gould; entertainers Al Jolson and George M Cohan. Prominent Long Island residents Ralph Pulitzer, Harry Payne Whitney and JP Grace had an interest in the fight because Georges Carpentier used an estate on Manhasset Bay as a training camp.

Carpentier, referee Harry Ertle & Dempsey
Tex Rickard recognized the enormous possibilities of radio broadcasting to advance the sport of boxing and made every accommodation possible for the new technology at the site. He made it possible to have a wooden makeshift broadcast room constructed under the stands. Telephone lines and a temporary radio transmitter, sponsored by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) were installed at the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey.
The original plan was to install the transmitter and temporary wooden masts for an aerial next to the boxing ring in the arena at Boyles Thirty Acres. However, Rickard’s silent partner, John Ringling, objected to the proposed broadcast and wanted it cancelled. The two men reached a compromise, the broadcast would take place, but the transmitter and aerial would be located outside the arena.
The press corps for the event included reporters from England, France, Spain, Japan, Canada and South America as well as reporters from across the United States. Well known sports journalists of the time Bob Edgren of the New York Evening World, Tad Dorgan of the New York Evening Journal, and Joe Williams of the Cleveland Press were on hand as well as local sports writers Jackie Farrell of the Hudson Dispatch; J Owen Kennedy of the Jersey Journal; Jim Egan of the Jersey Observer and Morris “Rosey” Rosenberg of the Bayonne Times.

To aid in promoting the bout, the Jersey City Chamber of Commerce made a three-fold brochure that listed statistics about the fighters, a transportation map to the Montgomery Park Arena, a drawing of the eight-sided arena for the purpose of tickets, and a list of 10 reasons why Rickard chose Jersey City for the event. Under that list was a promotion for Jersey City as “The most desirable site in the Metropolitan Zone for locating your factory or warehouse” that is “Next to the largest city in the world.”
Jersey City was not the first choice of places to hold the event. Originally Rickard was hoping to have the fight at the Polo Grounds, home of the baseball New York Giants in uptown Manhattan. Boxing was legal in the State of New York at the time under the Walker Boxing Law, named for former New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. Unfortunately for boxing proponents in New York City,  Governor Nathan L. Miller was opposed to prize fighting and said he would intervene if the fight were to take place anywhere in New York State. Miller claimed he would go so far as to have the Walker Law repealed.  

Press row at the fight
After some haggling about the event with state and local officials, Rickard chose the Jersey City site and leased the property from John F Boyle. According to Lud Shahbazian of the Hudson Dispatch, Mayor Hague of Jersey City recommended Rickard use the property of his friend John F Boyle for the site to hold the event.
The large., wooden, eight-sided arena was 300,000 square feet and was built in two months by 600 carpenters and 400 workers. They used 2,250,000 feet of lumber and 60 tons of nails at a cost of $325,000. Fans paid between five dollars and fifty cents for general admission and as much as $50 for ringside seats. By contrast a ticket for a bleacher seat at the Polo Grounds for the 1921 World Series between the New York Yankees and New York Giants set fans back $1.10.

Politicians and clergymen alike were opposed to prize fighting for what they called “Commercial enterprise.” Congressional representative James A Gallivan of Massachusetts tried unsuccessfully to have the fight prohibited based on Dempsey’s problems with the military draft during WWI.
The Clergy Community Club in Jersey City appealed to the Hudson County Grand Jury but was not successful. They also forwarded their condemnation of the event to Jersey City’s Mayor Hague; in part it read, “The bout would attract ‘bruisers,’ rather than the  ‘finer types’ of citizens; the fight would serve to ‘brutalize’ the youth and foster juvenile delinquency;  and the entire standards of Jersey City would be corrupted by allowing the match to be staged.”
Regardless of what politicians and clergymen thought spectators showed up in droves that hot, humid July afternoon; they arrived by automobile, trolley, jitney and on foot. Fans arrived on special trains of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad through the Holland Tunnel from New York City, from ferryboat to the Jersey City waterfront and by jitney to the “Montgomery Oval” from Journal Square and Exchange Place.
As spectators filed in the arena overhead clouds  threatened to rain. In the ring one of the six preliminary bouts was underway; Frank Burns of Jersey City and Packey “Speed Demon” O’ Gatty of New York were engaged in an eight round featherweight fight. 

Rickard became concerned that spectators might start to leave if it rained so he instructed the radio announcers to go on the air before the main event; the first words to be broadcast were, “It is drizzling rain while Packey O’ Gatty and Frankie Burns are battling. It is the eighth and last round and Tex Rickard has just announced that Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier will fight at 3 p.m., rain or shine for the world’s championship.”

At fight time Georges Carpentier was greeted to the playing of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem as he entered the eighteen square foot ring for the main event. Dempsey was said to be angered by the loud cheering for his opponent and for that reason didn’t shake hands with the Frenchmen, but they both shock hands with Mayor Hague and Governor Edwards when they entered the ring. The bell rang for the start of round one at 3:16 PM. The entire fight for the heavyweight championship of the world lasted less than 11 minutes. Jack Dempsey, The Manassa Mauler, knocked out The Orchid Man, Georges Carpentier at 1:16 of round four to retain the heavyweight title. Referee Harry Ertle ended the bout at 3:27 PM.
 It was reported that, when Dempsey landed the punch that sent Carpentier to the canvas, “The roaring crowd leaped to its feet, those who were there insist, the pine structure actually swayed.”
   And so Jack Dempsey remained the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world until he fought Gene Tunney in 1936.



More columns
by Sam Gregory:

Graziano & Zale are forever linked by trilogy

Corbett-Sullivan changed boxing forever

Pep vs. Saddler: A rivalry that kept getting better

Cinderella Man Braddock stun Baer and the boxing world

Classy and cocky, an undersized Conn was KO'd by Louis

Loughran evolved into Hall of Fame light heavyweight

Fitzsimmons-Corbett, the original 'Fight of the Century'

Greb-Tunney I: One of most-brutal fights of all time

Carpentier vs.Dempsey: Battle of the Century


CLICK HERE to contact Sam Gregory






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Sam Gregory has been a professional boxing writer since 2002 for publications such as BoxingTalk.com, Boxing Digest, EastsideBoxing.com The Cyberboxing Zone, StraightJab.com, boxingnews24.com and TheSweetScience.com. He has covered numerous fights and has interviewed some of the biggest names in the sport.

As a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, Gregory specializes in boxing history, and contributes regularly to that organization's quarterly publication. He is the author of numerous biographical articles about legendary fighters, classic match-ups, memorable boxing trilogies and other subjects.

CLICK HERE to contact Sam Gregory


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