The date was September 14, 1923. The place was the Polo Grounds in New York City. The fight was for the NYSAC heavyweight title, and the fighters were National Boxing Association heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey (52-4-9), from Manassa, Colorado, and Luis Ángel Firpo (25-2), the “heavyweight champion of South America,” from Buenos Aires, Argentina, soon to be known as “El Toro Salvaje de las Pampas” (“Wild Bull of the Pampas”).
It only lasted two rounds of a scheduled 15, but the fight, one of the most thrilling in boxing history, included 11 knockdowns.
Dempsey entered the ring at 6-feet-1 inch and weighed 192½ pounds. Firpo was 6-feet-3 and tipped the scales at 216½.
At the opening bell Dempsey, bobbing and weaving to get inside, missed with a wild left which Firpo countered with a right hand that dropped the champ to a knee. Twenty seconds later the “Manassa Mauler” landed a left hook that put Firpo on the canvas. It was the first of seven knockdowns he would suffer in round one. As the first round was drawing to a close, Firpo landed another right that sent Dempsey flying through the ropes. With the help of ringside reporters, he was able to climb back into the ring and survive one the most electrifying rounds anyone had seen before or since.
Dempsey picked up where he left off in the second and dropped Firpo two more times, before ending it with a knockout at 0:57.
The fight was not without controversy. Film shows the referee, Johnny Gallagher, reaching the count of four by the time Dempsey was finally back in the ring. But ringside observers with stop watches said the time was 14 seconds, which would have made Firpo the victor.
Despite the controversies, Dempsey-Firpo has pride of place, not only in boxing history, but in art history as well (see “Dempsey and Firpo” above, painted by George Bellows in 1923-24).
Argentine fight fans continue to celebrate September 14 as the day when Luis Ángel Firpo, the “Wild Bull of the Pampas,” engaged Jack Dempsey in one of the most exhilarating bouts of all time..
This article was penned by the author who is not related to the WBA and the statements, expressions or opinions referenced herein are that of the author alone and not the WBA.