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Jack Dempsey—known as the "Manassa Mauler"—was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1919-26.
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Jack Dempsey was born on June 24, 1895, in the Mormon village of Manassa, Colorado. As a boy, he worked as a farm hand, miner and cowboy and was taught to box by his older brother. Dempsey's early prize fights were in mining towns around Salt Lake City but on July 4, 1919, he beat Jess Willard "The Great White Hope," and became world heavyweight champion. He defended his title five times but lost to Gene Tunney in 1926. Dempsey died in 1983.
"Honey, I forgot to duck."
"Lead me out there. I want to shake his hand."
Born William Harrison Dempsey on June 24, 1895, in Manassa, Colorado, Jack Dempsey's parents, Hyrum and Celia Dempsey, were originally from West Virginia, where his father had worked as a schoolteacher. Around 1880, a missionary group of Latter-Day Saints visited Dempsey's parents and converted them to Mormonism. Soon after, they moved west to the tiny Mormon village of Manassa in southern Colorado, where Dempsey was born.
Although Hyrum Dempsey later abandoned Mormonism, his wife remained faithful and observant throughout her life, and Jack Dempsey was raised in the church. The boxer later described his own religious beliefs: "I'm proud to be a Mormon. And ashamed to be the Jack Mormon that I am."
Following their move from West Virginia, Dempsey's father and his two older brothers worked as miners, and the family moved frequently around Colorado and Utah in pursuit of mining jobs. At the age of 8, Jack Dempsey took his first job picking crops on a farm near Steamboat Springs, Colarado. Over the next few years, he worked as a farm hand, miner and cowboy to help support his struggling family. As an adult, Dempsey often said that he loved three kinds of work—boxing, mining and cowboying—and would have been equally happy doing any of the three. During these years, Dempsey's older brother, Bernie, earned extra money as a prizefighter in the saloons of hardscrabble Rocky Mountain towns. It was Bernie who taught young Jack how to fight, instructing him to chew pine tar gum to strengthen his jaw and soak his face in brine to toughen his skin.
When Dempsey was 12 years old, his family settled in Provo, Utah, where he attended Lakeview Elementary School. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade, though, to begin working full time. He shined shoes, picked crops and worked at a sugar refinery, unloading beets for a measly ten cents per ton. By the age of 17, Dempsey had developed into a skilled young boxer, and decided he could make more money fighting than working.
For the next five years, from 1911-16, Dempsey traveled from mining town to mining town, picking up fights wherever he could. His home base was Peter Jackson's Saloon in Salt Lake City, where a local organizer named Hardy Downey arranged his fights. Going by the name "Kid Blackie," in his Salt Lake City debut, Dempsey knocked out his opponent, a boxer by the name of "One Punch Hancock," in just one punch. Downey was so angry that he made Dempsey fight another opponent before he paid him.
Bernie Dempsey was still prizefighting at that time, calling himself Jack Dempsey, after the great 19th century boxer Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey.
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