BOOK REVIEW FOR AUSTRALIAN BOXING: FIST MAGAZINE
By Mike James
Boxers come and boxers go. Those with exceptional skills capture the media lime light and crowd plaudits for a short time before drifting off into obscurity; usually via the fists of a new usurper for the throne.
Unfortunately many refuse to accept defeat and continue boxing in vain hope of reliving past glories. As they grow older, their skills and reflexes diminish resulting in more physical punislm1ent and sometimes permanent brain damage. To use the boxing vernacular, they become punch-drunk.
Indeed, there is no sadder sight in sport today than ex heavy-weight champion Muhammad Ali, in his prime a truly beautiful and gifted athlete who could 'float like a butterfly and sting like a bee;' today a mumbling incoherent shadow of a man with a shuffling gait and permanent tremor in his limbs. It is a picture all too common among ex boxers, and more fuel to fire the sentiments of the anti-boxing lobby.
There are individuals, however, whose lives belie this scenario and become revered as heroes by boxing fans and detractors alike. Jack Dempsey, world heavyweight champion (1919-26) is one boxer held in awe and regarded as a legend in American sports' history.
On a recent trip to an Adelaide book-shop I unearthed the now out of print autobiography of this famous sportsman. Simply titled "Dempsey", the book is written in collaboration with his step-daughter Barbara Piatelli Dempsey and describes the life and times of the man known in pugilistic circles as the Manassa Mauler.
Dempsey recounts his humble beginnings as a Colorado coal miner whose only way out of poverty was to capitalize on his greatest talent: the ability to punch with devastating power. None of these recollections are colored by introspective self-analysis. Barbara Piatelli Dempsey' s writing allows Jack's words to speak for themselves.
Intertwined within Dempsey's life is a colorful montage of characters and events (both in and out of ring). The Willard fight, the infamous long count, his trial for refusing to enter the army, his days as a movie star and restaurateur, are all told with disarming honesty.
More than a mere blow by blow description of a boxing career, Dempsey tells of the struggles of a simple honest man in difficult times. Through world wars, economic depressions and personal turmoil Jack Dempsey emerges as the archetypical American hero.
What makes the story even more appealing is its warts and all approach. Dempsey's foibles are exposed; his life is no sugar-coated fairy tale. For any sports historian or fanatic, "Dempsey" is essential reading. It is a timeless work which will ensure that the famous catch cry "I can beat any man in the house" will continue to be shouted by those seeking to emulate the fistic feats of the eternal symbol of American male machismo, the one and the only Jack Dempsey