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From the Desert, Jack Dempsey

Matt McGrain

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Jack Dempsey, who has been matched by Jack Goodfriend to fight at the Hippodrome Monday, May 31 is expected to arrive from Reno within a day or two.  The match will be a ten round contest and preceded by a couple of good preliminaries. (The Goldfield News, May 22nd, 1915.)

In May of 1915 Jack Dempsey found himself trapped in Nevada and between purses. Fifty miles from his payday with no rail to ride, he walked out of the desert and into Goldfield, stuck the bewildered promoter for an advance and hired a sparring partner, knocked the sparring partner out and hired another.

Walking in ninety-five-degree weather can be dangerous for even an experienced athlete, but it seemed to agree with Jack. He had marched into Goldfield to meet a light-heavyweight named Johnny Sudenberg, a game but limited battler who had for the first time strung a decent run of wins together, all of them fought in the desert Dempsey travailed on foot. Dempsey had scored a series of knockout wins in Salt Lake City, enough that his name was known and interest in his proposed match with the local man stoked.

“Jack Dempsey, the husky Pueblo middleweight, who will meet Johnny Sudenberg at the Hippodrome next Monday night in a ten round bout arrived in camp this morning,” reported regional press. “Several local men have seen Dempsey in action…and all [are] united in the prediction that Johnny had better be ‘right’ when he crawls through the ropes.”

It speaks of boxing’s burgeoning’s status in the United States that there were two gymnasiums in Goldfield capable of staging training. Dempsey worked out at the Unity Club, little more than a middleweight, perhaps not least because of his fifty-mile travail through the desert earlier that week. He boxed a local footnote named Dick Trounce and he may also have boxed some rounds with the world class bantamweight Roy Moore.

Sudenberg, stung by assertions that it was Dempsey, not he, who was the puncher in the fight, bristled and demanded of himself a knockout while training down the street in the Northern Gymnasium.

There is a divergence now between Dempsey’s recollection of the fight and the newspaper reporting of the day. Before the fight, although he may have shared a ring with Jack Dempsey, not known for his tender attentions of even much smaller sparring partners, Roy Moore advised his sparring partner to steer clear. “Don’t slug with Sudenberg.  He’s awful strong. Stay away from him.”

Dempsey claims to have dismissed this advice, telling Roger Kahn, author of A Flame of Pure Fire, that the match was a brutal slugfest from the first. Local press though reported on a fight that was marked by cautious sparring early, and that after “feeling each other out” for two rounds that Dempsey dominated, it was Sudenberg who changed the pattern and “owing to the greater height and reach” Dempsey possessed, brought the fight to the inside. A fine battle resulted and one that saw Dempsey descend into total chaos for the first time, a feeling that would become as familiar to him as slipping on a pair of old shoes.

“I just kept swinging. Sometimes I think I saw a face in front of me, sometimes I didn’t. I kept swinging.”

Dempsey claimed he could remember nothing after the fifth.

A rematch was not immediately slated, but the failure of a potential Sudenberg opponent to deliver on a sidebet let Dempsey back in just days later. Dempsey moved a bit further north with the purses, his second battle with Sudenberg staged in Tonopah. Still years from the three-ringed circus his career would become, there was interest surrounding the young scrapper who trained for the fight in the town’s casino. Tonopah was a young but bustling setting, festooned with banks and lawyers and saloons as money poured in from Nevada’s second largest silver strike. By 1920 they had pulled $121m out of the ground and Dempsey was there to pull out his own piece.

“A great many were dissatisfied with the decision last Monday,” wrote the Tonopah Daily upon the fight’s announcement. “Dempsey gave Sudenberg the best fight he has had in this part of the country.”

Sudenberg, who seems to have been a prickly character, held the power in his relationship with Dempsey and so clearly backed himself to win a rematch. A fascinating aspect of the fight is their respective sizes. Dempsey was referred to as a middleweight in the earliest dispatches surrounding the fight, but in the ring made an impression upon ringsiders as the bigger man. Taller, rangier, it is possible he was already the heavier of the two or it may be that his trek through the surrounding desert left an early impression of litheness which slipped away as Dempsey, holding cash, boxed and ate his way to a size advantage during the build-up. The Goldfield News described him upon entering the ring for the rematch as looking “more like an overgrown schoolboy than a fighter” as he stepped on the canvas before noting wryly that he “proved otherwise.”

The fight quite literally drew from miles around, with “Goldfield well represented at ringside” and “eight to ten auto loads” appearing from nearby mines. Dempsey grabbed their attention early, a man you will recognise, coming out of his corner like a rocket and deploying what the Tonopah Daily Bonanza named “Dempsey’s mass attack,” presumably an early incarnation of the terrible beating he would inflict upon Jess Willard in Toledo with the world’s title at stake. Indeed, Sudenberg does appear to have visited the canvas in that first round, but Dempsey, over-eager, under-seasoned, missed with key punches following up his advantage and the canny Sudenberg survived a round of murderous intent.

Papers also report the use of straight punches by Dempsey, that he preferred range and looked to that superior range to dominate. Early Dempsey contests fascinate me in that they repeatedly throw up this story, of a fighter who at just 6’1 was able to dominate most of the desert’s pugs with height and reach. Here he plays the role that would later be played by Willard, Carl Morris and Fred Fulton, longer men trying to control the range while Dempsey tormented them with slips and punches.  Here it was Sudenberg who in the third and fourth seemed to do something of a job, getting inside and hitting to the belly while the two accused each other of low blows.

Dempsey is a victim of some criticism over his own use of low blows, alleged or otherwise, in huge fights with Tommy Gibbons and Jack Sharkey. It should be remembered always that he learned his trade in spots like Tonopah and Goldfield where local referees were not sympathetic to pleas for justice to be dispensed. Dempsey fought like a fistic savage because he was raised as one.

After just four rounds in Tonopah, he was tired, feeling the effects of a difficult month and a fast fight. “Dempsey takes punishment well and ducks cleverly,” noted The Bonanza, while The News saw Dempsey holding on a good deal more in the second half of the fight.

By round eight, Sudenberg began to show the effects of Dempsey’s right hand which he worked “like a sledgehammer” while Sudenberg “lands heavily on Dempsey’s digestive apparatus.” At the final bell the two worked one another mercilessly in search of the decision, but they were greeted by a draw.

Under a more modern ruleset I suspect that Dempsey would have received the nod. He crushed Sudenberg in the early part of the fight and more than matched him late, but with the referee acting as a single judge, draws in fights where a winner was not inarguably apparent were common.  Fighters expected it and pressmen expected it, which is perhaps why some of those in attendance saw the result as eminently reasonable. Dempsey clearly landed the better shots, but Sudenberg was rewarded for his gameness in “carrying the fight” a tenet of the era.

Dempsey had impressed though. “In Dempsey, who gives the promise of developing into a heavyweight,” stated The News, “there is room for a world of improvement, and with the experience he will gain during the next few years he should make a formidable opponent for any scrapper.”

Portentous words.

When Dempsey left Tonopah – history does not record whether he walked out – he was mere days from his twentieth birthday, an overgrown schoolboy appearing on the good end of draws against older, more experienced men, already determined to become heavyweight champion, already of the belief he would become one. History tells of a third fight between he and Sudenberg the following February, a more mature Dempsey thrashing a cowed Sudenberg in two rounds.

I spoke to Dempsey scholar and author of the outstanding In The Ring series, Adam Pollack. “Didn’t happen,” was his verdict.  “I am certain it didn’t take place.”

It is nice to have this one cleared up. Dempsey did not need to defeat Sudenberg to leave him behind. Dempsey, like any heavyweight champion has his obsessed fans – among them the men who developed a single thin thread concerning a third Sudenberg match and turned it into a truth that was reported in A Flame of Pure Fire and elsewhere – and obsessed haters, but there is no denying what he did. Irresistible and eternal, people will generate and propagate myths about Jack Dempsey for as long as there is fighting.

This story is about his beginnings – see the single-minded determination that saw him walk fifty miles through a desert? See the legendary fast start in the second fight? The mid-round sag that would lead Jack Johnson to label him a three-round fighter? His bending of the rules? Then again, what of his seeming determination to box against a smaller opponent? This was something he abandoned in time to avoid disaster against geniuses like Tommy Gibbons although it would not be enough to save his weary legs from Gene Tunney’s escape.

Dempsey’s matches with Sudenberg were his emergence from the desert in more ways than one.  They were where his pursuit in earnest of the world’s heavyweight title began. These were his first major steps outside of Salt Lake City where his ambitions were as penned as Sudenberg’s were in the desert; the defining series of an emergent Jack Dempsey.

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Jaron Ennis KOs Sergey Lipinets and Other Results from the Mohegan Sun

David A. Avila

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Jaron Ennis KOs Sergey Lipinets and Other Results from the Mohegan Sun

Philly is on the up. Again.

Jaron “Boots” Ennis kicked his stature into another gear with an impressive knockout of former world champion Sergey Lipinets on Saturday.

“It’s on the up now for bigger and better fights,” said Ennis.

Those Philly fighters know how to do it.

Before a small audience Philadelphia’s Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs) showed that he’s ready for the elite level class by dominating the always tough Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs) at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

Is there any other American welter looking for action?

Ennis walked into the arena with all of the physical advantages, but experience can be a tricky matter in the fight game. Lipinets was ready to provide the lesson.

For the first two rounds Ennis used his superior reach, height and speed to keep the former super lightweight world titlist from entering his domain. The Philly fighter wacked at the Russian fighter’s body and head while taking minimal return fire.

Lipinets finally found his way inside and both fighters traded big blows. A wicked right uppercut by Ennis connected and Lipinets bounced a right cross on the Philly fighter. Both absorbed the big blows with little effect.

Still, Ennis was winning all of the rounds and Lipinets realized that maintaining the status quo was not doing him any good. He increased his attack and slipped on Ennis foot and went down. It was incorrectly ruled a knockdown by the referee but it was the least of the Russian fighter’s problems.

Both fighters attacked the body but Lipinets shot one far below the belt and the fight was stopped for a moment. Lipinets was warned. Both went into attack inside and it seemed to be Lipinets best round. He seemed to find his way back into a groove.

“I saw he wasn’t as skilled on the inside as I was so that’s when I started getting a little closer,” Ennis said.

Ennis may have realized that Lipinets had a good round and he wasn’t about to allow another. As the two fighters re-engaged in their war inside, Ennis connected with a right hook to the chin and a left uppercut finished the job. Down went Lipinets and referee Arthur Mercante waved off the fight at 2:11 of the sixth round without a count.

“We worked on a lot of power shots and a lot of speed. That’s what we did,” said Ennis. “Everything is all natural.”

The impressive knockout of Lipinets proved that Ennis has more than enough ability to hang with the best welterweights around.

“Maybe one of the guys will want to fight me. Who knows?”, said Ennis.

Other Bouts

IBF super flyweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs) floored Mexico’s Jonathan Rodriquez (22-2, 16 KOs) and hammered out a win by unanimous decision. But it wasn’t an easy fight. It never is when you put the Philippines versus Mexico.

Ancajas needed the win to keep his name handy for a possible match in the now heated super flyweight division that features Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, and Carlos Cuadras.

A battle between welterweight contenders saw Eimantis Stanionis (13-0) power his way to a unanimous decision win after 12 rounds versus Thomas Dulorme (25-5-1).

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Fast Results from Tulsa: Joe Smith Jr Nips Vlasov, Wins WBO Title

Arne K. Lang

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Joe Smith Jr had to dig down deep to upend Russian veteran Maxim Vlasov, but pulled the fight out of the fire with a late rally to capture the vacant WBO light heavyweight title before a sold-out crowd of 500 masked-up fight fans at Tulsa’s Osage Casino. Smith prevailed by a majority decision. One of the judges had it a draw (114-114), but he was overruled by his cohorts who each turned in tallies of 115-113.

Smith, the quintessential blue-collar fighter, suffered a cut above his left eye in the first round and it troubled him throughout. Vlasov fought a smart fight, out-working the more one-dimensional Smith in most of the rounds, but a cut inside his mouth and Smith’s body punches eventually took their toll. Smith had a strong seventh round but Vlasov recaptured the lead only to let it slip away in a good action fight. There were no knockdowns, but Vlasov went down in the 11th from a punch that landed behind his head, an illegal punch, hence no knockdown.

Smith Jr improved to 27-3 and earned a date with WBC/IBF champion Artur Beterbiev. Vlasov, whose effort commanded a rematch that won’t happen — at least not any time soon — falls to 45-4. All four of the Russian’s losses have come on U.S. soil, two right here in Tulsa where Vlasov was out-pointed by future world title challenger Isaac Chilemba way back in 2011.

The were nine bouts in all the card, the majority of which were intended to showcase up-and-coming heavyweights. The result was a predictable slew of quick stoppages, resulting in plenty of dead time between bouts.

The match between Efe Ajagba and Brian Howard was packaged as the co-feature. Ajagba had been less than impressive in some of his recent starts, but tonight the 6-foot-6 former Olympian for Nigeria scored a devastating one-punch knockout to restore whatever luster he may have lost. The lightning bolt came at the 1:29 mark of round three. Howard was unconscious before he hit the canvas. Ajagba advanced to 15-0 with his 12th knockout. Howard declined to 15-5.

Other Bouts

In the last of the seven preliminary fights on ESPN’s subscription channel, Jared Anderson improved to 9-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of West Virginia southpaw Jeremiah Karpency. The gifted 21-year-old Anderson, from Toledo, Ohio, scored two knockdowns with hard body shots before the bout was halted after only 38 seconds of the second round. The grossly overmatched Karpency was 16-2-1 heading in.

Local fan favorite Trey Lippe Morrison advanced his record to 17-0 with his 17th knockout, stopping 36-year-old Alabama journeyman Jason Bergman (27-20-2) in the third frame. Bergman came to fight and actually scored a knockdown in the opening round that the ref erroneously called a push. Fighting with his back against the ropes, Bergman landed a left that knocked Morrison off his pins.

It was a quirky knockout, coming at the 1:27 mark of round three when Bergman rolled his ankle while throwing an errant punch. He fell to the canvas in obvious pain and the bout was stopped. Bergman had lost seven of his last nine coming in, but was meeting an undefeated opponent for the fifth straight time.

Tulsa native Jeremiah Milton (3-0, 3 KOs) had a successful homecoming, bombing out Mississippi’s Jayvone Dafney in the first round. An overhand right by Milton left Dafney out on his feet with his back pinned against the ropes. Milton, realizing that his opponent was seriously hurt, held back, waiting for the referee to intervene. The time was 1:19.

In the ESPN+ opener, Philadelphia’s Sonny Conto (7-0, 6 KOs) returned after a 15-month absence and dismissed paunchy Waldo Cortes in the opening round. Conto put Cortes (6-4) down for the 10-count with a perfectly placed right hand. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Conor Benn Embarrasses His Detractors, Demolishes Vargas in 80 Seconds

Arne K. Lang

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Conor Benn fought Samuel Vargas in London today (Saturday, April 10). Although Benn was a solid favorite, he was stepping up in class. Vargas, a 31-year-old Canadian via Columbia, brought a 31-6-2 record. He had been in with the likes of Errol Spence Jr and Danny Garcia and had extended Amir Khan 12 rounds on Khan’s turf in Manchester.

Vargas’s best days were behind him , but the prevailing sentiment was that he would make it interesting, likely taking the fight into the late rounds and perhaps lasting the distance. So much for prevailing sentiment. Benn walked right through him. Vargas couldn’t cope with Benn’s superior speed. He was being battered against the ropes and offering nothing in return when referee Michael Alexander stepped in and waived it off. It was all over in 80 seconds. Benn improved to 18-0 with his 12th win inside the distance.

Benn, 24, is the son of Nigel Benn, a former two-division world champion who was one of England’s most celebrated fighters. Conor had a brief amateur career in Australia before turning pro at age 19 in London, the city of his birth. While his record is unblemished, it would be incorrect to say that he passed every test as he was climbing the ladder. His first fight with Cedric Peynaud, a marginally skilled Frenchman, has haunted him.

Benn was knocked down twice in the opening round, but scored two knockdowns of his own late in the 6-round fight and was awarded the decision. Peynaud brought a 5-4-3 record and to say that Conor’s performance was underwhelming would be an understatement. At the finish, his right eye was badly swollen.

Scott Gilfoid offered up the most damning criticism: “To say that Benn looked poor tonight is being kind. He was absolutely horrible….The flaws that I saw in Benn’s game tonight are ones that likely won’t go away anytime soon….His performance has to be viewed as a warning sign that he’s not destined to go far in the sport like his famous father.”

Benn and Peynaud fought on Dec. 13, 2017. This was Benn’s 12th pro fight. He had one more bout under his belt before he and the Frenchman had another go at it. The rematch, scheduled for 10 rounds, took place on July 28, 2018, on a show headlined by the heavyweight match between Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker.

Benn knocked Peynaud down three times but couldn’t finish him. However, the outcome was never in doubt. He won by scores of 98-90 and 98-91 twice.

Trevor McIntyre, a stablemate of the aforementioned Scott Gilfoid (rumor has it that Gilfoid and McIntyre are the same person, and that both are aliases of the owner of the web site where their bylines appear) conceded that Benn showed improvement, but was otherwise unimpressed: “(He) still looked like someone that would be blown away by a halfway decent journeyman fighter….Benn’s defense was leaky, his hand speed slow, and his movements looked uncoordinated throughout.”

Benn’s most recent fight before tonight came against Sebastian Formella, a sturdy but feather-fisted German who was coming off a 12-round defeat to Shawn Porter, a bout in which he showed great heart but won nary a round. Benn won lopsidedly. The scorecards read 100-91, 99-91, and 98-92.

The mysterious Barry Holbrook, whose byline appears at the same web site as Gilfoid and McIntyre, acknowledged that Benn proved some of his doubters wrong, but wrote that “a top welterweight like Errol Spence, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Terence Crawford, or Vergil Ortiz Jr would have knocked him out. If they didn’t score a knockout, they would have battered him to the point where the referee would have needed to stop it.”

The respected British scribe Ron Lewis offered a different take: “(Conor) looked a completely changed fighter from the wild youngster of his early professional career, switching well from head to body, being patient, and picking his spots well.” Lewis did not speculate how Benn would have fared against some of the division’s top guns, but certainly hinted that Nigel’s son could become a factor in what is currently a very strong welterweight division.

As today’s showing proved, Mr. Lewis is a more perceptive observer than his counterpart(s) at the web site where Benn has been repeatedly ‘dissed. Nigel’s son has made enormous strides in the last few years. He’s also an interesting character. Having spent much of his formative years living on the Spanish island of Majorca, he’s fluent in Spanish which is always a useful attribute from a marketing standpoint. But as for how good he is, let’s not jump to conclusions, mindful that Samuel Vargas was on the wrong side of the curve, having lost three of his last five heading in.

The question doesn’t yet have a definitive answer, but tonight in London, Conor Benn was very good, very very good.

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