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Aging Bull
Mort Kamins
April 17, 1995
Jack Dempsey's 1940 'comeback' was a sad and mercifully short spectacle
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April 17, 1995

Aging Bull

Jack Dempsey's 1940 'comeback' was a sad and mercifully short spectacle

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Grunting and grimacing, Curry took a few punches and was able to cuff Jack's ear with one of his own swings. Near the end of the round, Curry grabbed Dempsey by the legs and jack-knifed both Dempsey and himself out of the ring and directly into the lap of John Hettche, chairman of the Michigan State Boxing Commission, which had sanctioned the exhibition. Hettche, after recovering his hat and his glasses, may have wondered at the madness he had helped let loose.

At 1:05 of the second round, Dempsey landed a vicious right to Curry's midsection. The wrestler, in agony, crumpled to the canvas and was counted out. But Curry got up almost immediately after the count and demanded to continue. He cursed the referee, shoved him aside, ran over to Dempsey's corner and smacked the boxer on the back, challenging him to keep fighting. The two men traded shoves and punches until Dempsey's handlers and the local police hustled the boxer out of the ring. Curry shouted insults at Dempsey as he left. The meager crowd—only 4,509 paid—jeered at the shabby burlesque.

"I won his respect, I'll tell you that," Curry claimed years later. "That's all I wanted to prove." Still, Curry always thought he had been given a raw deal. "I was on my feet when they all jumped into the ring," he said. "I wasn't knocked out." Asked why the tight was stopped, Curry said, "They knew Dempsey would get hurt, let's put it that way. I'm the guy who ended his career."

Curry may not have ended Dempsey's comeback—there would be one more fight—but he certainly hastened its conclusion. There was no more talk of meeting Joe Louis, and if Waxman still floated trial balloons, including a possible bout with the Chilean contender Arturo Godoy, they were immediately deflated. Meanwhile, 62-year-old Jack Johnson, who had been heavyweight champion from 1908 to 1915 issued a challenge to Dempsey, and a Los Angeles promoter offered Dempsey a match with the former wrestler Ed (Strangler) Lewis, who was 50 and weighed 290. Bob Dumby, a New York sportswriter and a Dempsey admirer, spoke for many others: "Already he has sold a magnificent fistic birthright for a cheap mess of small-time pottage."

The last serving of pottage was offered on July 29 in Charlotte. Dempsey's opponent was another wrestler, who had been known as the Purple Flash until someone pulled his mask off in the ring. Now he was merely Ellis Bashara, who had been a star lineman for the Oklahoma Sooners from 1927 to '31. Bashara registered a flabby 209 pounds at the weigh-in and promised that he would behave himself in the ring.

Among the 6,500 or so at Charlotte's Memorial Stadium was Grady Cole, then a popular local radio personality who was also the chairman of North Carolina's boxing commission. Cole remembered the night well. "There was a real threat of rain," he said in an interview in 1979. "The promoter, Jim Crockett, stopped one of the preliminary bouts after two rounds, even though it was supposed to go six. Nobody complained, though. Hell, we were all there to see Dempsey."

Cole, who had boxed a little himself, remembers the fight as an easy one for Dempsey. Former lightweight champion Benny Leonard had been hired to referee, but he had little to do that night. Bashara was bloodied early and went down three times in the first round. At the start of the second round. Dempsey flattened his opponent for good.

"Jack could still hit a ton," Cole said, "but his legs were gone."

As for Bashara, he had no alibis. "That Dempsey has a lulu of a right," he said after the fight. "You don't see it coming, but you sure know when it arrives."

Four days later Dempsey quietly announced that his comeback was over. Surely he and Waxman realized that to continue would permanently tarnish Dempsey's still-brilliant name.

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