In reply to a
query about Rickard's gambling life, he said, "I would no more say a man
who ran a gambling house is of bad character than I would say a man who runs a
church is necessarily of good character."
deliberated only 91 minutes. It returned with a verdict of "not
guilty." Spectators in the courtroom shouted their approval.
vindication, the scandal and trial left Rickard in temporary eclipse. It also
provided Doc Kearns with an excuse for a really spectacular mistake—one that
ultimately helped Rickard re-establish his dominion. Early in 1923 Doc Kearns
accepted an offer from Shelby, Montana for Dempsey to meet Tommy Gibbons for
the heavyweight championship. Gibbons was a fine boxer but he was not a strong
drawing card. The fight was something of a disaster all around. Shelby almost
went broke meeting Kearns's heavy demands, and Dempsey made a miserable
showing, winning at last on points.
The boxing public
leaped happily to the conclusion that Dempsey was ready for immolation by a new
shining knight. Was there such a knight? Why, of course, and Tex Rickard had
him in Luis Angel Firpo, a big (6 feet 3, 215 pounds) shaggy Argentine with
soulful eyes. Firpo had arrived in the United States the year before,
advertised as the heavyweight champion of South America. It was not long before
he visited Tex Rickard's office.
first saw Firpo, his eyes lit up. "What a man!" he said to a friend.
"Why, him and Dempsey will make the greatest fight you ever seen. That man
is the nearest thing in build to Jeffries I ever laid eyes on."
The fight took
place on September 14 at the New York Polo Grounds. A crowd of 82,000 jammed
every corner and cranny of the Giants' ballpark and paid $1,188,603 for the
privilege. And if ever a fight was worth a million dollars, this was it.
Dempsey was to go into the ring, Rickard slipped into his dressing room and
said, "This fellow is a big bum. I could lick him myself. Knock him out in
a round if you can. I don't care. But don't get careless with him, because he
can punch. He's a bum but dangerous."
Dempsey, who had
had enough close calls of late, didn't have to be advised twice. He went into
the ring with one idea: get rid of Firpo fast.
At the bell for
the first round, out came Dempsey, dancing in his bobbing, weaving way, head
down, looking suspiciously, probing and then whipping his fists out. Firpo
knocked him down.
quickly up again, and then Firpo was down. Up got Firpo; then he was down
again, with the referee counting over him. Three—six—nine. Always he came up
and always he was sledge-hammered down a second later. Finally he rose,
snarling in his pain and fury, drew back one great paw and let fly. The blow
caught Dempsey on the chin and drove him right off his feet toward the ropes
and through them. With both hands and feet in the air, he landed on the
typewriter of Jack Lawrence, the sports reporter. As the referee started
counting out the champion, Lawrence and the other sportswriters nearby quickly
shoved him up on the apron of the ring. Dempsey stepped through the ropes and
put up his hands at Seven. Being helped back should have disqualified him, but
the referee, Johnny Gallagher, waved to both men to start fighting again.
Firpo's cut-rate seconds, hired to save money, cost him the title by not