Jack Dempsey vs Joe Louis – the original dream fight

Jack Dempsey
Long before we debated Ali vs Tyson we argued about Jack Dempsey vs Joe Louis, writes Jack Hirsch

DREAM FIGHTS, those that match boxers from different eras, is always a fun conversation to have. And since they can’t take place, opinions can never be proven wrong. In that scenario, everyone becomes an expert. Go on social media and you’ll see thousands of them. They will talk about Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali and argue about the outcome of a fight had they met in their primes. On Boxing News’ channels, it’s the fantasy fight that is unquestionably the most debated.

But there is another dream fight that is now scarcely mentioned that once invoked great discussion. It goes to prove that time moves on.

Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis were intertwined for decades as not only two of the greatest heavyweight champions in history, but a favorite subject of debate as to who would have beaten whom. Dempsey, the champion from 1919 to 1926, had the more explosive career while Louis the more distinguished one when he reigned from 1937 to 1949. Dempsey vs Louis stood out above the rest until Ali came along and joined the conversation.

By proclaiming himself as “The Greatest”, Ali was injected into the debate. So much so, that in the February 1967 issue of The Ring, Louis granted an interview that was headlined, How I Would Have Clobbered Clay. In giving his reasons why, Louis questioned both Ali’s courage and ability to fight off of the ropes. Of course we now know that both turned out to be among Ali’s greatest strengths.

During Ali’s whole career the consensus was that Louis would have beaten him in a hypothetical matchup, but today you can scarcely find anyone who would pick the “Brown Bomber” to prevail. Again, it speaks of time passing and memories being lost.

Louis once had an iconic status as great as Ali’s. And as unimaginable as it sounds now, the day might come when the public undervalue Ali’s impact.

As for Tyson, the public won’t let go. Even at age 54 there are those who actually think he could cause havoc in the heavyweight division thanks to seeing some carefully edited clips of him whacking bags and pads.

Plenty of other great heavyweight champions enter the arguments but it is the most charismatic ones that stir the emotions the most.

Nat Fleischer was the founder and editor of The Ring and knew more than most about the sport yet his opinions would today be scoffed at. He lived from 1884 to 1972, seeing every heavyweight champion box at ringside from James J Corbett through to Ali. Fleischer also claimed to have seen John L. Sullivan box in exhibitions at carnivals.

Fleischer always favoured the old-timers that shaped his younger days. Ali was not even in his top 10 list of heavyweights. But Fleischer was willing to gently bend once in a while. He had Dempsey at four and Louis in sixth, but surprisingly said he thought that Joe’s superior ring generalship would have seen him prevail in a head-to-head matchup.

jack dempsey

It is highly doubtful that if Fleischer were still around his views on the modern boxers would have changed. I recall a conversation with Fleischer where he said Ali might have given Jack Johnson a good fight for six rounds. It was intended as a compliment toward Ali, being that Johnson was number one on Fleischer’s list.

Former world heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey once said how wonderful it would be if all the dream fights discussed could actually take place. I beg to differ, because it would then eliminate the healthy arguments that we so much enjoy having.

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