Jack Dempsey ushered in the age of big-time sports. He rose from hobo to heavyweight champion to Hollywood celebrity to give boxing the stamp of legitimacy. He grew up in a poor family in Colorado and following his 8th birthday, the 'age of accountability' according to Mormon doctrine, he dropped out of elementary school to work and left home at the age of 16. Due to lack of money, he traveled on and underneath trains on brake rods and slept in hobo camps. Desperate for money, he frequently visited saloons where challenges for fights were common. If anyone accepted the challenge, bets would be made, drinks downed, and a ring cleared. Dempsey rarely lost these barroom brawls and fought under the pseudonym Kid Blackie. With a high-pitched voice under blue-black hair, the skinny kid would challenge anybody for a few bucks and bragging rights. He once walked thirty miles across the Nevada desert from Tonopah to Goldfield for a $20 purse. The use of judges to score these fights was often forbidden, so if a fight went the distance it was called a draw. Otherwise, there were only knockouts. He rode the rails to fights and odd jobs such as a miner, dishwasher, farm hand and cowboy, ditch digger, peach picker, timber cutter, and circus roustabout.

On July 4, 1919 Dempsey entered his first World Heavyweight fight against champion Jess Willard. At 6'1", 187 pounds Dempsey was dwarfed by the 6'61/2" and 245 pound 'Pottawattamie Giant'. Ultimately, Willard was knocked down seven times by Dempsey in the first round and suffered a broken jaw, broken ribs, and several broken teeth. He continued a career with a total of 83 fights, 65 wins, 51 wins by KO, 6 losses, and 12 draws. Dempsey became the prototype for every superstar athlete that followed, including Babe Ruth, by stepping from the canvas or playing field onto the silver screen. And it all started in a boxcar.


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