Jack Dempsey ("The Manassa Mauler") (June 24, 1895 – May 31, 1983) was an American boxer who held the world heavyweight title from 1919 to 1926. Dempsey's aggressive style and exceptional punching power made him one of the most popular boxers in history. Many of his fights set financial and attendance records, including the first million dollar gate. He is listed #10 on The Ring's list of all-time heavyweights and #7 among its Top 100 Greatest Punchers. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Born in Manassa, Colorado, with the name of William Harrison Dempsey, he grew up in a poor family of mixed ancestry. According to a January 11, 1955 Sports Illustrated article, his father, Hiram Dempsey, was Irish. Dempsey's mother, Mary Celia (née Smoot), was of Irish and Cherokee descent. Both parents became Mormon converts. Because his father had difficulty finding work, the family traveled often. He dropped out of grade school to work. Dempsey left home at the age of 16, eager to start a better life for himself. Due to lack of money, he frequently had to travel underneath trains and sleep in hobo camps. However, Dempsey was a strong, powerful youth who soon discovered a talent for fighting. With the help of his older brother Bernie, he commenced training as a professional boxer. In 1927, tragedy befell Dempsey's family when his other brother, John, shot his own wife, then killed himself in a murder-suicide.
Desperate for money, Dempsey would occasionally visit saloons and challenge for fights saying "I can't sing and I can't dance, but I can lick any SOB in the house." If anyone accepted the challenge, bets would be wagered. According to Dempsey's autobiography, he rarely lost these barroom brawls. A little known fact about Dempsey is that for a short time, he was a part-time bodyguard for Thomas F. Kearns, president of The Salt Lake Tribune and son of Utah's U.S. Senator Thomas Kearns. (no relation to Jack Kearns) The two men remained friends for years afterward.