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Jack Dempsey KO 4 Georges Carpentier, 100 years since the first million-dollar gate

Jack Dempsey (left) rest in his corner as Georges Carpentier stands in his. Photo from The Ring Archive / Getty Images
Fighters Network

On July 2, 1921, at the Boyle’s Thirty Acres in Jersey City, N.J., heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey faced off against French challenger and reigning light heavyweight titleholder Georges Carpentier.

Dempsey, who savagely dethroned Jess Willard July 4, 1919, in Toledo, Ohio, had since halted Billy Miske (KO 3) and Bill Brennan (KO 12) in successful title defenses. Viewed as a devastating and near-unbeatable force, the “Manassa Mauler” was installed as a 2-1 favorite to retain his championship.

At 188 pounds, Dempsey held a 16-pound weight advantage. Only nine months earlier, Carpentier had claimed the 175-pound title courtesy of a fourth-round knockout of Battling Levinsky, and while he was accustomed to mixing it up with bigger men, he’d never faced anyone with Dempsey’s combined size and ferocity.

The good guy versus bad guy story line that has been replicated countless times over the past century turned up in earnest for this fight. However, it was Dempsey who was labeled as the villain; despite being acquitted of draft evasion charges the previous year, a publicity photo depicting Dempsey in work clothes but also wearing patent leather shoes remained fresh in many minds. Meanwhile, the photogenic Frenchman earned military honors while serving as a pilot in World War I, so it was he who was cheered and Dempsey who was jeered.

None of that mattered when the opening bell sounded.

Dempsey (left) moves into Carpentier. Photo from The Ring Archive/Getty Images

Carpentier had success in the second round with some well-timed right hand shots — one of which appeared to stun Dempsey — but the champion quickly recovered, increased his pace, and regained control.  A sharp and perfectly timed combination decked the Frenchman in the fourth and he barely beat the count by leaping to his feet. With no neutral corner rule in effect, the champ was immediately on Carpentier once he arose and it didn’t take long for Dempsey to score a second knockdown. This time, Carpentier was unable to beat referee Harry Ertle’s 10-count and the fight was declared over at the 1:16 mark. Dempsey graciously helped the stricken fighter back to his corner.

A sell-out crowd of 80,183 watched the fight live, paying a record $1,789,238 (roughly $27,000,000 today) for the privilege. This was the first time that the million-dollar mark had been surpassed for a live gate and Dempsey would duplicate the feat against Luis Angel Firpo ($1,188,603), Gene Tunney ($1,895,733 in their first fight in 1926; $2,658,660 in their 1927 rematch) and Jack Sharkey ($1,083,530).

What a crowd! Photo from The Ring Archive/ Getty Images