Dempsey Tells Runyon He Had Hard Time Getting Right, But He’s O.K. Now

Damon Runyon

Buffalo Courier/June 29, 1923

Great Falls, Mont., June 28. “I’ve had a harder time getting in condition than I expected,” said Jack Dempsey to the writer today. “I laid off too long. I’m all right now, however.” Then the heavyweight champion began asking questions, which indicate he is looking beyond the Tom Gibbons fight. This mental attitude reflects his confidence better than if he had uttered the old stock phrases that usually come from a fighter prior to a big engagement.

Look Beyond Gibbon.

He seemed particularly interested in the coming meeting between Luis Angel Flrpo and Jess Willard. This interest and the fact that Jack Kearns plans a hurried trip to New York immediately after the fight at Shelby to sign the winner for a Labor Day bout shows how seriously the champion and his manager regard the affair with Gibbons.

“What sort of a fighter is Firpo?” Dempsey asked.

“Big, rough fellow, eh? How did Willard look against Johnson? Well, you know the old boy always could hit hard. Will Firpo lick him?”

Only once did he mention Gibbons’ name.

“What sort of a fighter is Gibbons?” he asked rather perfunctorily.

He has probably asked the same question of dozens of others. It is Dempsey’s habit of asking questions about an opponent more to get the different opinion than anything else and he probably places no value on any one opinion.

Gently the writer reminded the champion that they had sat together at the Gibbons-Greb fight at Madison Square garden a year ago, so Dempsey must know what sort of a fighter Gibbons is as well as anyone else. Dempsey laughed at the answer. He watched Gibbons very carefully through fifteen rounds that night. He seemed to be studying both Gibbons and Greb with unusual care, “rooting” a bit for Greb, his old sparring partner.

He said Gibbons was not fighting Greb in the right way to beat him. Therefore, when Dempsey asks visitors to his Great Falls camp about Gibbons, he is asking only to make conversation.

Looks O. K.

The champion looks well. His face is tanned to the color of an old saddle. Jerry Luvadis, “Jerry the Greek,” squat built, volatile, babbled at his elbow like a camel explaining how nicely Jack had trained, and Jack looks it.

He was found in the old stone house in the Missouri river that serves him as training quarters. It is an ancient looking structure, of many rambling rooms, and is surrounded by a pleasant little grove, filled with small booths like grape arbors.

In other happier times this grove was a picnic point and the convivial souls of Great Falls were wont to assemble there and make plenty merry. The arbor-like booths were for the seclusion of two and foursomes, who wished to do their merry-making with more privacy.

A wolf cub was hitched to a clothesline between two trees in the yard and scurried back and forth along a well-beaten path in the grass, spitting spitefully at all who approached it. It was part of the private menagerie that Dempsey insisted on showing us.

Whenever a champion fighter pitches a camp he soon accumulates a lot of animals. Many persons seem to have the idea that the only proper gift to a fighter is a dog, a cow, a bull, and three stag hounds as tall as ponies and very nasty of disposition.

A bulldog, with close clipped ears, that looks like the pictures of the canine that always attended Bill Sykes, kept close to the champion’s heels. Jack brought this dog with him from Los Angeles.

An outdoor ring, overlooking the muddy bosom of the Missouri, stands in an open place in the grove. There is an indoor ring in a ramshackle old dancing pavilion.

“How do you like It?” asked Dempsey. “Isn’t it a fine place?”

It is indeed, at least a fine place for a training camp. That much may easily be conceded.

All Agree He’s Good.

“This air out here is wonderful,” said Dempsey. “It makes a man feel great.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” burbled Jerry the Greek. “The chompeen he never before feel so good.”

“That’s right,” chimed In Sergt. Mike Trant, the detective from the. Chicago police department, who has kept watch and ward over Dempsey’s training camps for years.

Then Dempsey insisted on accompanying the writer back to town in an automobile. He said he wanted to send some telegrams. On the way in he asked more questions than he answered. The names of dozens of persons back in New York crept into his interrogations.

When the champion fighter is in training his world is bounded by the limits of his camp. He is practically a prisoner. He bears little news of the goings on in the outside world. Incidents of the most general knowledge seem to pass him by.

Dempsey is by nature friendly, sociable. He has a tremendous personal acquaintance in the east and he welcomed a bearer of news about his friends and about the doings in his old circle on Manhattan.

Dempsey should have been a reporter. He is one of the most fluent questioners we have ever seen outside a district attorney’s office.



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