Super Size Heavyweights
Are Nothing New
by Bobby Franklin
It is a chorus heard over and over again, “Sure, guys like Dempsey and Louis were good in their day, but today’s giant heavyweights would just be too big and strong for them. The old-timers would wilt under the power they would be facing.”
I guess before the 21st century we were living in a world of small people. Those who believe the Klitschkos and Furys of today would beat the greats of the past because they are so big just can’t be convinced differently. They think bigger is better and refuse to take into account boxing skill, something that is sorely missing in today’s game.
I am including some photos with this article along with details that show very big heavyweights have always been around, and there have been plenty of giant killers to accommodate them.
Jack Dempsey is always the first to come to mind with his brutal destruction of the 6’6 ½ “ 245 pound Jess Willard. Take a look at the photo of this bout I have included and tell me Dempsey would not have been able to reach the jaws of today’s slow moving behemoths. Dempsey at 187 pounds and standing 6’1” used his speed and power to make Willard’s size a liability for the Pottawatomie Giant. Not only did Dempsey defeat Willard, but it was one of the most brutal beatings ever handed out in a championship boxing match. And don’t tell me Willard was a bum. A few years before he had defeated the great Jack Johnson while going 45 rounds in the blazing Havana sun. Sure, Johnson was not in his prime, but he was still a great fighter. Plus, battling in temperatures that reached over 100 degrees is something not many today would be able to do, especially for over two hours.
Dempsey beat two other fighters who were much bigger than he was. The 6’4”Carl Morris, who weighed 226 pounds to Dempsey’s 187, lost three times to Jack. Once by decision, once by DQ, and once by first round knock out.
In 1923 Dempsey defended his title against South American champion Luis Firpo in a bout that will be remembered for Dempsey being knocked out of the ring. Firpo outweighed Jack by 24 pounds and was as strong as they come. While Dempsey’s rather awkward exit from the ring makes this sound like it may have been a close fight, the reality is Dempsey administered almost as savage a beating to Firpo as he did to Willard. Firpo was down 7 times in the first round and twice in the second on the way to being knocked out. Dempsey hit the canvas one time on top of the trip outside of the ring, but those knockdowns were caused more by the rushes from the Wild Bull of the Pampas.
Oddly enough, while Dempsey was truly a giant killer he did have some trouble with a fighter smaller than he was. When the champion defended the title against Tom Gibbons in 1923, Jack had a 12 pound weight advantage. The very smart boxing, and survival minded Gibbons, moved deftly and tied up Dempsey for the 15 rounds while losing a unanimous decision. This is one of Dempsey’s most interesting fights to watch in that you see what great boxing moves the Manassas Mauler possessed. He was well taught by the great trainer Jimmy DeForreset.
I will briefly mention a few others. Joe Louis was no stranger to fighting opponents who were much bigger than he was. He fought and beat Primo Carnera at 260 pounds to Louis’s 196, Buddy Baer who came in at 250 to Joe’s 206, and Abe Simon with Louis at 202 to Simon’s 254. The Brown Bomber had no problem reaching the jaws of any of these giants. Again, Joe had more difficulty with the lighter guys. Billy Conn, Max Schmeling, and Joe Walcott were all smaller than Joe.
Boston’s Jack Sharkey didn’t believe size mattered either. Jack, at 187 pounds, took on and beat the 6’3”, 220 pound George Godfrey. At 188 he beat Harry Wills who weighed 214, and in his first fight with Primo Carnera he easily beat the 260 pound strong man though only weighing 201 himself.
Again, it was the smaller guys who gave Sharkey more trouble. He lost to Tommy Loughran and Tony Shucco, both of whom he outweighed by a considerable margin.
I would like to conclude this piece by including another very great fighter of the past whom many of you may not have heard of. Kid Norfolk was a middleweight and light heavyweight who fought all comers including Harry Greb. At 5’8” and weighing 182 pounds he took on the 6’6” 235 pound Big Bill Tate and beat him soundly over ten rounds. Tate was a sparring partner for Jack Dempsey and looked formidable against Norfolk. The Kid used his speed and great boxing ability to run rings around Tate. This fight is available on Youtube, and I strongly urge you to view it. Norfolk vs Klitschko or Fury? My money is on Norfolk any day of the week.
Does size matter? I guess you good say it does, but often to the benefit of the smaller man.