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  • The Battle of the Century: Dempsey, Carpentier, and the Birth of Modern Promotion
  • Gerald R. Gems
Waltzer, Jim. The Battle of the Century: Dempsey, Carpentier, and the Birth of Modern Promotion. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Pp. x+238. Notes, bibliography, and photographs. $44.95 cb.

Waltzer, a sports editor and freelance author, makes use of primary and secondary sources to deftly weave a series of finely detailed biographical sketches leading up to the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier heavyweight championship bout in 1921. In addition to the combatants, the primary characters include promoters George “Tex” Rickard and Jack “Doc” Kearns. The latter also served as Dempsey’s manager.

Waltzer tells an interesting and at times an absorbing tale of the first boxing match to garner a million-dollar gate. The affair proved to be a global spectacle that attracted more than 700 sportswriters from distant lands and 91,000 spectators to the New Jersey site. Rickard built upon his previous promotions, such as his 1906 match between Joe Gans and Battling Nelson, the 1910 Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries confrontation with its national racial ramifications, and the 1919 Jack Dempsey-Jess Willard encounter in which Dempsey pounded his way to the title. Sometimes the chronology gets lost in the fast-paced narrative, but the author aptly portrays the rivalries between international boxing promoters, particularly that of Rickard and Kearns, as well as the political and financial manipulations of site selection and arena construction.

Rickard made conscious efforts to attract female spectators to such spectacles, even constructing separate seating arrangements for them. Waltzer notes the attraction of socialites and other prominent women to the training camps of both fighters, but he fails to offer any significant gender analysis of this transition in the social composition of boxing fans. While the rise of both Dempsey and Carpentier from poverty to international stardom is presented, there is little in the way of social class analysis. While nationalism offered a distinct element in the promotion of the battle between the French hero, Carpentier, [End Page 205] and the American Dempsey it is underplayed, but the wartime service of the former versus the “slacker” perception of the latter gets adequate coverage. The Dempsey trial for draft evasion is particularly insightful. Most curiously, a book purportedly about the birth of modern promotion contains very little on the role of the media during the period. Though an interesting tale, it ends abruptly with Rickard’s trial on sex charges involving underage girls and his consequent acquittal, with a brief mention of the Dempsey bouts with Luis Angel Firpo and Gene Tunney to follow, the last of which surpassed $2,000,000 in 1927.

Gerald R. Gems
North Central College


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