- Historic Sites
The Destruction Of A Giant
How I Beat Jess Willard
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
“As Willard moved away I realized I wasn ‘t just ßghtingfora title, I was fighting for my life.”
By now I was feeling exhausted and my body was throbbing. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine going the scheduled twelve rounds. The heat had started to get to me; I kept sucking in air, but I felt as though I wasn’t getting any.
Jess Willard had a worse time of it. He had trouble finding his corner; he couldn’t seem to see straight or to hold himself up. Spectators were shouting for Pecord to stop the fight.
When the bell sounded for the third round, my arms felt like lead weights. Willard was now an object of pity, completely at my mercy. He was spent and he made no attempt to fight back. I pounded rights and lefts to the head and the body while he tried unsuccessfully to cover up. He threw a left uppercut, but it was too late. The weaker he looked, the stronger I felt. I knew it was almost over. I hit him again and he staggered, about to go down, when he was saved by the bell. I went back to my corner on legs that felt like rubber. I looked over toward Willard. His face was distorted by a broken cheekbone and he was having trouble holding his head up. I felt sick. I hadn’t realized that my inner fury could do so much damage.
I couldn’t wait for this massacre to end; I was sapped both mentally and physically. I looked at Willard again—I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off him. He was a broken man now, he had nothing left. Willard’s people called the referee over and told him that Willard couldn’t make it out for the fourth. Ike O’Neal and Walter Monaghan then threw in the bloodspattered towel.
I won. I won. My God, I won! I made it! I was the new champion!
Hoots and jeers greeted Jess’s decision. Shouts of “Quitter” were heard through the overall noise. I knew it must have hurt. But Willard was no quitter; any man who stood up to take what I had given him was no quitter in my book. Willard had been the people’s White Hope. He had “brought back” the title from Jack Johnson. Now, at about thirty-seven years of age, he appeared all washed up. Jess congratulated me and wished me luck and everything that went with the championship.
All hell broke loose. Benches were smashed, telegraph poles pulled down. Hats flew into the ring, and thousands—or what seemed to me to be thousands—were tumbling into the ring to congratulate me, to touch me, to tell me off. Bernie and Rickard tried to get my attention at the same time, and I was almost pounded to the floor with all the backslapping. The crowd surged forward, pushing security guards and policemen aside. I was lifted up in the air, hoisted onto a cushion of shoulders, and carried to my dressing room. The dressing room itself was so crowded that I had difficulty taking a shower. Everyone stared at me as I dressed. Everyone wanted to shake my hand. It felt swell.
Doc was delirious, but I found it difficult to grasp what had happened. Tex said I was great, that I packed quite a wallop. Now, he said, I had to learn certain things all over again as champion. I didn’t know what he meant. All was not smooth with Tex. He bitterly criticized the United States Railroad Administration, saying that he had gotten reports that as many as twenty thousand people had been kept away from the Bay View area because the Government was refusing to place more coaches at the fans’disposal.
We went back to the hotel accompanied by God knows how many people. Doc and I were interviewed and it looked like it would be an all-night affair. Around ten o’clock I thankfully hit the sack. Doc stayed below to celebrate.
Some said that Willard was ignored after the fight. Allegedly, he told members of the press to leave him alone—and leave him alone they did, after he made a few statements to the effect that I must have had something in my gloves and that we were nothing but a bunch of manipulating gangsters, Kearns being the ringleader. One day, he vowed, he’d write a book and tell all.
We ignored him. He was acting the part of a sore loser who didn’t know what he was talking about. The only thing in my glove was my fist. He took his defeat bitterly, and some of his hangers-on, for fear of being contaminated by a loser, disappeared. Gene Fowler told me some time later that Jess had dressed himself in his usual ill-fitting clothes and stumbled halfblind along a fence, looking for an exit, when a friend recognized him and took him in hand until they found Ray Archer. Archer then drove Willard home. Reportedly, the porches of neighboring houses were packed with women wiping their eyes as if there had been a death in the area. Apparently Mrs. Willard was glad that Jess had lost because it meant they would finally be able to live in peace as private citizens along with their five children. She despised the butchering that went on in the fight game.
That night was to remain vivid in my mind for a long time. I managed to peel off my clothes and flop into bed—where I dreamed the fight all over again. In my dream, Willard knocked me out. I woke up in a cold sweat, confused. I climbed out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom, turning on the overhead light. I peered at my face and saw some small dried patches of blood on it. I felt paralyzed. Pulling on my pants and shirt, I rushed out into the hall. The night clerk was busy. Not realizing I had forgotten to put my shoes on, I ran outside, my heartbeat sounding in my ears. A newsboy was hollering “Extra, Extra! Read all about it !”
“Ain’t you Jack Dempsey?” the newsboy asked.