Boxing’s Original Promoter

By Jeffrey Sussman on October 10, 2016
Boxing’s Original Promoter
Tex Rickard was a prototype of such successful promoters as Mike Jacobs and Don King.

To further advance the popularity of boxing, he went on to build the Boston Madison Square Garden, later known as the Boston Garden…

The name Tex is usually associated with Wild West, sure-shot gunslingers. Tex Rickard, however, was known not as a gunslinger, but as one of the most creative boxing promoters in history. He was truly an original, a prototype of such successful promoters as Mike Jacobs and Don King.

While prospecting for gold in Nome, Alaska, Tex met and befriended a true gunslinger, former Wild West marshal Wyatt Earp, who was a great admirer of boxing and who served as a referee for many matches, including a disputed match between Bob Fitzsimmons (who, during his career, held the middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight titles) and Tom Sharkey (who won the fight on a foul that no one but Earp saw). At the beginning of the fight, Earp entered the ring with a Colt .45 pistol strapped to his thigh; before the fight could begin, Earp had to be disarmed.

Following various adventures in Alaska, where he promoted several fights, Tex headed for South America. There he promoted a few more fights, but found the culture not to his liking. He headed north and arrived in New York City, where Tex finally hit the big time. In 1920, he got the rights to promote fights at Madison Square Garden. It was the Mecca of fights, and from 1919 to 1926, Tex, along with boxing manager Jack Kearns, promoted the fights of one of the 20th century’s fiercest champions, Jack Dempsey. In just five fights, the trio grossed nearly nine-million dollars, a huge sum in those days. They also produced the first radio broadcast of a title fight between Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. That fight, which was the first million dollars plus fight, was held in an outdoor arena in New Jersey. Tex had built the arena at a cost of $250,000 so that he could accommodate more than 80,000 fans, far more than could be seated in MSG. It was also the first fight to which women were allowed to attend. Tex not only used the presence of women has a means of publicizing the fight, but he also played up the fact that Dempsey was a draft dodger who avoided fighting for his country in World War I, while Carpentier fought for France. Dempsey outweighed Carpentier, 188 to 168 pounds, and he delivered a stunning knockout punch in the fourth round that ended the fight. Dempsey had now defeated several challengers to the heavyweight title, but would finally lose it to Gene Tunney. For Tex, Kearns, and Dempsey the Carpentier fight was a great success. To further advance the popularity of boxing, Tex went on to build the Boston Madison Square Garden, later known as the Boston Garden.

To make sure that his fights got maximum publicity, Rickard hired the legendary PR man, John Dorgan, who went on to become the publicity manager for Madison Square Garden. In addition, Tex partnered with John Ringling of circus promotion fame.

Tex never lost his love of boxing, and during his last years, he worked vigorously to bring world-class boxing matches to Miami Beach, Florida. He was encouraged to do so by his old pal, Wyatt Earp who sent him an encouraging telegram just before Tex died as the result of a botched surgical procedure. Tex is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. There is no sign of Tex: his gravestone bears his last name only, no dates, and nothing about his innovations in bringing boxing to huge audiences as one of the sport’s greatest promoters.

Jeffrey Sussman is the author of the forthcoming book, Max Baer & Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing, to be published on November 16.

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  1. The Thresher 06:15pm, 10/12/2016

    I do that when I powerlift

  2. peter 05:34pm, 10/12/2016

    Good article! I wonder if it was Tex Richard who convinced Jack Johnson to wrap his male member with extra gauze in order to make it bulge out of his boxing tights. It’s said that this ruse stimulated ticket sales from many interested women.

  3. Sean Matheny 03:26pm, 10/12/2016

    He also had an amazjng career in Nevada prior to Dempsey.  He promoted the Jack Johnson vs Jim Jeffries fight in Ren0 in 1910.along with numerous great iightweight bouts involving Joe Gans, Battling Nelson, Ad Wolgast and others.  Late life scandals jnvolving young girls plagued his final years. He was a true original!

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