Georges Carpentier: “The Orchid Man”

By Norman Marcus on July 23, 2012
Georges Carpentier: “The Orchid Man”
Force and aggression (Jack Dempsey) had overpowered style and class (Carpentier).

The keys to his success were that he had fast hands and feet, good boxing skills and a very hard punch with either hand…

Georges Carpentier is a legend in France. His life and career in the ring reads like a Hollywood screenplay. He was born in Lens, Pas de Calais, France at the end of the 19th century. He became a professional boxer when he was just 14 years old. He started off as a welterweight and then moved up as he grew and put on more weight. He first won the Welterweight Championship of France and Europe in 1911. Georges then won the Middleweight Championship of Europe in 1912 and the Light Heavyweight Championship of Europe in 1913.

On July 16th of that same year he beat Ed “Gunboat” Smith in London for the “White Heavyweight Championship of the World.” The bout was a huge success and Carpentier walked away with the winner’s purse of 9,000 pounds sterling. That would be over $2,000,000 in today’s money.

The Great War as they called it in those days, World War I, started the next year. The young Carpentier went into the French Air Corps to defend France and beat Kaiser Wilhelm. He fought very bravely and came home in one piece from a war where millions of men were killed or maimed. Georges was awarded France’s highest medals, the Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire for bravery.

He returned to the square ring that was his passion and joy. Georges was not a big man. He stood at 5’11” tall andhis weight varied between 150 to 175 lbs. The keys to his success were that he had fast hands and feet, good boxing skills and a very hard punch with either hand. George also used his “Frog Punch” as the English press liked to call it. The punch was a straight right aimed at an opponent’s jaw. Not only would Carpentier put all his weight behind it but he also would leap at his opponent like a frog as he threw the punch. In that way he had strength, weight and the force of a large moving object—him—behind that right hand.

The Frenchman’s next step up was a bout with “Battling” Levinsky for the Light Heavyweight Championship of the World on October 12, 1920, at the Westside Ball Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. It wasn’t much of a fight, with Carpentier easily out classing Levinsky with a KO in the fourth round. Georges was now the champion of the division and looked at the heavyweights for his next challenge.

Carpentier was now set to meet the Heavyweight Champion of the World—Jack Dempsey. Jack’s promoter was Tex Rickard, a man who could make something out of nothing. Tex knew just what to do to bring interest to this bout. The Frenchman was a war hero. Jack Dempsey was not. In fact, Dempsey never served during WWI. As a result he was as often called a “slacker” or draft dodger in the press, but never to his face. The box office angle was a fight between the good guy Carpentier and the bad guy Dempsey.

Jack had applied for and gotten an exemption from the draft and continued to box during the war. He claimed that he was needed at home to support his family. Jack wasn’t a name fighter in those early days. He was still taking pickup fights for small purses in mining towns and lumber camps all over Utah and Colorado.

So now Tex Rickard went to work on “The Fight of the Century” between Georges Carpentier and Jack Dempsey. It would become known as the first “Million Dollar Gate.” Actually the fight would bring in closer to two million dollars. It was one of several “million dollar gates” that the promoter was able to put together for Dempsey and himself.

Carpentier and Dempsey didn’t agree on much. The Frenchman was handsome, outgoing and a real charmer, the women loved him. Dempsey was gruff, serious and all about the business at hand. Jack was a man’s man. But they did have one thing however in common: their love of Paris. It was Georges’ hometown but Dempsey would travel there many times over the years. The reason was not hard to figure out. Jack remarked to a reporter decades later, “You probably think, pal, that in ‘The Roaring Twenties’ you found the most beautiful women in the world out in Hollywood. The truth is that you found the most beautiful girls in the world in Paris. It wasn’t hard to meet them if you were young and heavyweight champion of the world…And I was young and heavyweight champion of the world.”

Carpentier met Dempsey in Jersey City, New Jersey at Boyle’s Thirty Acres on July 2, 1921. Over 90,000 people attended the fight. The bout was in New Jersey because the Republican governor of New York, Nathan Miller, wouldn’t allow the fight at the Polo Grounds in uptown Manhattan. He didn’t approve of the sweet science and threatened to ban the fight. So Jersey was as close to New York as Rickard could get. Tex had a new stadium built for the match. It was built in two months out of yellow pine wood, at a cost of $325,000. Six hundred carpenters and four hundred workers needed 2,250,000 square feet of wood and 60 tons of nails to finish the job. All those cigarette smoking, cigar chomping fans sitting on all that firewood!

The night of the fight, Francois Deschamps, Carpentier’s manager, closed the dressing room to all visitors and press. Dempsey on his part only let in his manager/trainer Doc Kearns and Rickard. Every class of society was there for the fight, from your common workingman to the top business and society people of the day. Let me run some of these names by you: Jersey City Mayor Hague, New Jersey Governor Edwards, the three children of Theodore Roosevelt—Kermit, Theodore Jr. and Alice; businessmen J.D. Rockefeller, William Vanderbilt, Joseph Harriman, Vincent Astor and Henry Ford; writers H.L. Mencken, Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner. They even found a seat for Ralph Pulitzer!

Carpentier’s weight had been kept a secret from the press. He weighed in at only 172 lbs. Dempsey weighed 188 lbs., a 16 lb. advantage over his challenger. It was feared The Frenchman’s low weight might affect attendance at the gate. Both men would be considered too light for the heavyweight division today. Yet this writer would put either of these men up against the huge, plodding contenders we’ve grown used to seeing and give you odds the old heads would win.

The two men stood in the ring, staring past each other. Carpentier as wrapped in a gray silk robe. Dempsey wore a rough red cardigan sweater open to his waist.

Announcer Joe Humphries introduced the two fighters. Carpentier got a polite round of applause. Dempsey got a few cheers. The newly installed Magnavox PA system played La Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner. Catcalls of “slacker” could be heard rippling across the crowd toward Dempsey. 

Georges Carpentier had a rough night ahead of him. The man he faced was always on the offensive, bobbing and weaving with a pressing style. Dempsey would swarm all over a fighter. His attacks were furious and full of rage. Jack had speed and strength and could take a punch as well as give one. It wasn’t a good idea to mix it up with Dempsey. A fighter could outbox him but not outfight him. Deschamps gave the following instructions to his fighter: “Stay out of range until you see a chance to land your right hand.” But would Georges listen?

Round 1—Dempsey came out bobbing and weaving and to his surprise Carpentier came inside and threw body punches and a left hand into Dempsey’s face. Jack was surprised, his camp thought the smaller Frenchman would run and jab. Jack came in close and threw a left hook, breaking Georges’ nose. Blood began to pour down his beautiful face. Carpentier also landed a good right to Dempsey’s face as the bell rang ending the round. The French cornermen managed to stop the blood gushing from Carpentier’s nose. They told him to stay away from Dempsey’s big guns—his left hook and his short punches.

Round 2—When Jack moved in on Georges, the Frenchman tried to slip and slide. Suddenly there appeared a brief window of opportunity for Carpentier. Dempsey continued to bob and weave but Carpentier launched his right hand toward Dempsey’s jaw. Dempsey’s knees buckled but he did not go down. It landed solidly but off target, high by a few inches. If it had landed flush on the jaw Jack might have gone down, but luckily for Dempsey he was always a moving target. He took a step back and his head cleared immediately. That was Carpentier’s best shot of the fight and it didn’t do the job. The two men were still in the ring but the fight was really over. The Frenchman couldn’t hurt Dempsey and both men now knew it. Georges also felt like he had broken something when he threw that right hand.

Round 3—His right hand was now hurting, so Carpentier had to depend on his left. The puncher/artist danced away from Dempsey but got caught on the ropes and roughed up. Georges was the superior boxer but this fight was about power and Jack kept boring in on the Frenchman. At the end of the round Carpentier walked back to his corner. There wasn’t much left for him except courage and honor.

Round 4 (the final round)—Dempsey waited for his opening as Carpentier tried to box at long range. Jack threw a left hook and then a right hook solidly on the Frenchman’s jaw. The Pride of Paris crumpled to the canvas. Referee Harry Ertle began his count—“one, two, three”—but the challenger just lay there like a dead man. When the referee got to nine Carpentier suddenly bounced up and leaped at Dempsey! It was the time tested “Frog Punch” that had won many a fight for Carpentier. Carpentier’s whole body sprang toward Dempsey’s jaw. Jack just brushed him away. He now stepped in to finish the job, landing a right hook to Georges’ chest. That was it for Carpentier. He fell back to the canvas as Dempsey waited to see if he would get up again. When Ertle finally reached the count of 10, Jack Dempsey was the first man to reach the fallen Frenchman and helped carry him to his corner.

So ended the high point in the career of Georges Carpentier. Force and aggression had overpowered style and class. Jack Dempsey was in his prime in 1921, a very scary thought.

The next year on September 24, 1922, Carpentier lost his Light Heavyweight World Belt, and the European Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Belts to Senegalese boxer Battling Siki in Paris by sixth round KO. Both fighters were down in the third. Carpentier was down in the fifth and sixth rounds. In fact, Siki knocked Carpentier down and out for the count in round six, but referee Henri Bernstein ruled that Siki had tripped the Frenchman and awarded the bout to Carpentier on a foul. The crowd became unruly at this turn of events. The three frightened judges at ringside overruled the referee and gave the fight to Siki.  The French Boxing Federation later reaffirmed the win for the Senegalese boxer.

Carpentier fought nine more times, losing a few to the likes of Gene Tunney at the Polo Grounds on July 24, 1924, and to Tommy Loughran in Philly on July 6, 1926.

After he retired, Georges went on to star in motion pictures. He became a restaurateur and café owner but kept his famous name off the marquee. The “Orchid Man” died, suddenly, of a heart attack in his beloved Paris. He was 80 years old. Not a bad way to be counted out…

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Georges Carpentier

Jack Dempsey & Georges Carpentier - Training Footage 1921 Part 1 of 2

Jack Dempsey & Georges Carpentier - Training Footage 1921 Part 2 of 2

Jack Dempsey vs Georges Carpentier

Gene Tunney vs Georges Carpentier

Georges Carpentier vs Battling Siki - Full fight

George Carpentier VS Marcel Nilles

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  1. Leif Hakonsson 04:34pm, 09/21/2013

    When I was a child growing up in Copenhagen, Denmark , I was often told about my uncle Valdemar Hakonsson , who owned a boxing studio in Copenhagen , that he Valdemar had won an unofficial boxing match with Georges Carpentier

    I don’t know what year it was , but since the fight was unofficial Waldemar never got credit for the fight . Whether this was a tall tale or the truth I don’t know. If anybody knows about this I would love to hear about it.
                          Leif Hakonsson.


  2. Stink_Finger 07:30am, 07/24/2012

    Good article but Carpentier started off as a Bantamweight not a Welterweight.

  3. McGrain 05:03am, 07/24/2012

    Ketchel, however, was a monster puncher - a p4p beast, the type of guy who could deck anyone.  Even guys like Papke and Kelly would up shy with him in the ring.  I just don’t think Carpentier has that type of wallop.

    That’s beside the point though.  An interesting if glamourised fighter made the subject of an interesting read here.

  4. Norm Marcus 04:50am, 07/24/2012

    I can see your point on Carpentier vs. Klitschko.
    But I do remember the fight between Stanley Ketchel and Jack Johnson. Ketchel was the middleweight champion with a tremendous punch. Jack Johnson was, well, Jack Johnson. He weighed in at over 200 lbs. while Ketchel was 160 lbs. They had a gentleman’s agreement that there would be no knockdowns but Ketchel saw a shot and took it—knocking down Jack Johnson. Of course Jack was enraged at this shot by Ketchel. He got up and promptly knocked Ketchel out!
    My point is that sometimes a smaller, lighter man can do the impossible. A long shot but that is what makes sports exciting.

  5. McGrain 12:30am, 07/24/2012

    Dempsey could definitely bag himself a Klitschko in my opinion.  He has a great style for taking on Wlad.  Carpentier on the other hand…no.  Not for me.  Not in a month of long weekends.

  6. Norm Marcus 04:21pm, 07/23/2012

    Frank: This is all just “pie in the sky” in the end. Rocky Marciano used to jump to throw a big punch because he was so small. Yet he is the only undefeated Heavyweight Champion in history—if I remember right? Ask Joe Louis about Marciano. Joe couldn’t lift his arms after they fought, from blocking all of the Rock’s punches. Don’t say that doesn’t count because Louis was old by then-‘why he was only in his mid-30s. A young man in Klitschko years. The brothers are an example of the big slow, ponderous heavyweights I am talking about. Carpentier’s “frog punch” if landed right on the jaw as Georges jumped, could have KO’d either brother since they both suffer from weak jaws. The fact that they rule the division at 35-40 years old speaks volumes. We all know that the early 30s is when the reflexes start to go and you lose a step.  The old Klitschko brothers are my exhibit “A”.
    Enjoyed the conversation and respect your opinion.
    I love the ‘30s and ‘40s—where else could you get a quote about Paris/beautiful women like the one in the story?
    The boxers of that era led amazing lives in and out of the ring. The fights read like movie scripts.

  7. FrankinDallas 01:50pm, 07/23/2012

    Watch Siki throw down Carpentier at 9:24 secs into the video…a clear foul.

    BTW….Dempsey used his head more than Holyfield….and was pretty good at hitting behind the head as well.

  8. FrankinDallas 01:48pm, 07/23/2012

    norman…nice article, I really enjoyed it. also liked to see the Siki fight again. Guys like the late great Burt Sugar continued the nonsense that Siki was fouled when in fact you can plainly see from the video that Siki threw Carpentier over his knee in a judo like move that crippled Carpentiers’ knee for real.

    But please…none this “Dempsey vs Klits” stuff. Dempsey was great in his time but he’d be demolished easily by the good HW’s. Hell, Carpentier, a 172 pounder, hurt Dempsey in the first round of their fight.

  9. norm Marcus 01:32pm, 07/23/2012

    Johnc: Well we are all entitled to our opinion—this is America after all. But if you take a look at the Dempsey/ Willard fight in Toledo—Dempsey was 24 years old , 180 lbs. and Big Jess Willard, the man who had knocked out Jack Johnson was 6’6” tall and weighed 245 lbs. The injuries listed for Willard were—caved in cheekbone, broken jaw, teeth knocked out, broken nose, broken ribs, lost hearing in one ear, eyes swollen shut, multiple contusions, cuts and abrasions. Dempsey knocked the “Pottawatamie Giant” down FIVE TIMES IN THE FIRST ROUND!  Willard gave up after the 3rd round. Big Jess was no pushover.  I could go on and on.
    In 1919 the average man stood 5’7’’ tall. Willard was again the same size and weight as the Klitschko brothers. Man has not evolved much in 90 years.
    Tommy Loughran never broke 200 lbs and yet he beat mostly every big man in the heavyweight division.  Just like Carpentier, he was also the Light Heavyweight Champion of the World. He would often jump up to heavyweight for more money.
    Carpentier was a beautiful stallion, a ballet dancer with a good punch. I stick by my statement.
    It’s all about the fire and rage in the belly—not always size. 
    Carpentier was a boxing artist and in his prime also beat some great men. He went 15 rounds against Gene Tunney—Dempsey always respected him for that.
    Think of these names—Dempsey, Tunney, Loughran, ah-Klitschko?
    I stand by my statement.

  10. johnc 10:50am, 07/23/2012

    Good article, and thanks for the movies.

    This reader must take issue with the statement Mr. Marcus makes that : ‘‘writer would put either of these men up against the huge, plodding contenders we’ve grown used to seeing and give you odds the old heads would win.’‘

    Making the statement that a 172-pound Carpentier could beat a 240+pound modern day heavyweight made me laugh. That is literally like saying Bernard Hopkins could beat Vitali Klitschko. Sir, I will take those odds from you. Where, and how soon, can I run to make that bet ?

  11. Don from Prov 09:37am, 07/23/2012

    Ah, Tex Rickard, willing to turn his guy into a “slacker” for the gate—
    They just don’t make them like that… .  Wait a minute, they sure as hell do.

    Great article, and any writer willing to venture this—“Yet this writer would put either of these men up against the huge, plodding contenders we’ve grown used to seeing and give you odds the old heads would win.”—has me on his side.

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