Jack Dempsey Takes on Jimmy Darcy

By Norman Marcus on August 22, 2014
Jack Dempsey Takes on Jimmy Darcy
Jimmy Darcy fought Tiger Flowers, Young Stribling, Harry Greb and Tommy Loughran.

Jimmy and Jack were not strangers. Dempsey and two of the three Darcy brothers, Jimmy and Alex, were all managed by Jack Kearns…

There is not much of a paper trail left on Jimmy Darcy. He never held a championship belt nor was a ranked contender. But for a few minutes on July 24, 1922, at the Broadway Auditorium in Buffalo, New York, Jimmy was in the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Dempsey. The more surprising fact is that this was not a 15-round championship fight. It was simply a four-round exhibition. Yet Dempsey’s belt was on the line that night due to an obscure NYSAC rule. (NYSAC stands for New York State Athletic Commission.)

Dempsey got a telegram from the commission on the day of the fight. It stated that instead of taking on three opponents that night, he was to fight just one of them. The fight would remain a four-rounder but no knockout would be allowed by Dempsey. Just four easy rounds to a decision, but if the opponent got in a lucky punch, knocking Dempsey out, the world would have a new heavyweight champion!

Now we all know Jack Dempsey’s fighting style. He was a super aggressive power puncher. He would bob and weave, going in with body shots and short punches. But Jimmy Darcy is a mystery man to most fight fans today. A fighter lost in time. So here is the skinny on Darcy, which makes this four-round exhibition all the more bizarre.

Known as Little Jimmy, Valeri Trambitas was born in Bucharest, Romania, on June 6, 1898. He came to America with his family in 1907 and settled in Portland Oregon. He was one of three boxing brothers including John and Alex. He boxed under his real name until 1918, when he changed it to honor the late Australian middleweight Les Darcy. Jimmy wasn’t a real big man. He was most successful as a middleweight in the Pacific Northwest, but in later years boxed at light heavy and heavyweight. He was a fighter with a strong chin and power in both hands. He could also absorb a great deal of punishment. The night he stepped into the ring with Dempsey he had a record of W40-L33-ND32. NDs or “No Decision” bouts were common, as an attempt to keep the judging honest. Wins were only by KO. A KO left no doubt about who really won a bout.

Jimmy and Jack were not strangers. Dempsey and two of the three Darcy brothers, Jimmy and Alex, were all managed by Jack Kearns. So the Darcys became a working part of the champ’s training camp. Jimmy sparred many rounds in the gym and fought many exhibitions with Dempsey on tour. Little Jimmy was no pansy. He fought the likes of Tiger Flowers, Young Stribling, Harry Greb and Tommy Loughran. The latter two hit the canvas when they met Darcy in the ring.

Given the bizarre ruling by the NYSAC, Dempsey had no choice but to agree to these terms. It was that or be stripped of his title as heavyweight champion in New York State. There was too much money to be made in New York for Dempsey to defy the commission.

Darcy knew the deal here too. If he took any kind of shot and managed to put Dempsey away, there would be hell to pay. Jimmy would be the new champion but he would lose the goodwill of the press and the fans. More troubling, he would be called a counterfeit titleholder, due to the strange rules of this New York bout. 

But that is exactly why Darcy was picked for this exhibition. He could be counted on to participate in the planned ballet that night but you never knew what might happen once the bell rang. The bout had to provide some action for the fans. He and Jack couldn’t look like they were dancing. Both fighters had to look tough but not hurt the other for a solid four rounds.

Jack’s manager Doc Kearns spoke to a predominately Jewish crowd earlier that night in Buffalo. Doc always tailored his speeches to each particular crowd he addressed before a fight. Now Dempsey is said to have had a very mixed family tree. His DNA was hard to figure out. Folks always liked to come out and root for their own kind. Doc and Jack took full advantage of this human trait before every fight. Doc started his spiel, “You know I tell people that Jack is one-eighth Jewish. You’d all love to meet his great grandmother, Rachel Solomon. She can’t be here. He’s got a little Irish blood and some Scottish blood and some Indian blood, but here’s the truth. Jack Dempsey is not just one-eighth Jewish. He’s easily forty-five, fifty percent Jewish. Jack Dempsey is MOSTLY Jewish.” The “people of the book” loved it.

The fight went as planned. Dempsey took no chances and boxed a careful fight. No big punches or knockdowns by either man. The newspaper decision was that, “Jack Dempsey beat Jim Darcy by points in round 4 of 4.” The NYSAC was happy and the two men were still on their feet. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Commissioner Harry Burchell after the decision. He again stated the rule in New York State. “Of course the fight had to be a decision. We had to see that the law was upheld. We make no distinctions between exhibitions and regulation contests according to law.” So Darcy has the distinction of having lasted longer with the champion than Georges Carpentier, Jess Willard, Ed (Gunboat) Smith or Carl Morris. Had Darcy landed that ‘lucky’ punch he would be the world’s heavyweight champion today.”

Darcy felt good about his part in the exhibition. He was a lifetime longshoreman, a member of Local #8 and the ILWU. He would work that job throughout his life. Jimmy was the sole support of his two brothers and one sister in those days. The champ was very generous with his purse the next morning. Darcy had no complaints. 

Now Dempsey was always banging heads with his manager Doc Kearns. This exhibition tour was bringing in a lot of money and Jack liked to keep an eye on the gate receipts. Kearns had sticky fingers and the champ wasn’t happy about it. So after the tour was over, Dempsey quietly took $200,000 from the cookie jar. Kearns was furious. “What did you do with our money, Jack?” Dempsey replied, “I put $200,000 into an annuity.” Kearns asked, “What interest?”  “I’m not sure. Two, three, four percent.” said the champ. “I coulda got us fifteen, maybe nineteen,” Kearns fired back. Jack whispered in Doc’s ear, “But this way, we aren’t going to lose the principal.”

A few years later Jack and Doc split up over the money issues. Kearns chased Dempsey through the courts but only the lawyers got paid.

Dempsey was one of the few champions in the modern era that was smart enough to hold onto most of his money. In his soft later years however, he gave much of it away. He was always an easy mark for an old pug with a sob story.

Sources:
San Francisco Chronicle, July 25, 1922
Jack Dempsey and the Roaring Twenties by Roger Kahn, 1999
New York Times/Sports Section, July 26, 1922

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  1. john uggen 09:35pm, 10/03/2016

    My uncle Clarence McCahan was Jimmy Darcy’s partner on the docks in Swan Island, Portland where both my uncle and Jimmy worked as longshoremen.  I heard many stories about Jimmy from my uncle and would be glad to share them if you are interested.

    John Uggen, Ph.D.
    retired professor at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon

  2. Tex Hassler 04:32pm, 08/30/2014

    I am always glad to hear any thing about Jack Dempsey. Good article. THANKS!

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:22pm, 08/23/2014

    Looks like Dempsey’s getting ready to Mambo the night away too….still say he should have been dismantling Jack Johnson that Fourth of July instead of good ol’ boy Jess….there would have been plenty of time for that later. Eric says that Johnson would have given Jack trouble….I say that Jack got religion down Havana way and when he felt Dempseys power he would have been more than ready to take another siesta in the sun.

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:32am, 08/23/2014

    So many exhibitions…..so many No Decisions….so little time….Darcy demonstrating in the photo above his best form for KOing dwarfs.

  5. Peter 06:59am, 08/23/2014

    Thanks for this interesting slice of Jack Dempsey history. He continues to be an American icon.

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