Jack Dempsey’s MMA Fight
Neither an exhibition or a sanctioned prizefight, and certainly not a comeback attempt, the contest was akin to an MMA beatdown…
Jack Dempsey vs. Cowboy Lutrell
Ponce De Leon Park, Atlanta
July 1, 1940
16mm Sound Transfer
Compared to many sports figures and celebrities, Jack Dempsey remained a visible and respected figure long after his boxing career ended. He kept in shape, managed his restaurant, trained boxers, performed service for the military during World War II, and did charity work. Even through his forties, Jack was never far from the ring, sparring for the camera with Max Schmeling, Max Baer, Arturo Godoy and others to promote fights. Dempsey also worked as a referee for boxing and wrestling matches.
One evening in 1940, Dempsey was refereeing a wrestling match between Cowboy Luttrell and Dorve Roche. There was an argument in the ring, and an altercation ensued between Dempsey and the Cowboy. To settle what was apparently a genuine public grudge, and to make a fistful of short money, business manager Max Waxman arranged a boxer vs. wrestler match between Dempsey and Lutrell in Atlanta, Georgia on July 1, 1940.
“I’ve licked tougher guys than Jack Dempsey,” Lutrell bragged to reporters before the bout. “There’s never been a boxer who could beat a good wrestler. I want to be known as the guy who KO’d Dempsey. We’ll try out the show here, boys. We might work our way up to a fight with Joe Louis.”
“It’s no gag,” Dempsey told the New York Times. “I’m going to fight a wrestler down in Atlanta on July 1. We’re going to fight with gloves, the lightest ones Georgia officials will permit, and under Marquis of Queensbury rules. I ought to knock him out quick because I can still punch, and he doesn’t know how to fight.”
Neither an exhibition or a sanctioned prizefight, and certainly not a comeback attempt, the contest was akin to an MMA beatdown. The referee was Ring Magazine publisher Nat Fleischer, who worked the fight with as much energy as the fighters themselves. Though a seasoned wrestler, Lutrell never managed to grab hold of Dempsey, as Jack began pounding him without mercy from the opening bell. Most accounts describe the event as a disgrace, and the fight has since been largely forgotten.
The contest was captured (poorly) by a film crew, from a single camera angle, so low that spectators get in the way of the action. Yet, the film was shown later in theaters in the weeks after the fight. In this edition, the narrator describes the fight as an historical and nostalgic event for Dempsey, who was 45 years old at the time.
The rarity of this film is not so much the bout, as is the pre-fight newsreel footage, and the post-fight interview between Dempsey and referee/publisher Nat Fleischer, with wrestler Dorve Roche standing to the left.
The Fight Film Collector is a producer and film archivist who has been collecting boxing films for nearly 40 years. He has consulted for Sports Illustrated, provided footage to ESPN and recovered films for the families of retired boxers. He is passionate about the sport of boxing and its history. His blog is http://fightfilmcollector.blogspot.com/. He can reached at rotoscope66 at yahoo.com.