Jack Dempsey’s MMA Fight

By The Fight Film Collector on May 8, 2013
Jack Dempsey’s MMA Fight
Most accounts describe it as a disgrace, and the fight has since been largely forgotten.

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

The Fight

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 Film

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.

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Jack Dempsey -vs- Cowboy Luttrell 1940 w/Interview (16mm Transfer)



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  1. Eric 01:31pm, 05/13/2013

    I think a lot of the “old school” boxers trained extremely hard back in the day. I’ve read Dempsey would spend hours stooped over in an enclosure topped with chicken wire perfecting his crouching style. I don’t know of the amount of roadwork by some “old-timers” is exaggerated or not but I’ve read that such men as Jim Jeffries all the way up to Archie Moore and Rocky Marciano would log sometimes up to 10-14 miles of roadwork a day. That seems like a helluva lot of running and it seems it would hamper their gym workouts but it surely is at least double what a modern day fighter puts in on the road. No doubt this tremendous work load contributed to fighters being relatively “light” on the scales. Marciano is often criticized for being such a small heavyweight, but Marciano trained hour after hour each day even when he didn’t have a fight on the horizon. If Marciano hadn’t trained like a monk, I’m sure he would have weighed at least 195lbs. Maybe these “old school” fighters were “lighter” because they trained much harder and were in better shape. Dempsey didn’t carry an ounce of fat on his 190lb body, and not many heavyweights of today can make that claim or even many light heavies or cruiserweights.

  2. George Thomas Clark 12:45pm, 05/13/2013

    Actually, I’m not “rabid” anti-Dempsey; I like him and appreciate his punching power, toughness, and dynamism.  I just don’t think he’s among the greatest heavies of all time.  That’s not an insult.

    You mention, Clarence, that the K Brothers are presiding over an abysmal crop of heavies. And I think it was Eric who bemoaned the lack of competition during the reign of Larry Holmes.  Good grief, Gentlemen, look at the guys Dempsey fought, until Tunney.

    I shall let you retain your epaulets. 

  3. Clarence George 02:44am, 05/13/2013

    Jeez, GTC, I barely acknowledge the existence of lesser sports, let alone recognize the names of their participants.  But wasn’t Grange’s headgear a thin leather “helmet”?  That makes him all right in my book.

    Conceivable that the Klitschkos could beat Dempsey, but only by overpowering through brute strength.  There’s much more to boxing than that—Dempsey had it, and W. and V. don’t, who’ve done nothing but preside over the most abysmal heavyweight division in history.

    My sense of honor compels me to inform you that your rabid anti-Dempseyism has been reported to the proper authorities, who’ve been provided with the requisite documentation and depositions.  If you’re summoned to testify before the Committee, you have but yourself to blame.  If it’s any comfort to you, I will not gloat (well, not visibly) upon the epaulettes being ripped from your shoulders.  Do they still hold such ceremonies?  They should.  Don’t hold with modern-day notions of “mercy” myself.

  4. George Thomas Clark 09:05pm, 05/12/2013

    The whirlwind that Eric and Clarence rhapsodize about sounds like an extraordinary fighter, but you surely can’t be referring to Jack Dempsey.  I’m looking at his BoxRec.com record now.  Jimmy Darcy (45-33) and Tommy Gibbons, a natural light heavy, went the distance with Jack.  Tunney, a great cruiserweight, twice ravaged him.  Dempsey was awkward.  Today, if he built himself up, and stayed active he might crack the lower part of the Top 10, a considerable achievement.  By the way, both Klitschkos would also handle Jack.  Let’s not read too much into his victories over lumbering Jess Willard and game Cowboy Luttrell.   

    I’m surmising you guys think George Mikan was a better center than Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, and that Red Grange was a better running back than Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson.

  5. Clarence George 06:53pm, 05/12/2013

    Good analysis, Eric.  My take:  Dempsey beats Patterson and Norton (both easily), as well as Frazier, Foreman, and Tyson.  He also beats Holmes (who, I agree, is very overrated), but loses to Louis and Marciano.

  6. Eric 06:27pm, 05/12/2013

    Ken Norton beat Jack Dempsey. bwaaaaaa. Sorry but given Norton’s phobia with punchers and considering Dempsey is a puncher on par with people like Louis & Marciano. Sorry but Jack makes short work of Ken. If a 188lb Garcia could take out Norton, can’t see Dempsey not doing the same. Dempsey knocking out Louis isn’t that far fetched either. Louis could be dropped and was by lesser punchers/fighters than Dempsey. I respect Floyd Patterson immensely as a humble, brave champion, but there is no way Dempsey doesn’t literally massacre Floyd. Frazier and someone like Marciano vs Dempsey could go either way. If Frazier and Marciano survive an early Dempsey onslaught then they very well could take out Dempsey in the middle rounds in a brutal war. Frazier and Marciano could both be caught early. Tyson is just too big, too fast, and too powerful for Dempsey. Tyson in his prime is the swarmer supreme and reigns over fellow swarmers Dempsey, Marciano, and Frazier. Foreman was just too big, and strong and a fighter like Dempsey is tailor made for him. Dempsey would beat the rest of the fighters you listed including Holmes, who I feel is overrated given the level of opposition that was around the time he ruled the heavyweights.

  7. Clarence George 05:44pm, 05/12/2013

    To use a good old-fashioned word, GTC:  Balderdash.  In fact…unmitigated balderdash.

    Dempsey is head and shoulders above every single boxer you mention, with the notable exception of Louis and, to a lesser degree, Frazier and Tyson.  Lewis, Holmes, and Foreman would be completely outclassed, and Holyfield is an overrated bodybuilder.  Neither Quarry nor Bonavena would have a chance against Dempsey (though George Chuvalo would put up a helluva fight), and it would take an act of God for Patterson to make it past the first round.  And Norton beat the Mauler?  That’s genuinely laughable.  There’d be nothing left of that mediocrity by the time Dempsey got through with him, and that sure as hell includes his insufferable and unwarranted smugness.

  8. George Thomas Clark 03:56pm, 05/12/2013

    In response to Clarence George:

    It is fantasy to state that Dempsey, who was twice dominated by (contemporary) cruiserweight Gene Tunney and was losing to unspectacular Jack Sharkey before he, Dempsey, won by fouling, could compete with, much less defeat, the fighters on my “timeline.”

    To clarify, Lennox Lewis would have overpowered and outboxed Dempsey.  Larry Holmes would have jabbed and right-crossed him in devastating fashion.  George Foreman would have bounced Dempsey around the ring.  Joe Louis would have made him look like Max Schmeling in the second fight.  Joe Frazier would have knocked him out with a left hook after administering a frightful beating.  Mike Tyson would have bombed Dempsey out early.  And, of course, Ken Norton would have right hooked the Manassa Mauler to the canvas. 

    Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, and Oscar Bonavena would have likely defeated Jack Dempsey.  I could name many others.  By modern standards Dempsey was a tough, hard-hitting cruiserweight with sub-championships defensive skills.  Evander Holyfield, at 190, would handily beat him; Holyfield’s a much better boxer and faced far better fighters. 

    Jack Dempsey was also a charismatic and likable fellow and that’s why he’s so overrated as a fighter.

  9. Clarence George 11:48am, 05/12/2013

    It’s important to keep in mind, Eric, those boxers who eventually wrestled because they were in desperate need of the money—Ezzard Charles and the great Joe Louis among them.  The indignity was poignantly and powerfully addressed in both versions of “Requiem for a Heavyweight.”

  10. Eric 09:54am, 05/12/2013

    Wrestlers have made a solid impact in the MMA world. Mark Coleman, Mark Kerr, Kevin Randleman, Sean Sherk, Dan Severn, Matt Hughes, Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, and many others started out as pure wrestlers before becoming MMA champions. There has been no pure boxer of note who has ever made a noticeable impact on the MMA scene. This is not to say wrestling is a superior art than boxing in a more realistic “fight” but it just brings to light that many of those past “staged” fights of boxer vs. wrestler aka “rasslers” were just as phony as the WWE events we see. Vitor Belfort and Andre Arlovski have entertained thoughts about entering the boxing ranks but as far as I know neither ever did. Both had some pretty good boxing skills but then again, they weren’t fighting professional boxers. I believe Archie Moore and Jersey Joe Walcott had some fights with “rasslers” also. I believe Jersey Joe “fought” Lou Thesz and “lost.” I think later on Thesz would make some noise about “fighting” heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano.

  11. Clarence George 08:54am, 05/12/2013

    Joe Mauriello:  Please tell me that you’re related to one of my favorite heavies, Tami.

  12. Joe Mauriello 08:48am, 05/12/2013

    Ali vs Inoki had so many changes to the rules that it became a true disadvantage for Inoki who had to crawl around the ring and was not allowed to stand on his feet at almost any time except when they were near the ropes which then had to be broken up as per boxing/wrestling rules. Ali did go to the hospital for the damage done to his knee as he spent the night there. Inoki kept kicking Ali’s knee which buckled him a couple of times.and swelled up to about twice its normal size. Ali was embarrassed from the beating he took to his leg and never or barely hit Inoki with anything other than meaningless jabs. This event was purely put on to make money.

  13. Michael Hegan 08:55pm, 05/11/2013

    I loved ‘The Manassa Mauler’....that doesn’t mean I didn’ t buy into the gig….....

    That Jess Willard match was ............interesting…...OK…let’s just say that.

    Jess Willard was an honest….hard working ...God fearing man of the earth…...more or less….

    You couldn’t sell heaters to Eskimos….if Jess Willard was giving them away ......however

    Jack Dempsey and his crowd could sell ice to Eskimos…..

    Jack Dempsey .....and his ‘team’......put boxing into the major leagues

  14. Michael Hegan 08:40pm, 05/11/2013

    Looking at the main pic…with Lutrell getting beat upon ....by JACK DEMPSEY…

    You’ll note that .....‘the champ ’ didn’t even take his ...alternate chewing devices….and not so much as a mouth gaurd….

    ...just say’n

    boxers should fight boxers…..and like that…

    if there is to be a fundraiser….......well .......that’s showbiz…....so long as the proceeds go to a real charity….with legit ‘books’

    I’d get suspicious of something like…........THE TRUST FUND OF PRETTY BOY FLOYD….TO PUT FORWARD PEACE AND GOOD WILL….with the execs being….pbf..and all of his friends and relatives

  15. Michael Hegan 08:34pm, 05/11/2013

    Franklin Dallas…..‘does that get Dempsey into the top 100’.....

    you crack me up buddy

    biker

  16. Eric 07:48pm, 05/11/2013

    Brock Lesnar was an outstanding collegiate wrestler, as was Kurt Angle. Angle won the Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympic Games. Both were legitimate world class wrestlers and in Angle’s case an Olympic champion, before becoming “rasslers” for the WWE. The Cowboy probably never had a real wrestling match in his life and was more suited for a bar stool than a boxing or wrestling match. If there is one type of athlete in better all around shape than a boxer it would have to either be a wrestler or MMA participant. Wrestler’s cardio is usually even more superior than a boxers.

  17. tory 04:39pm, 05/11/2013

    And Brock Lesnar former UFC heavyweight Champ was also a performer before he entered mma and won the title with 3-4 wins lol. Don’t forget about Rico Rodriguez another former UFC title holder lost to a guy in a boxing match that was 0-1 here in Las Vegas.

  18. Eric 01:59pm, 05/11/2013

    I definitely would rank a prime Dempsey in the top 10 heavies of all-time and I could even see how someone would rank him in the top 5 or 6. Boxers haven’t fared well in MMA bouts and have had limited success. Ray Mercer did knockout former champion Tim Sylvia in the opening round, but Mercer was also submitted by Kimbo Slice. James Toney looked pitiful against Randy Couture, and who can forget the in the first ever UFC when Royce Gracie submitted boxer Art Jimmerson in a little over a minute. Jimmerson entered the Octagon wearing one boxing glove. James Warring, former cruiserweight boxing champ had limited success in MMA, but then again Warring was a former kickboxer. As everyone knows, grapplers dominated the early MMA bouts and continue to be a force in bouts even today. Boxing and wrestling are two fine western martial arts and each have their pros and cons, but asking a boxer to wrestle a wrestler or vice-versa is no match at all. Former standout collegiate wrestler from the fifties Danny Hodge, boxed about 8-9 pro bouts and lost to Nino Valdez in his final bout. Hodge could bend a pair of pliers with his grip. Even today there is a recent video of the elderly Hodge crushing an apple with his hand.

  19. Eric 01:49pm, 05/11/2013

    This so called “fight” and/or exhibition was definitely “rehearsed.” Cowboy Lutrell wasn’t even a REAL wrestler much less a boxer. Nothing against the Cowboy, but he was a performer just like those “rasslers” like Buddy Wolfe who took on Ali before his match with Antonio Inoki. If this bout was actually real, exactly what did it prove? That even a middle-aged Dempsey could defeat another middle-aged man who was vastly out of shape and one who had never boxed in his life. This was a kin to a middle-aged George Plimpton boxing Archie Moore or pitching to some major league all-stars. If Dempsey wanted a real mixed match of boxer vs wrestler then maybe he should’ve taken on a REAL wrestler in a MMA style bout instead of a boxing match. View the Gene LeBell vs Milo Savage bout where LeBell is actually allowed to grapple instead of just boxing. Last time I checked the bout was on Youtube. This match took place in the Sixties long before MMA came about.

  20. Clarence George 01:44pm, 05/11/2013

    GTC:  Active boxers shouldn’t fight wrestlers, as it only serves to degrade the Sweet Science.  The Dempsey-Lutrell bout doesn’t really apply, as the former champ was long retired from the ring at the time of the match. 

    I don’t see MMA as an acceptable hybrid.  In fact, I don’t see it as anything other than jumped-up barroom brawling.

    Your opinion of Dempsey is certainly different from mine!  I don’t at all see him as a savager or bully.  He was, however, a brawler, and by no means a “limited” one.

    Dempsey not to be favorably compared with the top 20 heavyweights of the past 40 years?  On the contrary—he’s superior to every single heavy of your timeline, with the exception of Ali.

  21. George Thomas Clark 12:27pm, 05/11/2013

    Let the wrestler wrestle and the boxer box, and both can bring in other combat styles: that’s MMA.  This is simply another example of Dempsey savaging an outgunned opponent.  He was a tough, hard-hatting guy, but a limited brawler who would have rarely cracked any list of current Top 20 heavyweights from the 1970s to the present.

  22. peter 07:49am, 05/10/2013

    Nat Fleischer was a better writer than referee.

  23. Clarence George 12:50pm, 05/09/2013

    Michael Hegan:  I remember the hype leading up to the Ali-Inoki fight, which wound up floating like a lead balloon; absolute flop.  Wasn’t there rioting in the arena?  Part of the build-up was Ali taking on Gorilla Monsoon, which I saw live.  One of the most embarrassing moments in the history of the Sweet Science.  I found it online (my God, how young Vince McMahon was):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX3kucj_b_8

  24. Mike Schmidt 12:34pm, 05/09/2013

    Well lads I suppose I have to weigh in here. My fav rasssssler vs boxer for laugh ratio—Chuck Wepner being tossed airborne out of the ring via Andre the Giant—I am sure it is up on youtube.  Too bad Chuck, who is one tough fucker, did not get the same Dempsey punch only rules. Step on Andre’s toe and k-nock the big giant out!! Now as for this Dempsey video—SUPERB—never ever saw it before—so thank you very very much and please more of the same rare gems. As for Dempsey, as Dear Old Pops use to say…“Either Dempsey can’t hit worth a fuck or that rasssssler is one tough son of a bitch.” Methinks we shall opt for the rasssssler being one VERY tough son of a bitch. He looked like Galento getting bounced by Louis on few of those knock downs. Thank you fight film man!!!

  25. Michael Hegan 12:24pm, 05/09/2013

    Clarence George….I remember that ‘fight’ with Ali and Antonio Inoki….

    There were stories about pbf doing a similar farce with a three hundred pound wrestler for 12 million dollars….Can’t remember the name of the wrestler

  26. Michael Hegan 12:20pm, 05/09/2013

    GlennR

    Too true that !!!!
    Dempsey was close to smashing his fists on Lutrell’s face !!!
    Lutrell was as tuff as boiled whale shit !!!

  27. Michael Hegan 12:17pm, 05/09/2013

    Hey , Mike Silver…..re the definite disadvantage Lutrell got dealt ...as the wrestler had to box a boxer..

    guess leonard ain’t the only guy who knew how to negotiate a contract ...lol.

    Dempsey looked to be in good shape….and he was still pulling that selective amnesia regarding the ‘neutral corner after a knockdown’ rule !!!

    Still…..I’ll bet ‘ol Jack didn’t have to spend a nickel on bouncers at his restaurant/bar

  28. FrankinDallas 11:00am, 05/09/2013

    Does this get Dempsey into the 100 fighters of all time?

  29. Leighton 10:25am, 05/09/2013

    Say what you will about wrestlers - they’re tough.

  30. GlennR 03:35am, 05/09/2013

    How did he NOT knock that guy out??
    He hit him a hundred times!

  31. Clarence George 01:58am, 05/09/2013

    Very interesting, FFC, and very nicely done.  I didn’t know of this fight between Dempsey and Lutrell (whose first name was Clarence, I’m a bit embarrassed to reveal), and it’s good to see how tough Dempsey was well past his prime.  I think he was even older when he beat up a couple of would-be muggers.  But the standout performance is that of Fleischer.  Stop this fight?  Hell no!

    What a contrast, by the way, to one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of boxing in general and the heavyweight division in particular—the so-called fight between Muhammad Ali and Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki.  It’s one of the many things for which I’ve never forgiven Ali.

  32. Mike Silver 09:50pm, 05/08/2013

    This was not an MMA fight. Lutrell, a wrestler, had to fight strictly under boxing rules—a definite disadvantage to him.

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