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Great Roars of Applause: The Ring Introductions

Carpentier, it appears, had the advantage of being the crowd favorite in Jersey City on July 2, 1921.  Most accounts of the bout describe the dramatic difference in the crowd reaction to the respective ring introductions of the two fighters.  Dempsey recounts the scene in his first autobiography (1940):

The great roar of applause and approval that went up when Carpentier climbed through the ropes entirely overshadowed my own reception.  He was perhaps the most popular challenger that ever stepped into a ring. (Dempsey, Round by Round, 209-210)

A later Dempsey autobiography (1960) tells the same story, saying that when he was introduced “[…] the only response from ninety-one thousand Americans was a little applause and a low murmur,” and when his opponent Carpentier was introduced “The crowd went wild. It was deafening.”

[1]  His last autobiography (1977) gives a very different impression; there he says that he was greeted with “a deafening roar” and Carpentier with cheers that were “equally loud.”[2] But elsewhere in this account, he stresses the pro-Carpentier sentiment of the crowd:

The crowd was convinced Georges Carpentier was going to win.  Every time I made it to my corner, I could hear the shouts, “What’s a matter, slacker?  The Frenchman too tough for ya?  Mebbe yer all washed up!  You’re soft!” etc., etc. (Dempsey, 136)

A story in the New York Times of July 3 paints a vivid and perhaps more objective picture of the ring introductions:

Humphreys [the ring announcer] presented Dempsey to the crowd as “the champion on whom every red-blooded American pins his hopes this day.” A cheer, a bow, and then Carpentier came forward to be introduced as “the heavyweight champion of the Old World, the idol of his people and a soldier of France.”

The roar that came from the crowd at that made its cheer for Dempsey seem like nothing but a hoarse whisper.  All over the arena men stood on their seats and waved their straw hats while they shouted frantically.  Through it all Dempsey glowered, as before, preoccupied and somber. (2)

The contrast in the crowd’s reactions to the introductions of the two fighters of course belies the ring announcer Humphrey’s assertion that all Americans were rooting for Dempsey.  The overwhelming majority of the 90,000 fans packed into the stadium at Boyle’s Thirty Acres were American, most of them, presumably, “red-blooded.” And yet they greeted their compatriot with a “hoarse whisper” compared to the frenzy with which they greeted the “soldier of France.”

Others concur with this description. An article by Edwin C. Hill in the New York Herald of the same day describes Carpentier’s reception as “the richer, fuller, friendlier greeting […] a gorgeously handsome greeting” and Dempsey’s as “[…] well enough, friendly enough, but it lacked the ringing tone of the tribute for the Frenchman.” Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, writing on the front page of the July 3 edition of the New York Tribune says: “At 3:16, Georges Carpentier stood in the center of the ring receiving one of the greatest ovations ever given a fighter.”

Many boxing historians, writing well after the fact, give similar accounts.  Nat Fleischer, legendary founder and editor of The Ring magazine and Dempsey biographer, says that Dempsey received polite applause but that Carpentier:

[…] was cheered lustily, roundly and with true enthusiasm. A stranger in a strange land, he was given applause that made that granted to the native, the representative of the homeland, sound like a whisper.[3]

Another ring historian writes: “[the cheers for Carpentier] completely overshadowed the roar of welcome extended to the champion.”[4]

Interestingly, however, other writers, both at the time and since, completely contradict these accounts, saying that the cheers for Dempsey were louder.  On the very same page as Rice’s description of Carpentier as the recipient of “one of the greatest ovations ever given a fighter,” the sub-headline for his colleague Jack Lawrence’s article about the fight reads: “Challenger Is Favored By Feminine Fans, Though Jack Gets Best Cheer.” In the body of the article, Lawrence says: “Both Carpentier and Dempsey received ovations when they entered the ring, but they were rather formal and not what had been expected.  Of the two men the champion seemed to draw the most applause […]” Writing in the New York Herald on July 3, Martha Coman says:

Carpentier was the first to arrive […] There was a cheer which grew louder.  It was never equal in volume, however, to the greeting accorded Dempsey when he appeared a few minutes later.

French newspaper accounts, like their American counterparts, differ somewhat from each other.  One story, published on July 4 in L’Intransigeant and written by Gaston Bénac, one of four French reporters at ringside, says that Carpentier is “much applauded” but that Dempsey is “more applauded.” By contrast, Bénac’s colleague André Glarner, in the French daily L’Excelsior on July 3, describes the cheering as equal for the two fighters. Carpentier makes his appearance “amidst enthusiastic cheers” and “smiles at the crowd with such natural grace that he immediately wins over all the fans.”  When Dempsey enters the ring, Glarner says, “[…] he receives frenetic applause (Americans are too sportsmanlike not to give their champion as big an ovation as the one they gave the Frenchman.)”

Historians of the event, on both sides of the Atlantic, tend to write that the cheering was louder for the American champ than the French challenger.  American Randy Roberts says “Reporters were surprised to hear more cheers for Dempsey than for Carpentier, but the champion enjoyed the greeting.”[5] French Carpentier biographer Olivier Merlin, writes that Carpentier was greeted with a “storm of cries and whistles” while Dempsey received a “delirious ovation, in which this time the clapping is louder than the whistles.” (Nine pages earlier, Merlin erroneously—perhaps in a credulous reception of ring announcer Humphrey’s introduction of Dempsey—states “all America, in a gigantic élan, pins its hopes on [Dempsey].”)[6] 

Carpentier’s own accounts do not break the time. In his 1954 autobiography, he remembers vividly the warm reception he got but can’t remember how it compared to Dempsey’s:

When I turned to acknowledge the reception of the crowd a deafening noise went up composed of clapping, shouting and whistling […]

And then Dempsey came.  Whether his reception was louder than mine I have no idea.  In the ordinary way no doubt it would have been, but in fact, partly no doubt due to a violent campaign waged against him by the American Legion, the ex-Servicemen’s organization, most of the spectators were for me. (Carpentier by himself, 148; translation revised)

[1] Jack Dempsey, Dempsey: By the Man Himself.  As told to Bob Considine and Bill Slocum.  (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960). Return to text

[2] Jack Dempsey, with Barbara Piatelli Dempsey.  Dempsey.  (New York: Harper and Row, 1977). Return to text

[3] Fleischer, Idol of Fistiana, 202. Return to text

[4] Gilbert Odd, Ring Battles of the Century (London: Nicholson and Warren, 1948): 7. Return to text

[5] Roberts, 123.  Unfortunately, Roberts does not identify which reporters he is referring to here, nor does he explain how explain how his assertion that Dempsey “enjoyed the greeting” he received squares with the explicit descriptions in two Dempsey autobiographies of his hurt feeling upon hearing the crowd go wild for his opponent. Return to text

[6] Olivier Merlin, Georges Carpentier, Gentleman du ring (Paris: Hatier, 1975). The quote about the cheers of the crowd at ringside are found on p. 68; the “all America” passage on p. 59. Return to text