July 2, 1921 saw an estimated crowd of 80,000 to 100,000 people come out to witness two of the great boxers of their day, American-born Jack Dempsey and French native Georges Carpentier, slug it out for the title of heavyweight champion of the world.
It was a landmark event, the first fight to rake in over a million dollars and one of the first to be broadcast across the country via radio.
Henry Ford, Al Jolson were there
All the great figures of that time were believed to be in attendance: legendary Jersey City mayor Frank Hague, Al Jolson, Henry Ford, and Dorothy Parker, among others.
And it all happened in Jersey City, at a site then known as Boyle's Thirty Acres. Now the Hudson County Schools of Technology now sits on the property.
This July 2, there will be a ceremony at Jack Dempsey Plaza to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the fight. Currently through July 31, there is display of memorabilia related to the fight at the Main Branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library on Jersey Avenue.
This past Wednesday, there was a discussion of the fight in the New Jersey Room of the Public Library by several boxing aficionados, including longtime Hudson Reporter sportswriter Jim Hague.
Four rounds last forever
The Battle of the Century was one of seven fights that happened on that unbearable hot day. General admission seats were $5, which at the time could equal three weeks' rent. Ringside seats were $50, unheard for the day. It was the first boxing match women were allowed to watch.
It was a fight that would have happened in New York if not for Dempsey's manager Jack Kearns, with the help of the two Cuban waiters, who convinced legendary fight promoter Tex Rickard to promote the fight.
Rickard was alleged to have received a substantial amount of money from Mayor Hague to have the fight in Jersey City.
When Dempsey walked into the ring that day, he received applause, but was not the crowd favorite because he was considered a "slacker" or draft dodger for not serving in World War I. Carpentier was a national war hero in France for his service during the war.
It took only took four rounds for Dempsey, known as the "Manassa Mauler," to knock out Carpentier. According to various reports of the fight, Dempsey - who at 192 lbs. had a 14-pound advantage over his opponent - and Carpentier came out swinging from the opening bell.
Dempsey broke Carpentier's nose in the first round. In the second round, Carpentier broke his thumb with a punch to Dempsey. But in the fourth round, Dempsey finished off Carpentier. The latter was knocked down once only to get back up at the count of nine, before being hit with a left and a right to keep him down for good.
Henry Hascup, the president of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, described at Wednesday's event how Dempsey did something unusual for the time - he helped his opponent up.
"Dempsey would say in later years that Carpentier hit him the hardest of any fighter," said Hascup. Hascup also described how six planes flew over the skies of Paris with different colored lights, to inform residents who won the fight.
Hague said the fight became as celebrated as it was because there were only three sports that captured the imagination of Americans at the time: boxing, baseball, and horse racing.
"The three most famous people in the sports world were Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, and Seabiscuit," said Hague. He said the fight helped make Dempsey famous and "put Jersey City on the map."
Hague and Hascup both pointed out that the fight was attended by people coming from all points, with several hundred thousand people unable to get into the fight. Hague said a 15-year-old North Bergen kid named James Braddock, who would later become a heavyweight champion in the late 1930s, snuck in.
Remembering the fight
Kearny resident Paul Venti has for over 10 years pursued his dream of making the public aware of this amazing fight in Jersey City. Venti was a boxing referee for over 25 years who learned about the fight after meeting Jack Dempsey in the 1970s and meeting Packy O' Gaddy, who fought in another boxing match that day before the Dempsey-Carpentier fight.
Venti led the campaign to get the Montgomery and Florence Streets to be renamed Jack Dempsey Plaza in 1996 with the help of his friend, Ward D City Councilman Bill Gaughan. Currently he runs a chapter of the International Veteran Boxers Association called Ring 25.
"After meeting Dempsey and O'Gaddy, I learned about the fight," said Venti. "I lived here in Jersey City for 35 years, and it's important since it happened in our backyard."
Venti spoke at Wednesday's event of how he met a funeral director who came into possession of the gloves Dempsey used during the fight. He showed a picture of the gloves.
Venti hopes to raise money for a monument of Jack Dempsey to be placed at the fight site.
Bob Leach, director of the Jersey City Historical Project, put together a booklet on the fight and organized the event at the library.
Of the fight, Leach said, "It was a high mark in the sports, political and cultural life of Jersey City at that time."
Hague was imbued with a love of boxing because his late father took him to a number of boxing matches in Jersey City and in other towns across North Jersey, and regaled the young Hague with stories of past fights. For Hague, the Dempsey-Carpentier fight was seminal in Jersey City history and boxing history at large.
"The idea of having a heavyweight championship fight of that magnitude in the United States this close to home with that many people was an absolute novelty," said Hague. "That fight helped make Jersey City a destination for pro boxing from the 1920s to the 1970s. Then the casinos opened in Atlantic City, and soon all the boxing went there."
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org