Jack Dempsey Vs. Jess Willard 1919: The Most Brutal Fight In History

While many will know the name of Jack Dempsey, America’s dominant boxer of the 1920’s, many people haven’t ever seen the fight that started Dempsey on his rise to fame and glory. In this rare video from 1919, we get to see and hear what it was like to witness the most brutal first round of any boxing match in the history of professional boxing.


The day was July 4th 1919 in Toledo Ohio. Jess Willard was the reigning world champion and the owner of a brutal reputation. The former cowboy didn’t start his boxing career until he was 27 years old, over the hill by today’s standards. The 6’6″ and 235 pound fighter gained his notoriety when he fought a fighter named Jack “Bull” Young in 1913. During the fight, Willard punched Young so hard in the head that a piece of his broken jaw has driven into his skull and he died in the 9th round. While Willard was charged with second-degree murder, he fought the charges in court and won. Two years later he became the World Heavyweight Champion after he fought the popular Jack Johnson in 1915. The fight was in Havana Cuba and last a staggering 26 rounds.

With his solid reputation intact, Willard agreed to fight a new young boxer named Jack Dempsey.Born of mixed heritage and one of 13 siblings, the young fighter was the family protector and became a brawler for money at local pubs and bars. Dempsey’s career was about to go into the next level when the 6’1″, 187 pound Dempsey stepped into the ring to fight Willard in Toledo Ohio on July 4th 1919. The much smaller boxer had been bothered by Willard’s remarks before the fight. Willard had claimed that “This will be the easiest fight of my career,” and referred to how he was happy to bring the title belt back to the ‘white race.”
Willard,Jess (b)

Dempsey’s ancestry included Irish, Cherokee, and a Jewish paternal great-great-grandmother, and the fighter found Willards prefight remarks to be fodder and fuel for his fire. What the crowd didn’t know was that they were about to witness one of the worst beatings any fighter would take in the history of the sport. As the first round started it was apparent that the smaller Dempsey had the fire and rage of a bull as he relentlessly attacked the bigger champion. Just 30 seconds into the first round, Dempsey landed a huge left which broke Willards jaw in over a dozen places, knocking him to the mat. Willard rose and was knocked down 7 times in that first round and suffered tremendous damage at the hands of the challenger.

04 Jul 1919, Toledo, Ohio, USA --- 7/4/1919-Toledo, OH- Jack Dempsey ducks a punch thrown by Jess Willard, during a 1919 fight in Toledo. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

A severely broken jaw was just one of the wounds Willard suffered during the fight. When the fight was over and he was looked at by physicians, it was determined that he had a broken cheek bone, caved-in by Dempsey as well as broken ribs and permanent hearing loss. One witness described seeing half a dozen of Willard’s teeth spew from his mouth in a rainbow of bloody mist during the first round.

Unbelievably, the fight lasted till the start of the 4th round when Willard failed to leave his corner. As Dempsey was crowned the new champion and went on to hold and defend that title for 6 years, the older beaten Willard slipped into retirement and only ever boxed again in exhibitions. Watch the video and see for yourself why this fight is one of the greatest ever fought.