I started thinking of some of the fights where it seemed the fight was over when the beaten fighter came back to win the fight.
I thought back to two of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey’s fights.

Dempsey, 58-6-8, in two of his last four fights there were a pair of comebacks. One he won and one he lost.

In September of 1923 heavyweight champion Dempsey, 56-5-2, faced from Argentina named Luis Firpo, 25-2, who was a ranked contender and second biggest draw in boxing outside of Dempsey.

Promoter Tex Ricard matched them against one another at the Polo Grounds in New York before 80,000 in attendance. The fans saw one of the wildest, most fearsome slugfests in the history of championship boxing. From the opening bell, they charged at one another when Firpo landed the first punch to the body, and Dempsey’s knees buckled, and they barely touched the canvas.

Before the referee could start to count he went after Firpo landing a left hook driving him to the canvas. He got up and was dropped to the canvas a second time. Before the round was over Firpo was down five times.

Fighting on instinct, Firpo rushed the champion to the ropes, landing a monstrous haymaker that caught Dempsey on the jaw.

Senseless Dempsey fumbled against the ropes limp. Firpo gave him a slight shove, and out of the ring, Dempsey went onto the press table. As the referee began his count, either he was pushed back in or got back into the ring on his own as the round ended. In the second round, Dempsey came back after being out of the ring to score a pair of knockdowns, ending the fight.

A year later, in September of 1924, he lost his title to Gene Tunney, 78-1-3, former light heavyweight champion. A year later, in the seventh round, Dempsey knocked Tunney to the canvas. Dempsey had a habit of standing over his fallen opponents and would again hit them if they went to their feet. Under a new rule, the referee kept motioning Dempsey to a neutral corner.

An additional five seconds went by before he did what would later be called “the long count!” Fans said if he had gone to the corner when he was ordered, he would have regained his title by stoppage. Some fourteen seconds went by with Tunney on the canvas. He would go on to win a decision to retain his title.

In modern times I remember watching WBA Welter champion Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, 32-0, in September of 1981 in Las Vegas meet WBC champion “Sugar” Ray Leonard, 30-1.

Hearns was well ahead of Leonard after thirteen rounds by scores of 124-122, 125-122 and 125-121. There was no way for Leonard to win except by stoppage against the unbeaten Hearns.

At 1:45 of the fourteenth round, Leonard had Hearns defenseless when the referee came to his rescue and called a halt in favor of Leonard. It was Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year.

Again in the month of September, this time in 1952, at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium when heavyweight champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott, 49-18-1, defended his title against Rocky Marciano, 42-0.

After twelve rounds Walcott was ahead in rounds 7-4, 8-4 and 7-5 with Marciano needing a knockout to win. The punch that ended the fight from Marciano is legendary as his right hand hit Walcott so hard his entire face was distorted at 0:43 of the thirteenth round, and out he was.

Hank Cisco was in the Marciano stable and years later as a referee he told me he entered the dressing room of Walcott’s after the fight and heard the ring physician say “this man should never fight again. The first time he is hit he will be knocked out!” Seems from my memory he said there was a bone broken under an eye of Walcott’s.

Rumored Walcott was controlled by the mob, and they put him back in with Marciano some eight months later probably betting a bundle on Marciano. At 2:25 of the first round, Marciano knocked Walcott out!

I’m sure the many fans out there have memories of their own “comeback” fights, so let’s hear your comments!

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