D: Jack Dempsey & Michael Dempsey

The Wigan Peer

Jack Dempsey

There were wrestlers who looked as though they could wrestle, those who could wrestle and a few who could really wrestle.

Wrestle until it hurt.

Wigan's Jack Dempsey fell into the latter category. Those fortunate enough to see him in the ring were left in no doubt that here they were witnessing someone very special, a craftsman.Anyone  watching him in action was left in no doubt.  Their five shillings were not going to buy them colour, showmanship or acrobatics. Just pure wrestling. Jack Dempsey epitomised wrestlers of his age.  He was skilful, crafty, tenacious and very hard. Hard as nails. Nothing flash. For Jack Dempsey showmanship meant carrying a brighter than usual towel or wearing black trunks with a single white stripe. Not that he was a wrestler who would lower himself. He was a wrestler who didn't need gimmicks. Shown above with Ernie Riley, Francis Sullivan and Billy Joyce.

Born in 1920 Thomas Moore chose the ring name Jack Dempsey, Dempsey being his mother's maiden name. He was, of course taught by the great Billy Riley, and remained a regular trainer at  Riley's gymnasium long after his retirement from the ring in 1972.

When Eddie Capelli and Ken Joyce were claiming championship honours  whilst he was British champion Jack issued a challenge to any welterweight in the country.  Fair enough, but we can only think the idea of distributing leaflets  must have been at the insistence of the promoter. It just didn't seem Jack's  style to parade around the ring, shouting the odds and throwing his leaflets at the fans. 

By the early 1960s the age of  wrestlers like Jack Dempsey was drawing to a close and we saw the emergence of men such as Jim Breaks, Vic Faulkner and Jon Cortez, who were able to combine their wrestling skill with speed, acrobatics, excitement and charisma. The unkind might say that Jack had none of these, but that would be to miss the point entirely. Here was a master of many holds, a student of the Snakepit, who was able to apply his skill with a touch of genius, and relentlessly punish his opponents. The entertainment value of Jack Dempsey was watching him outwit and outclass opponents with sheer wrestling brilliance. Mind you, much though he was a 'real wrestler' and disliked the ever more outrageous gimmicks Jack was in every sense of the word a true professional, ever mindful of everything necessary to keep the sport popular with fans.   

In a gruelling match against the much more youthful Vic Faulkner their styles could hardly have differed more. The match in itself was a symbol of our changing world. Dempsey was a youth of the pre-war mining era, and Faulkner was  a youth of Harold Wilson's "White heat of technology." Dempsey, the wiley technician and master in wearing opponents down by consistently outwrestling them, against the young Faulkner who supplemented his wrestling skill with speed and acrobatic flair. They shared a wrestling heritage by both coming from the industrialised areas of South Lancashire. Both were skilful wrestlers, but the cornerstone of Dempsey's performance was to wrestle, whilst that of Faulkner was to entertain. It seems something of an anti-climax to admit to not remembering the result, but the match was one of those milestone events that could create in young fans an interest in wrestling that would endure for years to come.
Another memorable Dempsey bout was against Salford's Fred Woolley. Both were experienced technicians and shared a style that might suggest dullness. Nothing could have been further from the truth. They were both well past their best but at the end of an eight round draw the crowd were on their feet, cheering and showing their appreciation for the two men.

Old David told us that he witnessed a 10 x 5 minute round draw between Jack and Iron Jaw Joe Murphy, 'After watching this fifty minute matches who would dare believe that wrestling was not for real!'

For a wrestler the calibre of Jack Dempsey it seems discourteous to begin listing  individual highlights in such a long and illustrious career. Where would we begin? A win over Jackie Pallo at the Royal Albert Hall? Overcoming Mick Mcmanus for the British  welterweight crown? Establishing himself as undefeated welterweight champion with a win over Eddie Capelli? Dozens of championship successes as holder of  the British title at lightweight and combined  British and European welterweight titles at welterweight? Standing out even amongst his contemporaries at the Snakepit?

Here was a man whose chosen sport took him from the mining areas of South Lancashire to most of western Europe, though he was still criticised for wrestling infrequently in the south. A man who was as much at home winning a game of crown green bowls, listening to brass band music or enjoying a night at the opera or ballroom dancing.  He was most at home, though, in the ring . Jack was simply a wrestler through and through, a monarch of the mat. Truly a Wigan Peer.

Jack Dempsey died on 26th November, 2007.
Michael Dempsey
Towards the end of the 1970s there was a brief career for Wigan's middleweight, Mike Dempsey, mostly noted for being the son of the former welterweight champion, Jack Dempsey.

An Insider's View of Jack Dempsey

Eddie Rose remembers getting to grips with The Wigan Peer

I wrestled Jack Dempsey on quite a few occasions including a couple of bouts with his championship belt at stake. To be truthful, I probably outweighed him by a couple of stones and was fifteen years younger than him but he worked me as if I was an infant. He was tremendously fast over the very short distances in a ring.  He had amazing reflexes, he was as strong as a bull and his tactical brain worked like a computer (in the days before computers were really known). I once tried to Monkey Climb him. This was mistake and I realised as soon as I started. He had a disdainful look in his eye as I launched myself. He deflected me with ease, moved beside me, took me high in the air and floored me with a mighty Cornish Hype that knocked the wind out of me.

As I lay on the mat he leaned over, sweat dripping off his nose and eyes staring and told me quite sternly, "Tha doesn't Monkey Climb the f****** champion!" Lesson learned.

He was forthright and always spoke his mind. Not a man to make an enemy of but a good friend once he accepted you. Ian Wilson and me were greatly pleased, honoured even, when it was reported back to us by Jack Atherton that Jack Dempsey has said that we could both wrestle a bit and were not "sausage machine" wrestlers (his description). He once told us both off for taking his son Michael in a motorway services and spending his hard earned ring money on rubbish food.

Jack was Wigan through and through; tough, uncompromising, a dangerous foe but a good friend to those he accepted.

Page added 01/04/2007