Lee Groves

10: Notable Valentine’s Day fights

2. 1918 – Jack Dempsey KO 1 Fireman Jim Flynn II, Fort Sheridan, Illinois

When “The Manassa Mauler” stood across the ring from Flynn moments before the rematch, he knew he had much to prove. One year and one day earlier Flynn had scored a one-round knockout that to this day has been shrouded in controversy. One reason for suspicion was that a 38-year-old journeyman who had lost five consecutive bouts – including two straight by early knockout – wasn’t supposed to blast out a 21-year-old rising star in a single round. But another reason was more sinister, that gamblers supposedly had offered Dempsey $500 to take a dive and that the perennially cash-strapped fighter accepted it.

Dempsey always denied the allegations, blaming his bad showing on an injury to his right thumb while setting up bowling pins a few days before the fight and his lack of a proper warm-up in the dressing room. Even details of the fight were murky; some accounts said Flynn scored a first-punch knockout within 30 seconds while Dempsey said he was knocked down three times before the fight was stopped at the two-minute mark. No matter how it happened, the phrase “KO by 1” forever stained Dempsey’s record, if not his reputation.

Since their strange initial encounter Dempsey acquired a new manager – Jack “Doc” Kearns – and after going 2-2-3 in his next seven fights he won his next six. On the other hand the aged Flynn had fought just once, losing a 10-round newspaper decision to journeyman Bob Devere 11 months earlier.

With fire in his eyes Dempsey tore after Flynn and did what many people thought he should have done the first time around. A smashing right to the ribs hurt Flynn badly and within 70 seconds Dempsey had avenged what eventually became the only knockout loss of his career. The knockdowns he suffered against Flynn 13 months earlier would be the last he’d incur until the opening moments of the Luis Angel Firpo fight in 1923 and the depth and breadth of his subsequent accomplishments would largely obscure what had occurred back in 1917. Still, the vengeance-filled rematch with Flynn stood as boxing’s Valentine’s Day Massacre until the final fight on this list took its place.

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