Jack Dempsey vs Billy Miske (lost radio report of boxing match; 1920)
On 6th September 1920, Jack Dempsey defended his World Heavyweight Championship against Billy Miske in Benton Harbor. In what would mark Dempsey's first title defence, as well as his third bout with Miske, the champion would come out on top by securing a KO 1:13 into the third round. The bout also has radio significance, as it was the first boxing match to receive radio coverage, in the form of "fight returns".
Heading into the bout, Dempsey had yet to defend his World Heavyweight Championship, which he won from Jess Willard on 4th July 1919. He and Miske had previously fought twice in 1918. On 3rd May, the pair fought in a ten-round match that ended with Dempsey winning via decision. Dempsey and Miske also collided on 28th November. It again ended in Dempsey winning by decision after six rounds, despite Miske's good third round peformance after securing an uppercut to Dempsey's jaw, although the latter controlled proceedings for the remaining rounds. The encounters were summarised as being exceptionally close and brutal, both of which Dempsey narrowly won in the end.
Unbeknownst to some, Miske had only a few years left to live. In 1916, he was diagnosed with Bright's disease, a condition which causes inflammation of the kidneys, particularly within the areas producing urine. Overtime, it can cause bleeding in the urine, fatigue, excessive sweat and loss of proteins required within the urine stream. This in turn can cause death by producing blood clots, typically triggering strokes or heart attacks. Back then, Bright's disease was a terminal illness, and Miske's doctor predicted he had just five years to live providing he retired from boxing. Miske eventually did so in 1920, turning his attentions towards running a car dealership. However, he would quickly become broke, the dealership losing around $55,000 in just five months. Desperate for money, Miske made a comeback and challenged Dempsey for the belt. Dempsey accepted his friend and long-term rival's challenge, with Miske guaranteed at least $25,000 for the bout.
The Fight and Radio Broadcast
The bout took place on 6th September 1920, with around 11,346 in attendance at the Floyd Fitzsimmons Arena in Benton Harbor. The match generated $134,904 at the gate, with Dempsey receiving half the revenue, and Miske a quarter of it. As per Michigan State law, Miske could only win the title via KO. A preview by The New York Times deemed Dempsey the favourite, noting he was fully fit for the match and believing Miske had only an outside chance of achieving victory. Most experts believed Dempsey would win by KO, although it should be noted Miske had never lost by KO heading into the clash. In pre-bout interviews, Dempsey emphasised his fitness, stating he was confident he could achieve a KO on Miske although noted the fight would be difficult. Meanwhile, Miske also expressed he was in tip-top shape, and insisted "I am ready to put up the fight of my life."
In reality, Dempsey dominated the fight. The champion recognised that Miske was performing well below standards, stating "During the fight, I began to feel that Billy wasn't giving me as tough a battle as I had expected. He did not seem like his old self." Nevertheless, Miske survived the first round, as Dempsey debated on whether to secure a quick KO or cut through his opponent over the next few rounds to protect the title's legitimacy. Dempsey was unable to secure anything aside from a powerful body blow to Miske in Round 1, but secured a knockdown in the second. Miske ultimately rose to his feet after a count of five, and survived another round despite being clearly shaken and experiencing perhaps the first instance of him being truly hurt in the ring. Ultimately, Dempsey closed his eyes in Round 3, enduring a left hook to the jaw before stunning Miske with a left punch. This enabled him to secure what would be the knockout right punch after 1:13. It was the only recorded instance of Miske losing via KO. Dempsey later explained that "I knocked him out because I loved the guy", praising his friend for being "as brave that day as any fighter I ever met."
The bout was not known to have received live radio coverage, as Detroit News' 8XK lacked a ringside announcer. However, the station did provide radio history by providing "fight returns" as stated by the 4th September 1920 issue of Detroit News. The 6th September issue reported that the radiophone would continually air progress surrounding the bout, with the announcements being spread across 300 wireless stations. Having spread the match result announcement thirty seconds after radio stations gained word of it, the radiophone notably beat traditional bulletin board reports in announcing this by about 30 minutes. Despite receiving a large payment for the match, Miske would end up bankrupt soon afterwards and continued fighting throughout 1921. He made another return in 1923, seeking one more large cheque for his family before he passed away. He ended up beating Bill Brennan on 7th December 1923, earning $2,400 for his family. He passed away on New Year's Day 1924, aged 29. Meanwhile, Dempsey successfully defended his title until he finally lost it to Gene Tunney on 23rd September 1926. He would retire from the ring after losing a rematch to Tunney on 22nd September 1927.
Ultimately, the radiophone reports occurred during a period where recordings of radio broadcasts were exceptionally rare. It was mainly because of impracticality, as one needed to utilise acetate or lacquer discs to record sound, the process being extremely impractical in sporting events typically held outside radio studios. The earliest recording of a radio broadcast is disputed, although none have survived prior to a recording of President Warren Harding on 24th May 1922. According to research by the National Archives, the oldest surviving regular radio broadcast is Woodrow Wilson's Armistice Day Speech in 1923. Thus, all radio broadcasts beforehand, including the Dempsey-Miske bout coverage, are deemed to be permanently missing. Nevertheless, photos of the fight are easily accessible.
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- Southwest Michigan Directory summarising the bout and noting its radio significance. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- Early Radio History providing the issues of Detroit News reporting on the fight receiving "fight returns" on the radio. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- International Boxing Hall of Fame summarising Dempsey's career. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- BoxRec detailing Dempsey's fights. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- Billy Miske providing a detailed account of the boxer's career. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- Harry Greb page summarising the latter stages of Miske's career, including his battle with Bright's disease and his third match against Dempsey. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- University of Leeds explaining Bright's disease. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- 6th September 1920 issue of The New York Times providing a preview of the match. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- BoxRec detailing Miske's fights. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- 7th September 1920 issue of The New York Times reporting on Dempsey winning the bout. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- Ngā Taonga noting most early-1920s airings were never recorded. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- Benjamin S. Beck detailing various examples claiming to be the earliest surviving radio broadcast. Retrieved 14th Dec '22
- National Archives stating the oldest surviving radio broadcast is Woodrow Wilson's Armistice Day Speech from 1923. Retrieved 14th Dec '22