On this day in 1917, future heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey fought to a draw with Willie Meehan. Dempsey would emerge in the 1920s as one of the biggest sports’ stars in the world and remains one of the most iconic heavyweight champions. But during the apprentice portion of his career, Meehan was his toughest foe.
When they fought for the final time in 1918, Dempsey had established himself as a top heavyweight contender and was heavily favored. He had won 18 straight, 13 by knockout and 10 by first round knockout. But Meehan managed to pull off the upset. After that fight, Dempsey would not lose again until facing Gene Tunney in 1926.
In five fights against Meehan, Dempsey went just 1-2-2. All five of the fights were four rounders.
Looking back across the decades, it seems nearly impossible to believe that Meehan consistently proved to be such a tough foe for the ferocious Manassa Mauler. Dempsey was a rock-solid, 190-pound wrecking machine. Meehan’s nickname was “Fat Boy..” In his biography of Dempsey, Ring Magazine founding editor Nat Fleischer referred to Meehan as “pure hog fat.”
Yet Meehan was a tough, hard-nosed fighter, typical of the era he fought in. He turned professional at the age of 15, fighting as a flyweight. Eschewing road work and other traditional training, he ate whatever he wanted and over the years blew up to a rotund heavyweight.
Meehan may not have been an impressive physical specimen, but he was clearly a crafty fighter and he faced the best of his era. Among the greats he battled were Harry Greb, Harry Wills, Billy Miske and Tommy Gibbons. Dempsey was not the only legend he managed to beat. In 1919 he won a four-round decision from Sam Langford, one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
For his career, Meehan was 83-29-38 with just 20 KOs. However, he spent the 1920s serving as a punching bag, going just 4-16-2 to finish his career.