Updated: Sep 6
In the science fiction/historical fiction/fantasy mashup IT GIVES YOU STRENGTH, the fictional characters interact with historical figures of the prohibition era. One of the main protagonists is fictional World War One hero turned bootlegger Major Mike Kelly (ret.). In the novel, the reader learns that Major Kelly has dreamed of being a heavyweight prizefighter for most of his life. In Kelly's mind, he certainly has the ability and the desire. Kelly needs the man and the opportunity.
Kelly's "man and opportunity" arrives in legendary pugilist, Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey. Men with lesser vision would not see the possibility of stepping into the ring with Dempsey as an opportunity, but Kelly does.
By way of background, most of the novel occurs from May to September 1926. In August 1926, Dempsey had been the heavyweight boxing champion since 1919. Nevertheless, Kelly firmly believes that since many of Dempsey's sparring partners had gone on to have very successful boxing careers in their own right, Kelly will too. If only he could spar with Dempsey. Of course, that was how Kelly saw it in his plan. In reality, few concrete examples supported Kelly's dream.
Before becoming the Middleweight Champion, Harry Greb had sparred with Dempsey, and according to a Washington Post article, Greb split Dempsey's lip so severely that Dempsey spit blood for the remainder of their session. Indeed, Greb more than held his own, and Dempsey reportedly was injured just two days before his heavyweight fight with Johnny Miske. After sparring with Dempsey, Harry Greb went onto fight Gene Tunney five times and even went the distance with Tunney twice. Greb had his own very successful career in the middleweight division. Certain boxing publications also speculated that, after sparring Greb, Jack Dempsey refused to give Greb a heavyweight title match. Of course, it's more likely Dempsey never gave Greb a Heavyweight Title fight, because of their vast difference in size. Dempsey was a Heavyweight. Greb was a middleweight.
Before New Orleans born Irishman Martin Burke fought Gene Tunney for the Heavyweight Championship, Burke was a Dempsey sparring partner. Burke fought Tunney twice, losing both fights. Following his retirement, Burke publicly stated that his period sparring with Jack Dempsey was much tougher than either title fight against Gene Tunney.
Many boxing experts believe that Big Bill Tate could have been a heavyweight championship contender in his own right, had Tate not chosen to devote his career to his friend and faithful sparring partner, Dempsey. Tate appeared on the undercard in several of Dempsey's fights, and Tate had many outstanding victories in his own right.
The widely reported "success" of these former Dempsey sparring partners, leads Major Kelly to conclude that a session with Dempsey is his first step into boxing greatness. Does the fictional bootlegger Major Mike Kelly (ret.) spar with the iconic Jack Dempsey? If so, does the major's plan work out the way that he planned! These and many other important life questions are answered in the novel.
© 2020, Philip Raymond Brown. Author of IT GIVES YOU STRENGTH Philiprbrown33@gmail.com