ADAMWEINBERG: In 1923, artist George Bellows’ attended a boxing match on assignment for the New York Evening Journal. He made several drawings on which this painting is based. American writer George Plimpton describes the painting:
GEORGEPLIMPTON: It shows Firpo, the Argentinean boxer—quite untutored, almost an amateur—in what is considered one of the most dramatic moments in fistic history namely knocking the champion, Jack Dempsey, through the ropes. Dempsey was destroying Firpo when Firpo hit him with this left, as you can see and knocked him through the ropes. Dempsey was a killer. He was referred to as the Manassa Mauler and simply destroyed people in the ring with him. It’s the sort of painting that I think photography really does it now. It’s overdramatic, in this picture Dempsey was not a popular champion at all. He was famous for hitting low blows, hitting fighters when they were rising from the canvas. On this particular fight in the Polo Grounds everybody’s sitting there—Babe Ruth, all these people, dignitaries. Great courses in booze. And I think they really wanted Firpo, this great amateur, to take him out. He was that unpopular, Dempsey was. Somewhat romanticized here, in Bellows’ painting. Firpo looking like sort of a great god, looking indestructible tree-like limbs there, legs. And Dempsey of course looked like a beetle falling out of a tree here. But that wasn’t the way it turned out, at all.
ADAMWEINBERG: The fight lasted only four minutes—and Dempsey was declared the winner. But the moment that became boxing legend was the one commemorated in this painting, when Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring.