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raging bull    Raging Bull of La Pampa´s statistics:

40 fights

33 wins

33 by KO

6 losses

1 no show
“Dempsey eta Firpo”, George Wesley Bellows, 1924

What does a painting tell us? What is the story a painting tells? What is hidden behind a painting? That's what I ask myself when I stand in front of a painting. That's why I seldom go to museums. Millions of stories appear all of a sudden and my head explodes. I had to walk out of the National Gallery in London not so long ago. I like to say it was a case of Stendhal's Syndrome: beauty left me breathless. But that's not true. Those thousands of paintings, with the weight of the infinity of stories which they tell (layer by layer, shot by shot), made me leave the museum.

George Bellows painted Dempsey and Firpo in 1924. A few months before, on 14th September, 1923, what had been described as the "fight of the century" was held at New York's Polo Grounds Stadium with 80,000 spectators. The names on the posters were the US champion Jack Dempsey and the Argentinian Luis Angel Firpo.

In the first round the two boxers started sizing each other up. Dempsey, the arrogant favourite, danced around more than usual. Firpo had his feet glued to the canvas, immobile. Maybe too firm. The lefts Dempsey threw at him reached him too easily and Firpo protected his body with his fearful arms. During the first round Firpo hardly lifted his gaze above his opponent's chest. Defence. Defence. Dempsey was having fun. When Firpo looked at his opponent in the eyes for the first time his feet were rooted to the ground and, suddenly, his gave Dempsey a savage left straight on the jawbone. Dempsey lost his balance and took a step backwards. He didn't know what had happened. He hadn't seen it coming. He wasn't expecting it. He took another step to keep upright. It wasn't enough. With his third step backwards he felt that the canvas had disappeared from under his feet. He felt the rope around the ring on his back as he fell over it.

It was half way through the first round and for an endless instant the 80,000 spectators were silent.

Dempsey fell on top of the press table and got cut on a load of typewriters. Typewriters are dangerous weapons. Between 14 and 17 seconds had gone by since he'd left the ring. But the referee only counted 9. Dempsey, helped by the journalists, got up to the ring once more. Thanks to a 48 photograms per second, count Dempsey wasn't K.O. Firpo didn't win by K.O.

Dempsey got through the second round and knocked Firpo onto the canvas three times. After only 57 seconds had gone by Dempsey was proclaimed winner by k.o. Shouts and applause. Anger at Firpo's side of the ring. New York journalist Damon Runyon took his typewriter/weapon this next day and fired: he gave Firpo the moniker ¨Wild Bull of the Pampas¨.

Painter George Bellows chose the moment when Dempsey was punched out of the ring as the subject for what was to become his best-known painting. Unlike the statistics, art did give victory to the boxer who deserved it. The memory of the "fight of the century" will always be Dempsey falling out of the ring and Raging Bull on his feet.

post script

At that time the great Senegalese boxer Battling Siki reached NYC. A few years later he was founded murdered on the streets of Hell's Kitchen. But that's another story which has been hidden away in the basement of the boxers' museum.