April 30, 1928: Sharkey vs Delaney

The day after the fight, James A. Farley, Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, states there will be a full investigation. Prior to the match, Farley heard rumours of a possible fix. He informed both Sharkey and Delaney they would be thrown out of the ring should there be anything strange about either man’s actions.

A popular fighter with good looks and a graceful style, the French-Canadian Jack Delaney (born Ovila Chapdelaine) had just the year prior relinquished his light-heavyweight championship to make a run for the heavyweight crown. On February 18, 1927, he was matched against another heavyweight contender, Jimmy Maloney, the winner to face the current champ, Gene Tunney.

Jack Sharkey

Delaney was favoured to win easily against Maloney, but in the end lost by decision after ten rounds. This may have had something to do with the fact his vaunted right hand, his primary weapon, had been broken just prior to the fight. He injured it throwing a punch at a railroad porter during a three-day bender. Delaney swung at the porter, missed, and hit the train instead, fracturing the hand. He didn’t let anybody know, just went ahead with the fight … and lost.

This was the side of Jack Delaney unknown to his many fans and the sportswriters of the day, the dark cloud that hung over him. He was an alcoholic of the worst kind, with a tendency to disappear for days, everything lost in blackout madness. It had got hold of him at a young age, but his handlers had learned to control it. His training camps were held out in the country, a strict no-alcohol rule set for everyone on site.

But by 1928, Delaney is losing his grip. The fight against Jack Sharkey sees the Boston sailor favoured by three to one over Delaney, who enters the ring in soft shape and 14 lbs lighter than Sharkey. Yet the crowd is still peppered with the wild women known as “Delaney’s Screaming Mamies”, and once again a title fight with Tunney hangs in the balance.

Delaney before the fight.

There is still something to move toward, something to reach for, something to look out at. Yet when the bell rings, Delaney stands stock still and stares blankly back at his own corner, confused. He is drunk, wasted.

Sharkey doesn’t know what to do. The ref instructs him to come forward, and so Sharkey does, working a jab. Another jab, then swings big but misses with the right. Delaney is bobbing a bit, timid, wobbling and Sharkey just comes forward, body shots and then a left-right to the face and Delaney goes down quickly.  He is up just as fast though, before the count gets started and then he’s running, hiding, wavering, blind. Is he in the ring, or is it the train yard again? Big steel rolling toward him and he’s caught in the lights.

Sharkey rushes in, gets him in the body, then two to the head and Delaney’s down again. Mouth wide open, eyes like marbles. The count goes to nine and somehow Delaney works himself back to his feet, pushing himself up with his gloves.  His mouthpiece isn’t even in right, sticking out the side of his mouth like some wonky rubber cigarette. Blood weeping out of all the holes in his head. He comes forward though, takes one weak little charge toward Sharkey and walks right into the uppercut which puts him down for the third and final time. Delaney crawls around the ring like a child while the referee counts him out. The whole thing lasts just over a minute. The crowd is enraged and calls fix.

But look at the picture of Delaney taken the day of the fight. His eyes have not the sideways shift of the cheat, nor do they look upward, feigning innocence. Instead they are out of focus, gazing a few feet in front of him. Blasted eyes, staring out but seeing nothing. He avoids looking into the camera not because he feels guilty, but because he is drunk, lost, his mind like dark paper folding over on itself.

The New York State Athletic Commission’s investigation turned up no evidence of a fix. The fight against Sharkey was Delaney’s final chance at a title shot, the last important fight of his career. He retired not long after with a record of 77-12-2.

So it was a sudden rise and fall for Jack Delaney. But while he was at the top, he had a right hand that made the stars come out. And they called him “Bright Eyes” and the women would howl.     – David Como

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2 thoughts on “April 30, 1928: Sharkey vs Delaney

  • April 30, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Excellent article.Love reading these.So how much footage is out there of Delaney and how good was he really?


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