In June of 1925, midway point of the decade that roared, few things in American life were more popular than boxing – and no boxer transfixed fans like Jimmy Slattery. Sleek, handsome, only twenty, Slattery took New York City by storm, bursting into rarified territory as the fight game’s crown prince.

Tex Rickard, maestro of Madison Square Garden and creator of champions, had declared Slattery to be the finest boxer he had ever seen and was steering the light heavyweight toward a shot at Jack Dempsey’s heavyweight title. That same month, the Chicago Tribune ran a multi-installment feature on Slattery, “The Boy Who Has Everything,” syndicated in newspapers around the country. In the series, the native son of Buffalo, N.Y., was heralded as a coming champion by virtue of his uniquely complete weapons collection – a hard punch, blazing speed, clever defense, dazzling footwork and ring intelligence bordering on wizardry – a blessing of talents that led famed sportswriter Hype Igoe to dub Slattery “the darling of the boxing gods.” Probably fifty boxing writers were working in New York City right then – and virtually all of them predicted Slattery would add poundage, graduate to heavyweight and win the title, likely within a year or two.

Dempsey himself had conceded as much. On an extended and unpopular hiatus from ring activities, Dempsey referred to Slattery as “the fellow who will take my crown.” The unexpected remark was widely repeated in newspapers around the country during Slattery’s dizzying springtime ascension.

Meanwhile, the boy prodigy was being fawned over by former heavyweight champion James J. Corbett, one the most famous living Americans. Iconic symbol of the Gay ‘90s, popular vaudeville performer, lecturer and a widely read boxing commentator, Corbett had followed Slattery’s rise from the time he first emerged as a gangling welterweight. “Slattery is the most perfect fighting machine I ever saw,” Corbett said in one newspaper interview. In June of ‘25, Corbett told the Associated Press “it would not surprise me if Slattery succeeded Dempsey as ruler of the heavyweight division.”

Fans had never seen anyone like Slattery. He was a ghost; no one could lay a glove on him. With his statuesque physique and dark hair slicked back, Slattery more resembled a silent movie star than a pugilist. He fought in a fast, fluid, totally unique manner – arms dangling loose at his sides, dancing on his toes, avoiding punches with a deft tilt of the head before snapping his right like a cobra. Slattery’s sheer artistry left the hardboiled men at ringside mesmerized and the old-timers convinced they had just seen the second-coming of Corbett.

Earlier that spring, Slattery, arriving in Boston for a fight, was met at the train station by a fan delegation which included a brass band. Appearing on one of Rickard’s all-star boxing cavalcades held in May of ’25, Slattery by far shined the brightest. The spectacular fashion in which he knocked his opponent somersaulting across the ring jolted the sell-out throng into a tizzy and remained the talk of New York for days. Considered so far ahead of everybody else in the game, Slattery drew comparisons to Man O’ War. When he fought in Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth sat ringside.

The metropolitan area’s famous warm-weather boxing season was only just heating up. Rickard and rival promoter Humbert Fugazy were scrambling to sign Slattery to appear on their outdoor cards. Because of his tender years, not yet 21, Slattery, under New York State law, couldn’t participate in bouts longer than six rounds. Realizing that over a short distance the Buffalo speed boy was invincible, top contenders unapologetically steered clear. Fugazy was having trouble finding a suitable opponent – no one wanted to fight Slats. And yet no program was complete without Slattery on it. Fugazy would have settled for anybody he could find, even a glorified sparring partner. Gotham fans so badly wanted to see the kid in action, the opponent was inconsequential.

“Perhaps there is nothing paralleling Slattery in all the archives of Fistiana,” wrote Ed Hughes of the New York Telegraph. “Slattery in a remarkably short space of time rose to the heights of ring glory without being knocked off his feet.”

Amidst the onslaught of publicity and adulation, Slattery personified the riotous pace of the era. Flush with tens of thousands in ring earnings, naturally magnetic, always smiling, Slats pursued leisurely activities with volcanic intensity, whether racing around in his Ford, playing a game of football, competing in a dance marathon or staying out all night in an anything-goes speakeasy. Manager and mentor Red Carr, an ex-boxer and veteran of the Great War, kept devising new ways to keep his boy from careening out of control. Two childhood pals, Skitsy Fitzgerald and Joe Hickey, served as Slattery’s faithful corner men and formed the nucleus of an entourage that came to include their large waterfront gang, assorted sycophants, hangers on and endless female admirers.

That spring, Slattery was a comet, the rage of a nation. Never was anyone so assuredly fated for ring supremacy. His high-flying catapult ride had been set into motion five years earlier by a fairly ordinary occurrence: two teenage boys squaring off on a South Buffalo street corner.