Bennie C. Funderburk, a retired steamfitter who boxed Jack Dempsey in an exhibition match at the 5th Regiment Armory, died Tuesday of pneumonia at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Dundalk resident was 88.
"He had to be one of the last, if not the last fighter alive to have boxed with Jack Dempsey," said Ray Leonard, an official of Veteran Boxers Association Inc. International Ring 101.
On March 26, 1926, before a 5th Regiment Armory crowd of 6,000 that included then-Maj. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the secretary of war, Mr. Funderburk, then an Army boxer serving with the 52nd Ordnance at Curtis Bay, was one of 10 opponents Dempsey agreed to box in an exhibition match of two-minute rounds.
"I really didn't think he hit me hard," Mr. Funderburk said years ago, "but when I left the armory that night, when I looked at what should have been one street light, I saw a whole cluster of them."
After purchasing his discharge from the Army in 1927, Mr. Funderburk went to New York and became one of Dempsey's sparring partners.
"They were moving their fight camp to a place near Philadelphia from New York and while waiting for a train at Pennsylvania Station, Ben said to Dempsey, 'I'm too young and too good-looking to be knocked around like this,' so he quit and came back to Baltimore," his wife, the former Mildred Teague Sawyer, said.
They married in 1978.
He won the state and South Atlantic Association heavyweight championship titles in 1928 and turned professional during the Depression in 1932 when he scored a second-round knockout of Stalo Raggio, the Italian champion, in a match at Bugle Field. He retired from the ring in 1934.
Born and raised near Claxton, Ga., where he was educated, Mr. Funderburk went to work as a young man in a spinning mill in Columbus, Ga., where he became interested in boxing, putting on matches with other workers.
Private services will be held in Claxton.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Neal Funderburk of Morrisville, Pa.; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.