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"All-Time Greats Of Boxing&qu/t;
book by Peter Arnold
supplied by the Lydon cousins
An exemplary career
Gene Tunney brought brains to boxing. He might almost have planned
his life in a business career-structure manner from the age of ten, when
he asked for a pair of boxing gloves for his birthday. All went very
well from there until he died a rich man in his eighties.
James Joseph Tunney was born on 25 May 1897 in Greenwich Village,
New York. Unlike most fighters, his was not a poor family. He did not
have to fight for a living, but he enjoyed it, studied all its arts,
particularly defense, and turned professional. After a few bouts he
joined the US Marines, served in France and became a services champion.
Back in civilian life he was undefeated until taking the world
light-heavyweight title from Battling Levinsky. In defending this
title, he suffered his only reverse, against the great middleweight
Harry Greb, a very rough customer called 'The Human Windmill.' Greb
gave Tunney such a beating that he was in bed for a week. It was a
measure of Tunney's thoroughness that he worked out how to beat Greb,
and did so on four subsequent meetings (Greb was to lose only four other
fights out of 294).
Gene worked his way through the heavyweight contenders, beating
Georges Carpentier and Tommy Gibbons, and was matched with the champion,
Dempsey, on 23 September 1926. The two men were almost identical in
height, weight and reach, but whereas Dempsey was a non-stop natural
attacking puncher, Gene was a pure boxer. He practiced boxing on the
retreat for Dempsey, and carried out his strategy perfectly, outpointing
his man in a rainsoaked ring at Philadelphia. It was not a popular
win. Gene's style being regarded as colorless compared with Dempsey's
Dempsey had been out of the ring for three years, and he and his
supporters were confident that he could get fitter and regain the
title. The return match almost a year later, on 22 September 1927, in
Chicago, attracted a second attendance of over 100,000. There were
record receipts, and Tunney's purse of $990,445 was the highest any
boxer received for a fight until television inflated prize money.
Tunney cleverly outfought Dempsey again until the famous seventh
round, when Dempsey's blows sent him crashing down to sit clinging to
the second rope with his left hand. Because of Dempsey's slowness to
move to a neutral corner the count was not taken up immediately and
Tunney was actually down for 14 seconds. Tunney recovered to win,
flooring Dempsey himself in the eighth, but the arguments started
immediately after the fight. Should Tunney have received his long rest,
and would the popular Dempsey have won otherwise? Millions of words
have been written on this most controversial 'Battle of the Long Count.'
Tunney always maintained he could have beaten the normal count, and
Dempsey 40 years later admitted as much himself. Tunney defended only
once more, against Tom Heeney of New Zealand. The match lost money for
the promoter. Gene's wife, an heiress, then achieved more success than
his parents had had when they tried to dissuade him from becoming a
professional boxer - she persuaded him to retire undefeated. He became
a successful businessman, and resisted attempts to get him to make a
comeback. He was interested in literature and enjoyed the friendship of
George Bernard Shaw. It was a good life, and in the fashion of
heavyweight champions, a long one. He died on 7 November 1978, aged 81.
Another of the colorful figures to emerge out of the Roaring 20s, Tunney didn't fit the mold of most fighters from that era. Instead, Tunney was an articulate working class gentleman, abstaining from alcohol and other vices that were the diet of other fighters during the era. He was a very scientific fighter, a guy who preferred to outbox an opponent rather than knock him out which didn't go over well with much of the fighting public of the time. Not blessed with great speed or strength, Tunney more than made up for this with his discipline and ability to discover his opponent's weakness, then exploit it at the opportune moment.
Born on 25 May 1897 in Greenwich Village, James Joseph Tunney was raised in a working class environment. He learned to fight in the streets and eventually joined the Greenwich Village Athletic Club. When WWI came he enlisted in the Marines which earned him the nickname "The Fighting Marine". By the war's end Tunney had become the Light Heavyweight Champion of the American Expeditionary Force.
He returned from France in 1919 and quickly worked his way up the Light Heavyweight rankings. He defeated Soldier Jones in the 7th rd on the undercard of the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier fight and soundly trounced Jack Burke in 3 a few months later. A points victory over the master boxer Battling Levinsky on 13 Jan gave Tunney the American Light Heavyweight title.
On 23 May 1922 Tunney ran into Harry Greb, the best Middleweight in the world. Greb was outweighed by 12 pounds, had a 5" height disadvantage, and was further handicapped by being blind in one eye and half-blind in the other. It didn't matter as Greb tore into Tunney like he had against his previous 228 sanctioned opponents. Tunney's nose was broken by the 1st punch of the fight, a left hook that he didn't see, and Tunney suffered severe cuts above both eyes by the end of the rd. In a fight that would be stopped in the 1st rd today, Tunney somehow was able to endure punishment for an additional 14 rds. "One half-conscious thought was burned in my mind: stay on your feet," he later wrote of that experience. Losing 2 quarts of blood and unable to see out of either eye, Tunney dropped the decision and the title.
Two days later, while still in the hospital recovering, Tunney posted bond for a rematch with Greb. Tunney and Greb would face each other an additional 4 times, with Tunney winning 2 on points, the other 2 being controversial NDs, gaining back his title in the 1st win. "Few human beings fought each other more savagely than Harry Greb and I. The 1st of the 5 [fights] is for me an enduring memory, a memory still terrifying." Tunney wrote.
Tunney stayed busy, defeating former World Light Heavyweight Champion Carpentier in a 15-rd knockout during Jul 1924 and handing Hall of Famer Tommy Gibbons his sole KO loss nearly a year later. His ND with Johnny Risko, a Heavyweight contender with whom he had no trouble, convinced Tunney to set his sights on the Heavyweight Championship.
That Championship was held by an idle Jack Dempsey, who had already signed to fight Harry Wills. But Tex Rickard, Dempsey's promoter, had no interest in fighting Wills because of his race, and instead decided he wanted Dempsey to fight Tunney. They fought during Philadelphia's sesquicentennial celebration on 23 Sep 1926, drawing a record 120,757 spectators. Tunney outboxed Dempsey, who opened as a 3-1 favorite and was clearly out of shape as a result of his playboy lifestyle, from the beginning bell until the final bell sounded. Having studied Dempsey on film, Tunney easily evaded his wild rushes and became the new Heavyweight Champion.
The rematch on 22 Sep 1927 would be a controversial one. It took place at Soldier Field before 102,000 fans who paid a record $2.6 million, with an additional 50 million radio listeners across the U.S. who listened to Graham McNamee's blow-by-blow commentary. The fight started out much like the 1st one, with Tunney jabbing and countering Dempsey's blows, the former Champion unable to brawl. In the seventh a right cross by Dempsey stunned Tunney. Sensing the chance, Dempsey exploded with several vicious punches and Tunney went down in a heap. Dempsey was not accustomed to the new rule which stated that the standing fighter must go to a neutral corner, and stood ready to pounce once Tunney stood up. It was several seconds before Ref Dave Barry got Dempsey to a neutral corner, then he started the count. An estimated 17 seconds passed between the knockdown and when Tunney stood, giving him precious time to recover his senses. He was able to stall and clinch his way through the round, and was fully alert by rd 8, when he even knocked Dempsey down. Tunney held off his final onslaughts and gained the decision, keeping his Championship in a fight still discussed today because of "The Long Count."
Tunney would defend his title only 1 more time, against the overmatched Tom Heeney on 26 Jul 1928 in New York. Tunney overwhelmed the bigger but slower challenger before the contest was stopped in the 11th round. Tunney, his senses intact and extremely wealthy, decided to retire from boxing, with a final record of 65-1-1, w/47 KOs, 19 ND, 1 NC. He would later stay in the limelight, marrying a heiress and enjoying a successful business career. He was inducted into the Int'l Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
---taken from the Internet Boxing Records Archive---
James Joesph Tunney was born May 25, 1897 in Greenwich Village, NY. He was not of poor
descent. His parents were working middle-class. He started boxing at a young age and then
enlisted into the USMC when WWI rolled around. In the service, he was given the nickname
"The Fighting Marine". He became the Light Heavyweight champ of the American
When he finished his service duties, he quickly came home to start his boxing career. He was
first noticed on the Jack Dempsey/Georges Chapentier card in Jersey City when Gene
defeated Soldier Jones. He later won the American Light Heavyweight crown by decisioning
Battling Levinsky, who at the time was considered to be tops in that division.
Gene Tunney's first, and only defeat, came at the hands of the skillful Harry Greb. Greb was
blind in one eye, outweighed by 12 pounds, and was 5" shorter than Tunney but still managed
to hand the "Fighting Marine" a fierce beating. Gene lost 2 quarts of blood that night, but still
finished on his feet. This started a 5-fight series between the two men. Gene won two by close
decision and two were No Contests. He won the title back on the first of those bouts.
Tunney moved on to beat Charpenteir by KO, Tommy Gibbons by KO, and he handily
decisioned heavyweight Johnny Risko. That was what led Gene to believe he could handle
boxing's big boys.
Jack Dempsey was heavyweight champ at the time and had a mandatory defense against
Harry Wills. Tex Ricard, Dempsey's promoter, saw more revenue in a Dempsey/Tunney match
than Dempsey/Wills. So on September 23, 1926 the two met in Philadelphia. Tunney used
slick boxing and strategic thinking to outmove the hard-swinging champion. In the end,
Tunney was awarded the championship by a unanimous decision.
They met again a year later at Solider Field in Chicago. The fight was almost a replay of the
first meeting as Tunney was outboxing Dempsey once more. This time however, Dempsey
found a way to unload his power on the chin of Tunney. He stunned Tunney in the seventh
round with a left hook and knocked him down with a straight right. Dempsey was not
accustomed to the new neutral corner rule and stood over Tunney, waiting for him to get up.
When ref Dave Barry finally got Dempsey to the corner, seven seconds had already passed
before he started his count of the fallen Tunney. Gene was able to regain his senses and was
ready to go on the count of 8. Tunney then eluded Dempsey and held onto his crown. That
fight was known as "The Long Count."
Gene Tunney went on to only fight once more, a TKO11 against Tom Heeney. With a clean bill
of health and money in the bank, Tunney decided to retire. His final record was 65-1-1 with
47KO's. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Tunney is considered to be the best Light Heavyweight of all time.
--from the WorldBoxing website--
Tunney, Gene (formerly James Joseph Tunney) (1897-1978), U.S. boxer, born in New York
City; retired from ring 1928; author of `A Man Must Fight' and `Arms for Living'; father of
John Varick Tunney (born 1934), U.S. senator from California 1971-77
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