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Material on this page:
"All-Time Greats Of Boxing" book 1987
"Liberty" magazine article "Gene Tunney-Then and Now" 1931
"Gene Tunney-the fighter who quit with a million" 1956
"Was Gene Tunney the finest boxer who ever lived?"1981
"Self-Defense Photo Album" magazine article 1928
"Come Out Fighting" 1946
"Ten And Out!" 1927
"It Happened Thirty Years Ago in Soldier's Field" 1957
"All-Time Greats Of Boxing"
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.
"Liberty" magazine article
"Gene Tunney-Then and Now"
Feb 18, 1931
by Paul Gallico
supplied by the Lydon cousins
A Comparison by One Who Knew Him - Now and Then
By Paul Gallico, Sports Editor and Sports Columnist of "The News", New York
There was then the pungent odor of liniments and rubbing lotions
likely to be present almost any time - it is, as a matter of fact, never
absent when you are around fighter's training quarters - the smell of
sweaty clothes, and wet, soggy leather; but above all there was the
presence of crawly people, with shifty, mean eyes or cruel mouths,
people whose breath always reeked of garlic or onions, whose fingernails
were edged with dirt, and whose unique privilege it was to walk in upon
him at any hour of the day or night, finger his muscles, breathe in his
face, and press their clammy hands in his because they were all in the
There is now only the odor exuded by pine and maple and birch
standing on sloping ridges, the faint tang of salt that rides on the
winds that sweep in from the Sound, and the scent of fresh rain on
fallen, matted leaves. And it must be considerable comfort to Tunney to
know that his home is so far off the main pike, so well hidden, so many
miles down winding dirt and rock roads that the mob never could find it
if they wanted to, and if they did they probably would be supremely
uncomfortable in the presence of so much that was clean, neat, and
Then and now. The champion who retired - not when his feet walked
jigglety-joggle against his will and when his thoughts suddenly drifted
off into dim, swirling fogs and came out jumbled and strange to be
spoken huskily through thickened lips, but strong, young, virile,
mentally alert, and practically unscarred. Young, strong, in love, a
millionaire, happily married, happy. The last is the thing that they
will never forgive him. As long as he is happy and out of their reach,
that hatred and jealousy will be the only bridge between the then of the
young prize fighter who became champion by licking the greatest mauling
slugger in the world, and the now of the quiet, stalwart fellow with the
gray-blue eyes, the short blond hair, the loose tweed clothing that
hangs about his frame, the ex-champion who lives with his wife over back
of Stamford way.
Now, when I think of Gene Tunney in the light of the past, of his
early fights, of the fellow I used to see training for ring battles and
sitting around with the mob, of the struggling pug, the rising champion,
the defendant in litigation, I think unavoidably of some magnificent
animal trapped in a bog.
And watching some such animal in his struggles to escape one does
not stop to consider how he got there or what fate he deserves; there is
only a sense of pity and fascination as the terrible wrenching for
freedom takes place. And yet, to your horror, you thrill with some
unacknowledged satisfaction as the fighting animal is trapped and
retrapped. Yes, indeed, you want to see it get away, but what right has
it to be fighting such a glorious fight, to pit its strength so bravely
against all nature? And then he's away. Clean out of it! And you're
damned glad, and a little proud that you are glad.
These are, however, all elementary emotions and have nothing to do
with the merits of the case, the animal, or the bog. And so I think of
Gene Tunney today. Boxing pictured as slough and mire is conventional,
but Tunney's escape is not. And it gives me the same emotional
reaction, because I witnessed the struggle.
The most physical and brutal thing in the world is the life of a
prize fighter. His carcass is of paramount importance to him. He
spends weeks, months, years training his muscles to respond and keep
responding even when the mind has been slugged into oblivion. He lives
with his body and by his body. His arms and legs are his weapons; he
builds himself a fortress of meat and fiber over his belly. His chin by
the grace and accident of its construction becomes either a symbol in
oak or iron or rock of indestructibility, or a newspaper joke wherein it
is likened to glass, china, or any of the plaster compositions. There
is no part of him that does not likewise belong to the public and about
which there may not be public discussion. The public in exchange for
its interest at the box office demands to know his temperature, his
weight, the success of his eliminations, every single thing connected
with his body. The office psychologist will tear off an occasional
piece on his mental condition, but what the mob wants to know is whether
he is in shape or not.
This necessary physical perfection may be acquired pleasantly
enough in the summer tramping country roads, skipping rope and punching
the bag on outdoor platforms, but in the winter it is won in stinking
gymnasiums, where sanitary conditions are unspeakable, where the air is
poisoned by the presence of an unwashed rabble, where the mats are laden
with filth and the canvas ring covering a blight.
Privacy there is none. He is at the beck of news hounds and
photographers, drunk or sober, who make their living out of him, and the
fight managers, and the promoters, and the seconds and bottlemen, and
the rubbers and trainers, and fixers, and politicians, and gamblers.
These are all his masters, his guardians, and his constant attendants.
They depend upon the fighter to keep them alive the way the component
parts of an engine depend in the final analysis upon the fuel to move
them. It is, my friends, a swinish existence.
I have been outlining to you a system of which Gene Tunney was once
a part. The Gene Tunney of then, the "high-hat-son-of-a-you-know who
thought he was too good for his racket." And which last one must admit,
standing off and viewing the whole business from the perspective of his
two years' retirement, he undeniably was.
None of the rats who infest boxing's sewers can see beyond the
length of their own gray whiskers, their greedy little noses, their
carnal appetites, and their chances of escape when cornered. The
leading of an intensely physical life tends to turn one to pleasures as
intensely physical in moments of relaxation. The average pug, when he
lets down, gets roaring drunk or takes to sitting up all night pounding
night-club tables with little wooden mallets, reaching hungrily for the
powdered nakedness of the girls who march by, pastimes not in themselves
discreditable, or to be entirely scorned, but it is the only relaxation
that the average bum knows.
When Tunney first emerged from that background with his ambitious
but pitifully stilted vocabulary, his yearning for sunlit places and
softer cadences, his monkish ideals and bookish ways, there he was,
thrust out like the proverbial bandaged thumb.
He did all the things that the other fighters did. He beat his
rataplan on the light pear-shaped bag, he chugged his leather-protected
fists into the canvas sack filled with sand, he ran the road and did his
floor work, he dissected spar mates in all the public laboratories, and
performed as opportunity presented in the various public abattoirs. He
knocked over bums provided by the management and he took his lickings.
But there he stopped. When it came to joining the rest of the pigs in
the sty at their wallowings, he turned to strange and esoteric pleasures
- intelligent conversation and reading. There was certainly no one in
the fight game with whom one could talk anything but two prevailing
topics, of which one was fighting, and so he turned to finer people.
That was Gene Tunney then - in the years of his ring warfare, as I
knew him and saw him in the gymnasiums, in Chicago, at Speculator, and
as I criticized him for not conforming to the official sewer standards.
He was, at the beginning, a hapless, feckless, tactless, blundering
fellow, badly managed, badly advised, miscast, gauche, caustic,
snobbish; but his head was up and already his struggle to liberate
himself had begun. His back was arched, his muscles taut, and one foot
was already free of the swamp.
But how the mob rooted for him to get caught again! Well, there
you have Homo sapiens. Against the background of the fight mob, the boy
with his ideals and ambitions looked like a phony. They couldn't
understand him. And everybody but a few real people with whom he was
coming into contact were pulling for him - to be proven one. "Look at
him, using big words, hanging around with college professors, reading
books, pulling a lot of gags on Shakespeare, going off by himself to
read, going tramping with authors and white-collar guys. Oh, what
Dempsey won't do to you!"
His culture was raw and half-baked. He used long words and with
the wrong meaning. The delights and stimulations of fine books were so
new and powerful to him that he could no more keep them to himself than
a small boy can keep from bragging about the swell fishing hole he has
found. "The high-hat so-and-so! A lot of guys come up here to see him
and he's off on an island reading a book. Huh!" The answer is so
simple (now) that one wonders how it escaped one before. The schools
and colleges are full of Tunneys, but nobody ever notices them. . . . It
was the background that made the standout.
Tunney was simply a freshman, and the freshman in school is looked
upon with pity and scorn as a necessary evil, but not without sympathy
and understanding. Given time he will grow up into a sophomore, which,
if you ask me, is the more terrible animal of the two, and given more
time he will eventually attain the dignity of the senior and a fraction
of sense. All of the freshman's yearnings and callowness and ambitions
and desires are catalogued and recognized, and he is generally
segregated in his own dormitory, identified by a particular uniform, so
that he will not be taken advantage of and gold-bricked by the first
person he meets.
To stretch the analogy for just one more paragraph if you will, the
frosh with his dinky cap, his black or green string necktie, his pimples
and his blackheads, is a part of the mise en scene of every campus. But
take the same fellow on the corner of Broadway and Fiftieth Street, or
Park Row, or Bridge Plaza, and he becomes a little conspicuous - as
conspicuous as Tunney was with his naive freshman knowledge painted
pinkly against the background of a game operated largely by criminals
for their amusement and gain.
An evening of fight managers or sparring partners or any of the
dopes connected with professional fist fighting goes a long way with me,
and I suspect, after the novelty has worn off, it would with you too.
The old Dempsey camps were magnificent social cross-sections of
vulgarity and brutality. Phonographs brayed, spar mates brawled, the
champ played pinochle or rough-housed, frowsy blondes got themselves
into the picture in the nighttime.
And then, one pleasant afternoon in 1928, Tunney, then the
heavyweight prize-fighting champion of the world and a millionaire, very
neatly severed himself from his background, and provided himself with a
new one against which he vanished quietly, effectively, and completely -
as effectively as a puma against a desert hillock. He married a lovely
and intelligent girl of fine family, stepped in front of the back drop
of her life and the life of cultured, shy, and intelligent people - and
vanished, like a magician's trick. He fits. He no longer stands out.
He belongs. He became the Gene Tunney of now.
He lives with Polly Lauder Tunney in a wandering white Colonial
farmhouse perched on a glacial ridge in the woods many miles back of
Stamford. The road runs back country, scenic-railway style, over the
giant furrows plowed by the last visit of the great ice cap, through
wild stretches where, if you go quietly, you will suddenly come upon a
white signal tail raised in alarm and then see its owner, a young buck
or fawn, bound stiff-legged away. If you have no one to show you the
way you won't find it.
The road runs past lovely old houses and glimpses of hidden waters;
it is companion to a brook for a mile or so and then leaves it to begin
a climb that carries it along the face of a crest, and here, a little
back from the narrow path, sits the old farmhouse. It is a temporary
residence. Behind it the ridge still rises, thickly wooded, and there,
deep, sequestered, and high, the Tunneys will some day build their
permanent home. From it they will look over the wood as it falls away
to the blue Sound, and the Sound itself, and on clear days to a distant
haze that will be Long Island.
The present dwelling is in the delightful haphazard manner of the
early American farmer, who built himself and his family a white house in
which to live, and then as the family grew and prospered thrust out a
wing here, added a room there, another upstairs, another offshooting
from the second story, until treading the aging floors many years later
you may almost trace the arrival of the first- and second-born, the
advent of the hired man, the strong rooting and spreading of the
And, as in old houses near the sea, you will find in Tunney's home,
scattered here and there among the plain, lovely lines of the austere
Colonial furniture, rich and clashing objects brought from the other
side of the world by wooden ships.
The living room is in two wings that fold themselves around a
double fireplace. Over the fire mantel are lustrous pewter dishes and
candlesticks. The fireplace is made of three single slabs of stone,
likely enough quarried out of the ridgeside by the original builder.
The wallpaper is the Anne Hathaway design, gentle scenes about
Stratford-on-Avon - Polly picked it. And one of the fireside seats is a
monstrous red-leather marshmallow of a cushion from Morocco. It is so
big you could perch on it with your legs curled up under you.
Upstairs, too, in the library - you see, it is just that quaint,
rambling type of house where the library could be put upstairs -
Oriental trophies mingle with Colonial pieces, and there are a lovely
reclining porcelain hunting dog and a large, powerful sculptured head
suggestive, but not replica, of Tunney. There are more enormous
cushions from Morocco and two Berber guns, their gas-pipe barrels richly
chased with silver, and silver to the end of the stock, silver inlaid
curved daggers, a rich red rug, and the whole long side of the wall
lined from floor to ceiling with books, books with fine, exhilarating
titles, books that I wished greedily and enviously that I owned. On the
walls are fine hunting prints in red, white, and black, and pictures of
ships in full sail. Too, there is a curious dark statue, a slim figure
rising four feet high from lotus petals, strange and disproportionate.
"It doesn't mean anything to me," says Polly. "It does to me," says
Gene. "I . . . I . . . can see what the fellow meant when he made it. .
The dining room is tiny and dark and made to reflect candlelight
and old silver. There is a fireplace in it, and a fireplace in the huge
bathroom built next to the bedroom that faces the northeast and the
rising sun. Did you ever soak in a warm tub with a good book and an
open fire crackling and blazing in the room? Or rub down after a cold
shower with the heat licking out at you, and the smell of burning pine
mingling with the steam? Then you have never lived as Gene Tunney does
now - and as I mean to some day.
It is a house through which you can hear an outside storm, the rain
rushing against the roof and down the eaves, and the wind down the
chimney, and that is something most people deny themselves in their
dwellings of brick, stone, steel, and concrete. They shut out the
weather and miss the sense of peace and contentment that comes when the
elements are wild outside the window and the rain sluices over the
panes, fragrant smoke from the fireplace blows into the room, and inside
all is snug and sheltered and warm and dry, and the logs burn brightly
and throw off yellow and blue shoots of flame.
Here dwells the grown Tunney. Freshman and sophomore years are
past. He has entered upon the junior's estate, still unsettled, but
calmer, better educated, ready for the final assault upon life.
The habits of his lifetime have left him conscious of the care of
his body. In the early morning he dons heavy shoes and a sweater and
pads over the rough roads for four or five miles. Light and heavy bags
hang suspended in the barn, and he works out on them, and I suppose his
wife looks on half admiring and half amused. The strutting male and the
care he takes of his muscles are a sort of tender joke to the girls
after a year or so. I remember I did the same thing when I first got
out of college. My stomach was hard and flat, the waist trim, and
rowing had put little firm pads under my shoulder blades. And so I used
to come home from work around five o'clock and put on a little pair of
panties and running shoes and a sweatshirt and go dashing up Central
Park West, and come home all red and hot and wrestle a rowing machine
for a spell. My new wife took it all very calmly. I detected more
amazement and tolerance in her eyes than proper worship.
And after a while the sessions became shorter and shorter and more
easily interrupted or postponed. And so I imagine Tunney's will too.
He will always do something, doubtless, to keep fit, but the more
strenuous routines of his freshman days will be abandoned.
For the first time in his life, I suspect, he is enjoying himself.
Fine days are given over to tramping the countryside, the woods and the
farm country, with Polly. Both love to hike, to walk, nowhere in
particular, finding strange and unused paths, scrambling over the low
stone walls of New England from beneath which the chipmunks scurry -
well, one could write a book about the delights of such aimless,
Too, there are his friends, the Gimbels, the Pryors, the Dick
Byrds, the Jim Bushes, pleasant, cultured people, men like William Lyon
Phelps to stimulate him, to develop his mind. Who can now in good faith
criticize him for preferring this company to the frowsy crew from which
he tore himself? Life is too short to spend a second of it with
unpleasant people, the rewards for such sacrifice too uncertain. Years
and advancing discretion have taught me to admire Gene Tunney very much
for the people he avoids and the thoroughness with which he does the job
of avoiding them.
Tunney's mind and education have leaped ahead since his groping
days of the training camps. He no longer fumbles for words, he no
longer lets fly a gem from the dictionary in the manner of Little Jack
Horner producing the plum from the Christmas pie, he no longer as a
matter of fact speaks written English, which is the more formal and
stilted language that one reserves for letter paper or the thesis.
His gesture with a cocktail shaker is facile and natural, and he
has the inborn gentleman's instinct against the wearing of the sly
expression that has become habitual with this normal function in
He still loves to talk and tell stories. His references to friends
and foes of the past are all kindly and illuminated by intelligent
humor. Some day, I am convinced, Tunney will write; and he will write
of the things he knew, of boxing and fighting, and training, and
conniving, and of the people in that business, and when he does he will
do it better than anyone has ever done it before. He has the
But he is done with public boxing - he still boxes for the fun of
it with Eddie Eagan and Sam Pryor and Barney Gimbel, and any of his
friends who want to put on the heavy gloves for a workout. He likes the
sparring with Eagan best because he can let out a bit. But he boxes
only for his own amusement, as Bob Jones will now play golf only for the
same purpose. A friend recently suggested a return to the ring.
Tunney's fortune, wisely invested as it is, has suffered from the
depression as have all fortunes. He could pick up another million
fighting the German. But he doesn't want it. He has enough. And
besides there is his senior year just ahead.
Tunney's fighting experience and his rise to the championship is
fading with him and will continue to fade in relative importance as a
college football hero's deeds are dimmed by time and age. Referred to
at first only as - "Meet Smith who made that ninety-yard run for us last
year," he becomes later - "You remember Smith - who used to play
football," and finally, if the fellow has anything in him he lives it
down and becomes - "Smith who is building a bridge, or writing a book,
or patenting an invention."
The boy is no longer alone. There is a fine woman at his side and
they will raise a family and their family will take root and spread as
did the farmer's who built their home, and become a part of the nation.
He is reading voraciously, studying and thinking - and traveling. Only
a few weeks ago he and Mrs. Tunney sailed for a two-months tour of
Palestine and the East. Out of this energy and ambition something will
come, something that has nothing to do with punching a pear-shaped bag
or blacking eyes or blocking left hooks. When Tunney quit the ring he
said to me: "Paul, if I ever come back, so help me, you can send out
the call for the loony wagon."
I will do better than that. If he ever does, from other than the
sheer necessity of protecting his family from hunger and cold, old Dr.
Gallico himself will climb into the driver's seat, cluck up the horses,
and steer them over the back road he has learned to the white house on
the ridge, where he will usher Mr. Gene into a preferred location in the
funny-wagon, and firmly, if regretfully, cart him off to the waiting
"Boxing and Wrestling" magazine article
"Gene Tunney-the fighter who quit with a million"
Sept. 1956 or 57
by Oscar Fraley
supplied by the Lydon cousins
Many fighters have earned more than a million dollars in their
careers but only Tunney made that much in a single fight. Here's the
candid story of the most respected athlete in the history of American
The years rest lightly on Gene Tunney, who rose to fame and fortune
nearly 31 years ago by shattering the greatest ring idol the world has
ever known -- Jack Dempsey.
At 55, Tunney is an impressive figure of a man. He enjoys robust
health and his wealth is even more vast than it was when he retired
after knocking out stocky Tom Heeney in the llth round at New York City
on July 26, l928.
Yet even the passing of so much time ha failed to endear Gentleman
Gene to the fight crowd. They regarded him in his time as the most
unpopular of all heavyweight champions. As an ex-champ, he still isn't
popular with them today.
It was inevitable that Tunney would make a clean break once he hung
up his gloves. Scholarly and ever contemptuous of the men around him
who spiced their conversations liberally with "dese, dem and dose,"
Tunney retired to a life he admired in the upper strata of business and
society when he had made his pile in the ring.
Gene understood every facet of the fight game and much of it he
didn't like. The trade never did understand Tunney's thirst for
knowledge or his quiet temperament which made it impossible for him to
be the hail-fellow-well met type in the traditional picture of the
all-conquering champ. And the trade never did like that.
What many elect to remember is that Tunney beat a harried Dempsey
in a raging downpour in Philadelphia in 1926, beat him again in the
notorious "long count" affair at Chicago in 1927, flattened the
slow-footed Heeney and quit to count his loot on a society honeymoon.
Easily forgotten is the fact that Tunney possessed a fighting heart
as great as any man who ever stepped into the ring. How else could he
have gone out twice against the awesome Dempsey, who had the same
frightening effect on his foes as did Joe Louis in later years? And
growing dim are the memories of Tunney's superb scientific skills that
ripped Dempsey before and after Gene came off the floor after the "long
count" at Chicago.
In later years, Tunney mellowed to the point of coming down for
introductions in the ring at various major fights and he often has been
photographed in friendly poses with the ever-popular Dempsey. But while
he may profess admiration for a boxer like Roland LaStarza, he
cautiously skirts around involvement in phony fight buildups and rarely
mixes with leading figures in the profession.
Nevertheless, in his own way, Tunney still remains one of the
greatest boosters of boxing in America today. He proved it during World
War II as a Navy commander with a constant clamor for more boxing as a
conditioner for combat. He put in another timely plug only recently.
Boxing absorbed several "black eyes" in the not too distant past in
the form of reported fixes, bad shows on television and a few ring
deaths. As often happens, crusaders wanted to outlaw the sport.
"Tell me, Gene," a veteran reporter queried Tunney, "do you think
boxing should be abolished?"
"Quite the contrary," Tunney replied in a flash. "If I were able
to have my way in the education of American youth, I'd make it
compulsory for every boy from 10 to 16 years of age to engage in boxing.
"I have two reasons for it. First, a knowledge of boxing gives a
boy self-confidence. Second, sparring teaches a boy sportsmanship, the
ability to give and take without becoming emotionally upset. That sense
of sportsmanship is of great value in later years in dealing with one's
Coming from a millionaire with no apparent axe to grind, Tunney's
words carried a solid impact.
The science of boxing and the importance of physical conditioning
always intrigued Gentleman Gene and still do today. Almost any pleasant
morning he may be observed along one of the secluded footpaths near his
Connecticut estate pursuing his roadwork and shadow boxing as if on the
morrow he were to face another ring killer like Dempsey. Normally, he
scales 206 pounds.
"That's about what I used to make between fights," he says with
Outwardly, at least, little seems to have changed in Tunney's life
since his retirement in 1928 except the normal passing of the years.
His fame lingers on with the people who count and his fortune has
increased through wise investments.
The son of a longshoreman who collected $990,000 for his second
fight with Dempsey, Gene is the shining example for all young men who
set out to seek their fortunes in the prize ring. He hasn't the
adulation of the crowds that Dempsey still commands but in the hard
dollar market Tunney is supreme.
The handsome, six foot plus ex-champion is a director of many
successful companies, perhaps more than he can recall off-hand. Among
other things, he is chairman of the board of the Denham Tire and Rubber
Company of New York. He is a director in the famous Eversharp, Inc.,
the Clinchfield Coal Company and the Brown Paper Company. Gene also is
president of the Stamford, Connecticut, Building Company and has
holdings in various other concerns.
Tunney's career is a complete Horatio Alger story. It's a tale of
a poor boy born in New York's Greenwich Village section who rose to
become heavyweight champion of the world, retired undefeated with two
million dollars and married a beautiful heiress.
Born James Joseph Tunney on May 25, 1898, Tunney was a spindly
youth but began sparring while attending various public and parochial
schools. He boxed at neighborhood clubs up to the time he enlisted in
the U. S. Marines at the outbreak of World War I. The war gave Gene his
big push into the prize ring.
Tunney proved so successful boxing his fellow marines he was put
forward to fight for the A. E. F. light heavyweight championship, which
he won in Colmbes Stadium at Paris. After the war, jobs of the right
type were scarce and he elected to make boxing his business with
cold-blooded approach never equalled before or since.
Gene still was unimpressive, physically. Yet he realized he had to
build both his body and temperament to succeed. By driving himself,
Tunney developed into a beautiful fighting machine and often he has said
that during these times he even discovered that courage is a force that
can be learned.
In 1922, Tunney won his first title, winning the American light
heavyweight crown from Battling Levinsky. Four months later, Harry Greb
lifted it in the only fight Tunney ever lost but Gene won it right back
"You know," he said one day recently to a flabbergasted
newspaperman, "I think I still hold that title. At least nobody every
took it away from me and I never officially surrendered it."
According to Tunney, Georges Carpentier had won the world light
heavyweight title by flattening Levinsky. A boxer named Eddie O'Hare
was being primed for big things and it was proposed that he meet Tunney
for the right to battle Levinsky for the American championship.
O'Hare's handlers presumably figured that Tunney would be a soft touch
but Gene won and proceeded to dust off Levinsky. Greb later beat Gene
but Tunney got the title back and there it may lie yet.
Victories over Emino Spalla, Carpentier and finally a 12 round
knockout of Tommy Gibbons put Tunney in line for a shot at Dempsey, the
dreaded Manassa Mauler. Three bouts later, Gentleman Gene went into
training at Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, to prepare for his date with
destiny against Dempsey at Philadelphia on September 23, 1926.
Even the sharpest experts of the day couldn't see the handwriting
on the wall for the fabulous Dempsey, who hadn't been in the ring for
anything except exhibitions for three solid years. Jack was the idol of
millions, a murderous puncher with marvelous recuperative powers.
Tunney was a virtual unknown and the experts did little more than
chuckle when Gene proclaimed in camp that he could and would defeat
When Tunney quoted Shakespeare or was detected reading the works of
the Bard, hard-bitten reporters and photographers regarded it merely as
a publicity stunt. Even those who did believe Gene had a genuine thirst
for the arts scoffed at the outlandishness of such an idea in a man who
was about to battle the great Dempsey.
Tunney later admitted moments of fear in his training camp but
these he conquered and on the day of the fight he pulled the most daring
stunt in boxing history with a display of nerve that reduced Promoter
Tex Rickard almost to a state of shock. Airplanes were a bit more risky
in those days than in this era of jet airliners but heedless of the
dangers and counting the effect it might have on his foe, Gene flew in a
private plane from his training camp to the weighing in ceremonies at
"It's the craziest thing I ever heard of!" raged Rickard when he
finally recovered his voice. One little mishap would have destroyed the
biggest fight gate in history up to that time. But the story created a
furor in the press. The public's imagination was fired -- on Dempsey's
Tunney, in a downpour of rain that night, extinguished the fire by
outboxing the ring-rusty Dempsey over 10 rounds. The mighty Mauler had
fallen. It was almost unbelievable and persons who had little interest
in the fight game were as stunned as the ringsiders. It seemed the
whole world clamored for a return.
One year later, minus one day, Gene gave Jack a chance to regain
his coveted crown. Jack had flattened Jack Sharkey in a tune up bout
but Gene remained idle for that year except for continuing his long
study of Dempsey's style via motion pictures.
This time the fight site was Chicago and Tunney prepared as he had
before with one added feature. He practiced long hours at running
backward, throwing punches as he reversed. The events that followed on
the night of Sept. 22, 1927 in Chicago's Soldier Field before 145,000
fans and a gate of $2,658,660, showed how soundly he had prepared for
the possible calamity of absorbing one or more of Dempsey's dazing
From the first through the sixth round, Tunney calmly outboxed
Dempsey as he had the previous year at Philly. Then it happened. In
the seventh, for a few fleeting seconds, Dempsey recaptured the tigerish
power of his youth. He belted Tunney with a left hook to the head and
Gene fell backward against the ropes, obviously hurt.
Dempsey leaped forward with both fists blazing a merciless barrage
and Tunney went down. With his beloved championship so close within his
grasp, Dempsey stood over his fallen foe as had been his custom under
the old knockdown rule, waiting for Tunney to rise so he could smash him
down again. He ignored, didn't hear or didn't understand the shrieking
pleas from the referee, the press row and the ringsiders exhorting him
to go to a neutral corner.
Referee Dave Barry began his count while motioning for Dempsey to
retire to an opposite corner. The Mauler stood still, an arm draped
over the ropes. When finally he did heed the frantic directions of the
referee and moved to a neutral corner, the count had reached "five."
But Barry's next count, which should have been "six" by the
knockdown timekeeper's toll, was "one!" He had started over from the
time Dempsey reached the far corner.
Tunney dragged himself up at "nine" and back-pedalled to safety.
In the eighth, ninth and 10th rounds, Gene was the master again and was
awarded a decision on points that nobody disputed. What WAS disputed,
and still is, was the "long count." Qualified observers insist that
Gene was on the deck anywhere from 13 to 20 seconds in the most
controversial episode in ring history.
Ever since, Gene has maintained that he knew what he was doing from
the moment he struck the canvas and could have come up on any count he
chose. Yet many thought Dempsey had won by a knockout and millions who
read of it the next day were equally convinced, making Dempsey even more
of a popular figure than ever.
Without that great debate, Gene might have earned a real place in
the hearts of the fans. Certainly he had beaten Dempsey decisively in
most of the other 19 rounds they had fought.
Thereafter, Tunney picked up just one more big purse by flattening
Heeney a year later and called it quits. For his last three fights,
twice with Dempsey and then Heeney, Tunney collected a sum said to have
Once out of the ring, Gene turned to the finer things he had been
pursuing all through his career - books, art, travel. He set out on a
walking trip through Europe with author Thornton Wilder and visited such
literary lights as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. In Rome, the
tour came to an end on October 3, 1928, when he married Miss Polly
Lauder of Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the heirs to Carnegie steel
The Tunney's now have four children, three strapping sons and the
youngest child a daughter, Joan, aged 12. Gene, the oldest son, is in
the army. The others are Varick and Jonathon.
Although Tunney had little success in certain public crusades. he
prospered in business. He became an executive of the American
Distilling company and the Morris Plan bank, connections he later
relinguished. His ventures spread to many fields and still do.
Early in World War II, Gene was commissioned by the Navy to set up
a physical conditioning program. He immediately began to recruit famous
athletes like Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, Freddie Hutchinson of
the Detroit Tigers, countless football players and numerous boxers to
serve as instructors and "boot camp" company commanders.
These athletes, given ratings up to Chief Boatswain's Mate, soon
became known to other sailors as "Tunney fish." It wasn't exactly a
term of endearment but the "Tunney fish" proved handy guys to have
around even after they moved on to duty at sea.
At one time, though, so many prominent athletes were gathering at
the various naval bases they were formed into formidable teams that
competed on a collegiate level. The Navy's brass hats regarded this as
a tremendous aid in recruiting and morale-building. Tunney viewed it
with complete alarm.
"This sideshow must stop," he said, sticking out his neck farther
in favor of calisthenics and self-defense maneuvers. The Navy decreed
otherwise and Gene had to pull in his horns.
Some of the men who came under Tunney's command relate tales of his
toughness in the matter of discipline but you can't knock him on that
score to this writer.
In the closing days of the New Guinea campaign, while the Navy was
staking for the push back to the Philippines, this correspondent was
detached from another jungle job and assigned to help assemble a
warehouse full of athletic and recreation gear for eventual use aboard
ship and at rest camps planned in the Philippines.
We were a handful of enlisted men on duty when Tunney, flanked by
gold braid of nearly all ranks, pulled a surprise inspection tour of the
warehouse on an early morning watch. Laundry was strung from the
girders in violation of orders, some hands were in their sacks in
violation of orders and dirty dishes were in evidence in complete
violation of an order that there be no cooking on the premises.
Tunney blithely ignored the mess, carefully went over the inventory
of equipment which proved highly satisfactory and, reversing the usual
procedure, saluted the petty officer in charge.
"Taut ship, men," he said with a wink and stalked off with the rest
of the gold braid muttering behind him.
"Heavyweight Champions" magazine article
"Was Gene Tunney the finest boxer who ever lived?"
supplied by the Lydon cousins
"The Complete Book of World Heavyweight Champions
From John L. Sullivan to Larry Holmes"
Clay Communications Group
"Was Gene Tunney the finest boxer who ever lived?"
They didn't come any smarter than Tunney, who boxed the ear of an
aging Dempsey twice, retired with his title and a couple of million
dollars -- tax free!
Most of Gene Tunney's qualities are well known. The Fighting
Marine was a peerless boxer, sharp puncher, brilliant defensive
tactician who won the title from Jack Dempsey in 1926, retired
undefeated in 1928 after stopping Tom Heeney. When Gene retired, he
left behind a brilliant record: 60 fights, only one loss (although he
engaged in 14 No-Decisions).
A close look at Tunney's only defeat -- to middleweight Harry Greb
on May 23, 1922 -- sheds a different light on the New York Irishman.
Tunney had outboxed King Levinsky for the American light heavyweight
title earlier in the year, risked it against the wild-punching, gouging,
heeling Greb at a stage of his career when he wasn't really ready.
"Fighters who lose fights have cut eyes, broken noses, torn lips
and broken bones," marvelled famed writer Damon Runyan, covering the
Garden bout. "Tonight, Gene Tunney simply had a broken face. He had no
business being around for the full 15 rounds, but he was and you have to
take your hat off to this boy. He has the kind of courage of which
great champions are made."
Courage. That's another thing that Gene Tunney had, though through
most of his career he didn't need it. The beating he took from Greb
would've finished most fighters forever. Today, a fight that one-sided
would've been stopped by the fifth round. But Tunney took his
"I fought Greb wrong," Tunney stated simply. "I know how to beat
him if we fight again."
Tunney fought the fierce Greb four more times, was master in all
four. Gene's close friends thought he was crazy for fighting Greb even
a SECOND time!
Gene was after Jack Dempsey, the champion. He told promoter Tex
Rickard to, "Set 'em up. I'll knock 'em down."
Georges Carpentier, Johnny Risko, Tommy Gibbons (Tunney knocked him
out, Dempsey couldn't), Jeff Smith, Erminio Spalla...Soon Dempsey, who
had not defended his title for two-and-a-half years, had his back to the
wall. Nobody stood between him and the Fighting Marine (so called for
winning the AEF light heavyweight title in France in 1919, while in the
Marines). When he squared off with Dempsey in Philadelphia in 1926,
most experts felt that Dempsey's brute power would overwhelm Tunney's
admittedly-superior artistry. But over 100,000 fans payed over a
million dollars to satisfy their curiosity.
Gene's brilliant left jab, snappy overhand right, ability to slip
Dempsey's return fire, carried him to a 10 round dicision and the title.
One day less than a year later Dempsey and Tunney fought again
(Jack having knocked out Jack Sharkey to earn a return fight), and
Tunney again outboxed the aging champion, though he was floored (for a
"Long Count") in the seventh.
By now, Tunney was a millionaire and, at 29, wanted to retire. But
he had promised promoter Rickard one more fight and so, on July 29, 1928
he obliged, stopping Tom Heeney in 14 rounds. Funny thing, though.
Beating the idolized Dempsey had transformed Tunney into a disliked
fighter, and Rickard lost $100,000 on the Heeney fight.
On August l, 1928 Tunney announced his retirement at New York's
Biltmore Hotel, quickly sailed off to Europe, where he was to meet his
fiancee Polly Lauder, grandniece of billionaire Andrew Carnegie. They
were married in October.
In many ways, Tunney didn't fit into the boxing world. He was a
handsome, clean-living man, self educated, who could write poetry, read
Shakespeare, pontificate on all worldly subjects -- didn't even curse.
"Let's have fighters with more wallop and less Shakespeare,"
laughed humorist Will Rogers, echoing the sentiment of fight people who
labelled Gene as "uppity", "a snob". They found it unsettling that a
prominent fighter would carry a book of poetry in his equipment bag
along with his jockstrap and gloves. Neither did they like the fact
that Tunney used "front men" as managers.
"The state says I need to have a manager," Tunney scoffed.
"Otherwise, I wouldn't use one."
But Tunney won their grudging respect through the years with his
slashing fists and giant fighting heart. Some experts feel he was the
best pure boxer in heavyweight history.
Gene was a successful businessman -- and a close friend of Jack
Dempsey's -- till he died.
Wrapup: 60 fights, 45 wins (30 KO's), 14 No-Decisions, one loss
-- to Harry Greb. Gene was never knocked out.
GENE TUNNEY VS. JACK DEMPSEY -- September 23, 1926 --
Sesquicentennial Stadium, Philadelphia.
Gene Tunney often said he was "destined" to defeat the legendary
Jack Dempsey. Very few shared his confidence, though, and on a rainy
evening in Philadelphia he got his long-awaited chance to prove himself.
Before the largest crowd ever for a championship fight (120,757
paying $1,895,733,) the surprisingly confident challenger, stared cooly
across the expanse of rain-spattered white canvas at Dempsey. The
grizzled, scowling champion, nervously fidgeted, anxious for the first
Round one! Dempsey charged out to meet his challenger, rushing at
him with such fury that Tunney was driven to the ropes. Tunney's speed
and evasiveness saved him from trouble. As Gene evaded the head-down,
bull-like charges of the titleholder, it became apparent that he could
hit Jack almost at will with either hand.
Luckily for Dempsey, this contest was scheduled for only ten
rounds. Otherwise it is unlikely that Jack would have lasted the
distance. At the final bell Dempsey, his face a battered mess, was
near complete exhaustion. He had never come close to hurting his
skilled opponent. When asked what went wrong, he smiled, "Well, I guess
I forgot to duck!"
GENE TUNNEY VS. HARRY GREB -- May 23, 1922 -- New York City.
At this stage of his career Tunney, just two days short of his
twenty-fifth birthday, was one of the world's most highly regarded
Undefeated in 42 fights Gene was defending his newly won American
light heavyweight title. Against the immortal Harry Greb! Greb, a year
from winning the middleweight championship, was a remarkably tough and
resilient fighter. Greb had a "style" of fighting that Tunney found
impossible to solve in this bout. Harry was known as the "Human
Windmill" due to his ability to toss rapid, stinging blows virtually non
stop from every conceivable angle. Tunney, a clever boxer with an
orthodox, stand-up style, couldn't cope. Gene absorbed the worst
beating of his career.
It was in this contest that Gene proved his courage, his ability to
take it if he had to. Gene went the full 15 but lost the decision and
his title. He suffered a badly damaged nose, and was able to speak only
with difficulty for several days after this bout due to a punch he took
in the throat.
"Self-Defense Photo Album" magazine article
supplied by the Lydon cousins
GENE TUNNEY is shown on the cover
Gene Tunney still retains the heavyweight crown, due to his victory
over Jack Dempsey when he won the title and by his defeat of the former
champion in defending it. Whether or not the long count was or was not
within the rules governing boxing today, it was a technical point which
Tunney took full advantage of, rightfully. If there is still a doubt as
to whether he could have arisen before he did, he surely dispelled it by
the amazing speed and strength his legs displayed when he did get up. A
boxer on the verge of a knockout cannot move like Tunney did.
"Come Out Fighting"
by John Durant and Edward Rice
supplied by the Lydon cousins
The Gibbons fight showed that Dempsey, who could assassinate big,
slow-moving men, was not at his best against a good defensive boxer.
This fact impressed Gene Tunney who, ever since he won the AEF light
heavyweight championship in France, was determined to become champion of
the world. Tunney was a cool, intelligent boxer with unlimited
determination. He was not a spectacular performer, not a crowd pleaser,
but he always won. Tunney, confident of taking the title, made a movie,
"The Fighting Marine".
Tunney was busy fighting and at the end of 1925 had acquired an
impressive record. He knocked out Carpentier and Tommy Gibbons, and
defeated numerous other heavyweights. Harry Greb, a great middleweight,
had whipped him back in 1922, but since then Tunney had four times
turned the tables on him, each time in a more decisive manner. Like
Corbett, he was an intense student of ring craftsmanship. He planned
each battle to combat his opponent's style with the thoroughness of a
general mapping out a campaign. When he was selected as Dempsey's
challenger he already had a carefully thought out plan in mind.
Dempsey started training in July, 1926, at Saratoga, N. Y., for the
defense of his title which was scheduled for September 23, in
Philadelphia. Harassed by writs and subpoenas showered upon him by the
vindictive Kearns, he left the state and resumed training at Atlantic
City. In spite of his three year idleness almost everybody thought he'd
have little trouble knocking out Tunney. Harry Greb, who worked out
with Dempsey, didn't think so. "Don't think I'm punch drunk," he
confided to a newspaperman one afternoon, "but put all you've got on
Tunney." Greb always maintained that he, himself, could whip the
As the day of the fight approached, Kearns intensified his campaign
against his former pal. The champion's New York accounts were attached;
process servers popped up from behind trees and handed him papers as he
was doing his roadwork for the fight. Lawsuits piled up. There was an
attempt to block the match and force Dempsey to fight Harry Wills
first. Hounded and worried, Dempsey was called into court with
Rickard. They discussed calling off the match, then decided to go
through with it. Dempsey knew he wasn't as good as he once was, but he
was certain he could take Tunney with ease.
The morning of the fight Tunney, nonchalantly stepped into an
open-cockpit plane and flew from his Stroudsburg, Pa., training quarters
to Philadelphia. He did it for the psychological effect it would have
on Dempsey, but the plan nearly backfired. Tunney was airsick all the
way; and when he was on the ground again, he was white and shaken. The
Tunney smile that he showed was a phoney. After weighing in at the
Boxing Commission's office, Tunney, still airsick, went to a private
home where he slept soundly until it was time to leave for the arena.
Just before the men were called to the center of the ring, a slight
drizzle began which soon turned into a driving rainstorm. Not many
people thought they'd have to sit through it very long, for Dempsey's
reputation since the Firpo fight was one of invincibility. For a moment
the men sparred cautiously and then Tunney drove a hard right to
Dempsey's cheek-bone. It shook the champion, who bored in trying to
connect with his famous left hook. It wasn't working that night.
Tunney stepped away, jabbed, threw an occasional right and kept jabbing
and that was the story of the fight. There was no doubt about Tunney's
superior boxing ability. Dempsey was unable to land solidly. Once in
the fourth round he hurt Tunney with a left hook to the Adam's apple.
It was the only blow he landed during the ten rounds. At the end, when
Tunney's hand was raised, Dempsey's face was unrecognizable. His eyes
were closed, his lips swollen, his face a mass of blood. Tunney was
unmarked and fresh. "All right, Gene, Good luck," Jack said to the new
champion as he took his hand in the center of the ring. Then he was led
to his corner and helped through the ropes. The next day Tunney called
on the deposed champion in his suite at the Adelphia Hotel. He found
him alone in a darkened room, heartbroken over the loss of his title.
They chatted for a few minutes and Tunney left. Tunney said afterwards
that he had never known a more gracious loser. If Dempsey had been
unpopular during most of his reign, he was now liked more than he ever
had been as champion. It was what he said to his wife that did it. She
wasn't at the fight, but she knew he'd taken a bad beating.
"What happened, Ginsberg?" she asked him. (Ginsberg was her pet
name for him)
"Honey," he smiled, "I just forgot to duck."
When Tunney spoke over the microphone at the end of the Dempsey
fight, he sent his regards to "my friends in Greenwich." Sports
writers, knowing that he was born and raised in the Greenwich Village
section of New York City, assumed that he was talking to his boyhood
friends there and so reported it. But Tunney was talking to his new
friends of Greenwich, Connecticut, who were listening to the fight.
Among them was Polly Lauder of the Social Register to whom Tunney was
secretly engaged. He later stated that he hoped to make a million
dollars, retire from the ring undefeated and marry Miss Lauder. He
fulfilled all three ambitions.
Could Dempsey come back? No heavyweight champion in history had
ever been able to, and many had tried. He was thirty-two years old, but
what of it, fans said. Fitzsimmons was thirty-five when he WON the
crown. Willard was thirty-two; and Dempsey could hit as hard as ever.
Maybe he had purposely lost in Philadelphia to cash in on a huge bet,
knowing he could whip Tunney in a second fight. This was a widespread
belief. It was an absurd one, for Dempsey never fought a crooked fight
in his life. He always fought to win, and he had wanted to beat Tunney
more than he wanted anything in his life before.
Soldier's Field, Chicago, was the site of the second Dempsey-Tunney
battle. It was scheduled for Sept. 22, 1927 -- a year, less one day,
after the Philadelphia fight. It was the Chicago of Capone, Big Bill
Thompson, hoodlums and cheap politicians. Both fighters were approached
with various offers -- for protection, to throw the fight, for
contributions to insure the 'right' ring officials. Neither one gave
ear. Nevertheless rumors persisted that gangsters were going to control
the fight. The Illinois Boxing Commission summoned representatives of
both principals and all phases of the fight were brought up. One point
discussed was the Commission's knockdown rule: in the event of a
knockdown, the man scoring it should immediately go to the farther
neutral corner; if he refused, the count would not begin until he had
More than 100,000 people were on hand and most of them hoped that
Dempsey would break ring tradition by regaining his lost title. At
first it was a replica of the previous battle. Tunney, on his toes,
stabbed Dempsey continuously with his accurate left hand and sent home a
few rights as Dempsey vainly tried to get inside to hook. Then, in the
seventh round it happened. Dempsey caught Tunney on the ropes and
nailed him solidly with a left hook to the jaw. As the champion started
to sink, Dempsey sent in a flurry of rights and lefts. Tunney, dazed
and battered, lay on the floor. Dempsey towered over him, ready for the
kill as he had stood over Firpo. Referee Dave Barry shouted at Dempsey
to go to a neutral corner. He did not move. When he finally did, Barry
started his count at "One!". That gave Tunney a few precious seconds.
Whether he needed them or not will never be known. He got up at
Barry's "Nine!" and put into effect the plan he had stored in his mind
for just such an emergency. He back pedaled, circling around and around
Dempsey whose weary legs could not bring him within range. "Come on and
fight," Dempsey taunted, beckoning the champion with his glove. Tunney
did no more fighting that round. In the next one, however, he had
completely recovered -- enough to drop Dempsey for a short count. From
then on the fight was all Tunney's again, and at the end of it he was
given the decision. No fight ever caused such a controversy as this
one. Dempsey adherents looked upon him as the rightful champion. He
had floored Tunney for at least fourteen seconds. Tunney men said that
Dempsey broke the rules and that anyway, in twenty rounds of fighting
against Tunney, he had only won one round. In any event, both fighters
were richly rewarded. Tunney received the highest pay a professional
athlete ever got for a single performance -- $990,000 for thirty minutes
of fighting. It is more than Franklin D. Roosevelt got for his career
Tunney was a good-looking man of faultless living habits, but he
never succeeded in capturing ring fans' hearty approval. He was marked
as a man who liked books, moved in society circles and didn't swear.
And, maybe this was it, too -- he was not a reckless, aggressive
fighter. Fighting was a business to him and he had no admiration for
the game and its followers. He fought only once more after the Chicago
battle -- against Tom Heeney. He won, but few were there to see him.
Tex Rickard lost a half a million dollars in promoting the fight, the
only time he ever failed to return a profit. It was Dempsey who made
the million-dollar gate. After the Heeney victory Tunney married and
went abroad where he sought literary lights. Among them was George
When we entered the war both ex-champions, Tunney and Dempsey,
entered the service and many times they were thrown together. There is
not bitterness between the men, no outward show of it at any rate, but
even today each man is convinced that he's the other's master, that if
they could put on just one more fight . . .
When Tunney announced in 1928 that he would never fight again, an
era of confusion and absurdity, of crookedness and comedy entered the
realm of boxing and remained until the reign of Joe Louis.
"Ten And Out!"
by Alexander Johnston
supplied by the Lydon cousins
(Chapter I, page 9)
Not long ago at a gathering of literary men in New York, one of the
men introduced as his guest a modest, pleasant-looking youngster who
instantly won the liking of the men around the luncheon table. After
the table had been cleared there was some speech-making by men who have
considerable reputation in that direction, and last of all the guest of
the day was called upon for a few remarks. He got on his feet and
talked for fifteen minutes, making a better speech than any of the men
who preceeded him. Perhaps it is not necessary to say that the modest
youngster was James Joseph Tunney, known to ring followers as Gene
Tunney, heavyweight Champion of the World.
(Chapter XVI, page 209)
After winning the title, Dempsey did not fight again during 1919.
He followed the time-honored custom of seeking theatrical engagements
and easy money, to which he was entitled, as the actual beating of
Willard brought him the title but not much more than $25,000 in cash.
During 1919 there came back from service in France with the Marines
a certain modest and unassuming young gentleman named Tunney. He had
been christened James J., but a childish nickname had made him "Gene,"
and Gene Tunney he is to this day. This Tunney youngster had taken up
boxing in France and had finally won the heavyweight championship of the
A. E. F.
Tunney came back to the United States glad that the war was over,
but determined to go on fighting. He had made up his mind to enter the
ring professionally and frankly acknowledged that he had his eyes on the
heavyweight championship. He made a modest professional debut in New
York, his native city, by knocking out Bob Pierce in two rounds.
(Chapter XVI, page 212)
Gene Tunney knocked out Al Roberts at Newark on February 2 in eight
(Chapter XVI, page 215)
One event of 1922 has considerable passing interest. Gene Tunney
fought Battling Levinsky, the ex-light heavyweight champion, and beat
him in twelve rounds. This was on January thirteenth. Then he tackled
Harry Greb, the middleweight champion, and lost to him in fifteen
rounds. This is the only decision Gene has ever lost in the ring and it
was no disgrace. Greb was an accomplished fighter, a veteran but
strong, with a most unorthodox way of swinging his fists, which had
bothered a great many fighters of more experience than Gene had at that
(Chapter XVI, page 219)
It is to be noted that during 1923 Gene Tunney met his old enemy,
Harry Greb, twice and each time won the referee's decision at the end of
There was little inspiring battling in the heavyweight division
during 1924. Gene Tunney went serenely along his way, quite without the
vision of the wise ones, but building himself up. He scored knockouts
over Emilio Spalla, Champion of Europe, in seven rounds on June 26, and
on July 24 flattened our old friend, the gallant Carpentier, in fifteen
The year 1925 was rather a thin one in the heavyweight division, as
far as really important battles went. The only impressive feature of
the year was the decisive rise of Gene Tunney. The ex-marine on June 5,
in New York, knocked out Tommy Gibbons in the twelfth round. Gibbons
did not seem to have gone back. His defense was still its old, almost
impenetrable self until the end came. Then Gene bored through with a
more tigerish spirit than he ever had shown in the ring and battered Tom
down with a business-like right to the chin.
On September 25, in Minneapolis, Gene climbed through the ropes
with Barley Madden, the veteran who had made Wills look so bad for
fifteen rounds. Tunney dispatched Madden in three rounds. From the
first gong it was just a question of how long Madden could last under
the rain of blows that Tunney was handing him. Everyone who saw this
fight agreed that Gene Tunney had come a long way.
It is only fair to say that on November 18 a big ambitious
Cleveland boy, Johnny Risko, gave Gene a torrid twelve rounds. This
same fellow later gave Paul Berlenbach a tasty trimming in New York. He
is big and strong and a powerful hitter, but not much of a boxer. Gene
got the referee's nod at the end of twelve rounds.
The year 1926 began without much competition in sight, and yet that
same 1926 brought the end of Jack Dempsey's reign as king of the
heavyweights. His successor is that modest and unassuming James J.
Tunney, familiarly known as "Gene," who went to war, won the
championship of the A. E. F., and then took up the mimic battling of the
In six years of fighting Gene had worked himself into the position
of logical challenger. Tex Rickard, who had the bout under contract,
was not allowed to stage it in New York and finally took it to
Philadelphia, to the huge stadium built in connection with the
Sesqui-Centennial Exposition. Here, on the night of September 14, 1926,
a crowd estimated at 130,000 people gathered to see Jack Dempsey
annihilate the modest young ex-marine. In all the history of the
American prize ring there probably never was a greater upset than
Tunney's victory over Dempsey.
In training, which he did at Atlantic City, Dempsey looked good;
not quite his top form, but all the experts agreed he was plenty good
enough to take Gene Tunney in his stride. On the other hand, Tunney did
not impress the wise ones. They said that he lacked most of the things
that go to make up heavyweight champions, most of all, the "killer
instinct." However, during all his training Dempsey was bothered and
badgered by other matters. His ex-manager, with whom he had quarreled,
bombarded him with writs and other legal troubles. Undoubtedly,
Dempsey's mental condition before the fight was bad. He looked worried
when he stepped on the scales and showed 190 1/4 pounds, less than he
had weighted for a fight in years.
Now consider Mr. Tunney. That amazing youth did not seem to be
aware that he was being tossed to the lions. His outward attitude
showed a supremely confident and serene mind. He trained near
Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and on the morning of the fight he stepped
calmly into an aeroplane (airplane) and flew to Philadelphia. It is
said that Tex Rickard, when he learned that half of his two million
dollar gate was up in a rainy sky, almost lost control of the marvelous
poker face of his for a moment. But Gene landed safely, and was
properly sick at his stomach afterward. He has since told a friend, "If
you have any friend who is a fighter and is thinking of flying to the
battleground, tell him not to!" However, there he was, and the stunt
undoubtedly helped still further to upset the perturbed mind of Mr.
Dempsey. When the men entered the ring, however, with Tunney weighing
188 pounds, there was nothing to show that either was worried. Tunney
looked about and saluted friends near the ringside with an unaffected
smile. Dempsey glowered on his stool, as is his custom. The skies had
been lowering all day -- Dempsey skies, we might call them -- and before
the men finally put up their hands the rain was driving down in a fine
Through this fine drizzle the bell clanged its warning, and Jack
Dempsey and Gene Tunney were on their way. Dempsey came from his corner
with his customary rush, meeting Gene in ring center and shooting his
left without preliminary fiddling. Five times Dempsey tried to land,
but Gene was stepping out of the way, and then the challenger shot in
left and right to the head, the first clean blows of the battle. Again
Tunney sent left and right to the head. Dempsey started a flailing
right, but Gene blocked it and shot his own right to the jaw. There was
plenty of snap in the blows that Tunney was landing and Jack's head
bobbed as they sank home.
Then Jack bored in and landed a left and right to the head, but
Tunney had rolled the sting out of them and promptly retaliated with a
right and left to the jaw. Jack tried to bore in, but Tunney stopped
him with straight lefts that smacked as they landed. Then came the
bell. The round was Tunney's by the proverbial mile. He had landed
three or four clean blows to the champion's one, and his smashes seemed
to carry far more power with them.
To detail the rest of the fight would be simply repeating, without
great variation, the story of that first round. There were moments of
excitement, but in the main it was a steady piling up of points by the
challenger. Sometimes Dempsey worked Gene into a corner, a situation
that had always been an unhappy one for his opponent. But even when he
got Gene cornered, Dempsey could do little with him. Tunney's boxing
was excellent -- careful, cool and skillful. He rode what punches
reached him faultlessly; he ducked and stepped to perfection.
In the fourth round Jack caught Gene with a right-hander that
partly glanced off his jaw, but it was enough to send the challenger
reeling back to the rope. For a moment he stood holding the top rope,
wide open, but Dempsey, the "killer," did not crash through, as perhaps
he once would have done. He let Gene dance back to the center of the
ring and out of danger. After that there was never a moment when Tunney
seemed to be in trouble or when Dempsey looked as if he had a chance to
Throughout the ten rounds Gene showed complete mastery in boxing,
and the unbiased spectator left the arena with the impression that he
might have knocked Dempsey out if the bout had been of longer duration.
On the night of September 22, 1927, Gene Tunney crawled through the
ropes at Soldier Field in Chicago to defend his title against the man
from whom he had won it the year before. Dempsey appeared to be in
excellent condition and the upshot showed that he was. The greatest
crown in ring history gathered to watch the battle for the title,
135,000 people being massed in the huge enclosure.
The Illinois State boxing Commission had made a rule that if one
boxer was knocked down, his opponent must retire to a neutral corner
before the referee began his count. This rule was the crux of the
The fight was limited by Illinois law to ten rounds. Up to the
seventh round the battle followed very much the pattern of the meeting
of the two men in Philadelphia. Tunney clearly demonstrated his boxing
superiority. He outpointed Dempsey heavily in the fist three rounds.
In the fourth round the ex-champion appeared to be extremely tired, and
the crowd began to howl for a knockout. But Dempsey's amazing
recuperative powers stood him in good stead, and he came up for the
fifth round full of fight. Still Tunney was outpointing him through the
fifth, sixth and the beginning of the seventh round. And then came one
of the most dramatic moments in all ring history.
About a third through the seventh round, with the champion scoring
points with seeming ease, Dempsey suddenly flared into an outburst of
his old-time fighting fury. Catching an opening in Tunney's defense, he
broke through with a savage smash to the jaw, following it with what
seemed to the spectators to be two or three more blows, as the champion
started to wilt. Later the movies proved that Jack landed no fewer than
seven smashes on the champion.
Tunney crumpled to the floor, and lay half-reclining and grasping
the lower rope with his left glove. His eyes were open but glassy, and
there was an expression of goofy bewilderment on his face. The
timekeeper began his count, Dempsey stood in a corner about a yard from
the fallen man. Barry, the referee, motioned him to go to a neutral
corner. But Jack obviously did not understand the warning. His mind
was probably fogged with the fury of battle. Then Barry took Dempsey's
arm and led him to a neutral corner, turned back and began his count on
Tunney. When the count reached "Six!", the champion managed to lift
himself on his knee. His mind was clearing, and he watched the referee
as he continued his count. At "Nine!" Tunney rose to his feet and began
to back away from what he knew was coming. Dempsey plunged after him
with clenched jaws, anxious for the kill. But Tunney appeared now to be
recuperating rapidly. He showed excellent footwork as he circled back
and around. His head was clearing quickly. He managed to keep away
from the charging Dempsey. Finally, when he found he could not catch
the champion, Jack stopped for a second and made a beckoning motion with
his gloves, as if to say, "Come on and fight." Curiously enough, John
L. Sullivan had made the same gesture to Corbett at New Orleans in
1892. Corbett had refused the hospitable invitation, and Tunney did
likewise at Chicago. He kept carefully out of the way of the dynamite
in Dempsey's fist until the round ended.
The minute's rest seemed completely to restore Tunney. He came out
for the eighth with a leap. He boxed with all his skill, but he did
attack with more fire than during the earlier rounds. The champion
piled up a long lead on points in the eighth and ninth rounds, and in
the latter Dempsey took a count of one, that was half a slip. In the
tenth and final round Tunney attacked vigorously. He poured in lefts
and rights and Dempsey was weary as the battle ended. Judges and
referee agreed in giving the champion the decision, and the retention of
Though the battle was over, the controversy had just begun.
Estimates of the length of time Tunney was on the floor in the seventh
are various, most authorities putting it at fourteen seconds, and some
claiming twenty. There is no question that the famous "long count" was
long. Dempsey's failure, in the heat of battle, to remember to go to a
neutral corner, was a costly mistake. There are those who feel that
Barry, after leading the ex-champion to the corner, should have picked
up the timekeeper's count instead of beginning all over. At any rate,
Jack Dempsey, while he did not become the first heavyweight to regain
his title, was the first ex-champion to put his successor on the floor
for the full count of "Ten." Dempsey, good sport that he is, seems
perfectly content to let it rest there. He has the satisfaction of
knowing that ring followers hold in enthusiastic remembrance his
glorious contributions to the history of "the manly art of
self-defense." To the present generation, the name "Dempsey" means very
much the same as did that of "John L." to an older generation of ring
After his Chicago victory over Dempsey, Tunney did no more fighting
until July 21, 1928, when he took on Tom Heeney of Australia in an
international match which proved to be his farewell to the ring. Heeney
had come to America to play soccer football. He had done some boxing in
Australia, and when he saw the huge rewards that boxers were earning, he
made a tentative start in the ring. He proved to be a very fair boxer,
without any killing punch but with a stout heart and a willingness to
take on anyone. He was obviously not a particularly dangerous opponent
for the skillful and sharp-hitting champion. The match did not stir up
the public interest that had been hoped. The gross receipts were
$691,014. Tunney received $525,000 as his share, and Heeney $100,000.
Madison Square Garden, which promoted the bout, lost about $200,000 on
The fight followed the expected lines. Tunney handled Heeney about
as he pleased, and the referee stopped the bout in the eleventh round to
save the Australian useless punishment. It was a technical knockout.
Less than a month later Gene Tunney announced his retirement from
the ring, the only heavyweight champion to retire unbeaten. Tunney
carried with him a remarkable record. His fights totaled 68, and of
these he won 35 by knockouts, 17 by dicision. He engaged in 14
no-decision bouts, and lost one decision to Harry Greb, an extremely
difficult man for any fighter to handle.
The Ring Magazine
"It Happened Thirty Years Ago in Soldier's Field"
by Nat Fleischer
supplied by the Michael Perna
Thirty years ago, on September 22, 1927, one of the most historic
battles in the annals of pugilism took place in Soldier's Field,
Chicago, a contest in which Jack Dempsey made an unsuccessful attempt to
regain the world heavyweight title from Gene Tunney. "The Battle of the
Long Count", it is called, and as such, it has received probably more
publicity and has been the subject of more disputes than any in recent
Though the years have passed, there is no let-up in the discussions
on the count, Referee Dave Barry's right to delay it and the adoption of
the neutral corner. The general impression seems to be that because of
Dempsey's failure to step to a neutral corner when Tunney had been
dropped to the canvas, that rule followed.
The Chicago battle is frequently listed as the one responsible for
the "neutral corner" rule being adopted.
But this is not so. It was on the books long before the return
engagement but only occassionally prior to the fight, was it given much
consideration. When the Walker Law went into effect in New York and
soon became the pattern for all such laws in other states, Section Three
"When a knockdown occurs, the timekeeper shall immediately arise
and announce the seconds audibly as they elapse. The referee shall see
first that the opponent retires to the farthest corner and then, turning
to the timekeeper, shall pick up the count in unison with him,
announcing the seconds to the boxer on the floor. Should the boxer on
his feet fail to go or stay in the corner, the referee and timekeeper
shall cease counting until he has so retired."
That is the rule that Barry invoked when Dempsey refused to obey
his command and go to the farthest corner. Had not Dempsey's chief of
staff, Leo P. Flynn, insisted in a pre-fight meeting with the boxing
Commission and Tunney's advisors that "the neutral corner" rule be
strictly enforced, Jack might have regained his crown.
Tunney has always insisted that he could have gotten to his feet at
any time within the legal limit had it been necessary, but the picture
of the knockdown, indicates otherwise. He was aided considerably by the
extra seconds -- some say fourteen as "The Ring Editor" clocked it; Bob
Edgren of the "New York Evening World" timed it 16 seconds and the watch
of Hype Igoe of the "New York Journal" indicated seventeen.
No matter what the extra period, Gene definitely got the benefit of
a long count that saved him from losing his crown.
Due to the fuss made over the "farthest corner" rule which at the
time was not in the rules of the Illinois Commission, Leo P. Flynn and
Bill Duffy, Dempsey's advisors, had the boxing board incorporate it in
their regulations the day before the Chicago bout that drew 104,943
persons and a record gate of $2,658,660. Jack, eager for the kill once
he had Gene down, forgot what he and his mentors had so bitterly fought
for at the Commission session, shoved Barry aside when ordered to the
neutral corner while arguing with Barry who refused to start counting
until Dempsey obeyed him. By then Tunney's brain had somewhat cleared
and at least fourteen seconds elapsed from the time he collapsed until
he got to his feet to resume the battle.
That was the unforgettable "long count" that saved the crown for
Gene and it took place three decades ago.
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