The Time Tunnel: Gene Tunney

gene tunney25.06.07 - By Sam Gregory: Considered bright good looking and articulate; Gene Tunney was never as popular with fight fans and the press as the man he beat for the heavyweight championship of the world. When promoter Tex Rickard arranged for Gene Tunney to fight Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight title the original location of the fight was to be Yankee Stadium.

The New York State Boxing Commission refused to sanction the bout in New York because of Dempsey not honoring an agreement he made to fight the prominent black heavyweight contender Harry Wills. The bout was moved to Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia where Gene Tunney dethroned Jack Dempsey to become heavyweight champion of the world..

At times they fought in the driving rain but Gene Tunney was the physically superior man and he made Dempsey look foolish during most of the fight. Tunney was much quicker beating Dempsey to the punch with his crisp sharp punches. Some of Dempsey’s ringside supporters blamed it on the weather conditions and the fact that Dempsey was having difficulties with his manager at the time; either way Gene Tunney looked the part of heavyweight champion of the world.

Tunney granted Dempsey a rematch one year later at Soldier’s field in Chicago to defend his title in a bout that went down in pugilistic history as “The Battle of the Long Count.”
Before the fight it was agreed that the neutral corner rule be observed which was in the event of a knockdown the man scoring it should go to a neutral corner. When Dempsey dropped Tunney in the seventh round he refused to obey the rule; referee Dave Barry stopped the count until Dempsey did go to a neutral corner. Because of that, Dempsey was penalized and Tunney received additional time to regain his composure. Once again Gene Tunney was victorious.

Born James Joseph Tunney on May 25th 1898, he was the first New York born prize fighter to win the heavyweight title under the Marquee of Queensbury rules. Prior to winning the heavyweight title, even before he joined the Marines and won the A.E.F. light heavyweight title in Europe, he had a few fights, but it was when he returned home from his duties in World War 1 that he originally set his sights on the championship and made that his main priority.

Tunney defeated Battling Levinsky for the American light heavyweight title on January 13th 1922. At that time he had won 29 fights without a single loss. His first and only defeat was to Harry Greb on May 23rd 1922 for the light heavyweight crown; he redeemed his title from Greb on February 23rd 1923 and never again lost a fight.

In 1925 Gene Tunney officially joined the heavyweight ranks and scored knockouts over Tommy Gibbons and Bartley Madden; he also defeated Johnny Risko in 12 rounds that same year.

Gene Tunney went from a slender sinewy youth and developed into a muscular massive shouldered man with a deep chest. His weight and punching power increased without sacrificing any hand speed or foot speed as he got older. All these attributes were evident when he won the heavyweight title from Jack Dempsey in Philadelphia.
It was Tunney’s strength and stamina that enabled him to tie up and control the clinches in the later rounds of the championship fight with Dempsey. Tunney had clearly become a force to be reckoned with as he stood atop the heavyweight ranks.

The next summer in July of 1928, Gene Tunney defended the heavyweight title for the last time. His opponent was Australian heavyweight Tom Heeney. In an elimination tournament conducted by Tex Rickard at Madison Square Garden, the only worthy competitors out of a mediocre bunch of contenders was Heeney and Jack Sharkey. The two men fought to a draw. Since Sharkey had already been knocked out by Jack Dempsey, the Australian was awarded the fight for the championship.

The bout was held at the Polo Grounds in New York City on July 26th 1928. Known as the “Australian Hard Rock” Tom Heeney was a game fighter but referee Eddie Forbes was forced to stop the bout eight seconds before the end of the eleventh round because Heeney was cut so badly by the champions punches. Ringside observers said Heeney never had a chance from the opening bell. The man that was the number one contender looked like a novice at the hands of the greatest heavyweight since James J Corbett.

When Tunney announced his retirement it was clear he was through with the ring forever. He later married an heiress, Miss Polly Lauder, and interrupted only by a stint in the Navy during WWII, went on to become a very successful business man.

Article posted on 25.06.2007

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