The Great Gene Tunney, An Underappreciated Heavyweight King (sound familiar?)

by James Slater: A great light-heavyweight who had a series of fights at 175-pounds against the fearsome Harry Greb - Greb being the only man to ever beat him - Gene Tunney (1897-1978) always had an eye on heavyweight ruler, the incomparable Jack Dempsey.

Studying the murderous punching heavyweight king for future purposes, Tunney always had it in his mind to face Dempsey one day. That day finally came in September of 1926 and, with Dempsey ready for the taking due to inactivity and age having taken their toll on him, "The Fighting Marine" executed the game-plan he'd been formulating for many years as he soundly thrashed the champion over the ten rounds by a unanimous decision.

Now heavyweight king, Tunney was no hero like the man he'd beaten. Thought of as something of a snob due to his taste in literature and his social company, among other things, Tunney was never a fighter the fans really warmed to. As such, he was booed during the rematch with Dempsey the following year. "They [the fans] are welcome to boo me," Tunney said. "But they have to pay for the privilege."

The fans in attendance at Soldiers Field in Chicago on September 22nd, 1927 almost got what they wanted. Decked heavily in round 7 by a ferocious Dempsey combination to the head, Tunney was down for over ten seconds - only to............... well, surely ALL boxing fans know what happened and how Tunney-Dempsey II got its famous nickname.

Now having seen off the great Dempsey once and for all (promoter Tex Rickard wanted a third meeting but Dempsey wisely declined), Tunney, a good business man, wanted a big payday before hanging up his gloves. He had also promised his wife Polly that he would retire. And so we come to the Tom Heeney fight that took place today in 1928 at Yankee Stadium, New York. Heeney, a decent fighter hailing from New Zealand who had held former champ Jack Sharkey to a draw just prior to meeting Tunney, had the benefit of having former king Dempsey in his corner for the bout. It didn't help him. Stopping his man in the 11th round, Tunney had pretty much everything his own way.

Indeed, the fight is most famous due to the fact that it lost its promoter a lot of money - to the tune of $200,000 to be exact. Tunney, ever astute, bagged his big pay day as planned. And then he kept his word to his wife and quit. For good. There would be no unhappy comeback necessitated by financial needs for this intelligent boxer - only a long and fruitful life. Becoming good friends with his former rival Dempsey, Gene, like Jack, lived well into old age.

Today recognized as a true boxing great, Tunney is a perfect example of a fighter adequately appreciated only well after his prime years had passed (which is what may well happen with both Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali - the two being modern day masters who have failed, thus far, to win over many fans).

Tunney's final record, according to, is an almost perfect 81-1-3(48). His one and only loss came at light-heavyweight, to Harry Greb - this loss being avenged some three times.

Article posted on 09.10.2011

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