Harry Greb vs. Gene Tunney: 1922’s Fight Of The Year; Certainly Its Bloodiest

By James Slater - 01/29/2022 - Comments

“The Bible of Boxing,” Ring Magazine, came into existence 100 years ago, and in 1922, “The Bible” handed out its first Fight of the Year trophy.

The accolade-winning battle was the Harry Greb-Gene Tunney fight of May 23rd of that year. And what a savage, at times sickeningly bloody fight this really was. In terms of two-way action, of competitiveness, this one was no great fight at all; Greb dished out one of the most thorough hidings ever witnessed. Yet in terms of raw courage, shown by future heavyweight king Tunney, this fight was incredible.

Greb, despite being just 28 years of age, was already a mind-boggling 195-11-17 when entering the ring with “The Fighting Marine,” who was no slouch at 40-0-1. No-one knew what carnage lay ahead (nor did fans have any idea that Greb and Tunney would wind up fighting each other five times in all).

Tunney, the younger man by three years and the ruling ABA light-heavyweight champion, met Greb in New York and the fight very quickly turned into an X-Rated affair for the ages.

Mere seconds in, Greb cracked Tunney’s nose in two places and the blood began to pour. Tunney, already suffering from what must have been almost unbelievable pain, to say nothing of the trouble he must have had breathing properly, was then cut above his eye.

His face now a crimson mess and staying that way until the bitter end of this, one of the most gruesome prizefights in history, Gene was later estimated to have lost two quarts of blood. Reports from the day, caring to hold nothing back for fear of offending more sensitive readers, described how the referee, Kid McPartland, was – along with those sat at ringside – “splattered with blood.”

As the gory episode continued, the referee had to regularly force Greb to take a step back so he could wipe the blood from his gloves with a towel. By the end of the fight, the third man had used up half a dozen towels. Greb, a born killer in the ring, was moved to implore the referee to stop the slaughter. “Wanna stop it?” Greb would say whilst glancing at the ref. For his part, Tunney was horrified at the thought of the fight being stopped. “For God’s sake, don’t stop it,” Gene begged.

Tunney got his wish and the horror show lasted all 15 rounds. Estimates say Tunney might have won one round, maybe earning a share of one other session. Greb had administered a complete beating on his almost blinded foe.

Today, this fight would have been stopped by the second round, the third at the absolute latest. Yet things were different in the squared circle a hundred years ago. Vastly different. And there was no quit in Tunney.

Not a bit of it. Taking what could so easily have been a career-ending shellacking, over the course of 45-minutes of barbarity, Tunney somehow, God only knows how, gutted it out to the final bell. The half-crazy, fully courageous Tunney was even able to smile when he was under the most savage pressure; this in an effort to persuade the ref that he was not worthy of being rescued.

Greb was all but facially unmarked at the end and he was carried from the ring like a hero. That he was – but so was Tunney. And the rivalry had only just begun. “You were the better man – tonight,” a battered, bloodied, half-blinded Tunney said to Greb.

Maybe both men knew then they would soon be fighting again. In fact, Greb – who went to a bar to celebrate his win – told his team that his win had not been easy, that his ribs hurt and that he was pissing blood; that he knew the next fight would he “a different story.” It was, but it had not been written just yet. For now, “The Pittsburgh Windmill” was the king of the light-heavyweight division.

So was this 1922’s Fight of the Year? Greb W15 Tunney was certainly the bloodiest fight of the year. By far.