Not too many men have managed to retire from the sport of boxing whilst being an unbeaten heavyweight king. Who did manage to accomplish the feat? Rocky Marciano’s name springs to mind with very little effort – “The Rock” going out with a spotless 49-0 ledger. And Rocky never came back. Not once. Marciano’s record is forever frozen in time. No man EVER beat Rocky.
Gene Tunney, who ruled as heavyweight king from 1926 to 1928, also left the sport as an unbeaten heavyweight king. Tunney, who beat the great Jack Dempsey to win the crown in 1926, defended the title just twice – beating Dempsey again, this in the famous “Long Count” fight, and then seeing off Tom Heeney.
Before Tunney retired at the peak of his powers. But Tunney had lost a fight, down at light-heavyweight, to the superb Harry Greb. Tunney avenged his one and only loss some three times, yet on paper, Tunney is not an unbeaten fighter; although the never once lost as a heavyweight.
Jim Jeffries, or James J if you prefer (and you probably do), should also be recognized as a man who retired as an unbeaten heavyweight king. Jeffries actually did so – in 1904, this with an unblemished 19-0-2 record. “The Boilermaker” had ruled as heavyweight champ from 1899 to 1904, defending the crown seven times.
Happy and content at having gone out on his own terms, Jeffries – a freak of nature in his prime years; both super-fast (especially considering the day and age) and possibly the most naturally strong heavyweight aside from George Foreman – was then forced, literally, under pain of jail, to come back and “wipe the smile off” new ruler Jack Johnson.
Jeffries, forced by the establishment of the time, who could not stand the idea of a black heavyweight champion of the world, much less as cocky and assured a Negro champion as Johnson, had to shed a ton of weight (as much as 100 pounds) and leave the safety and comfort of his farm; this after over eight years of comfortable living.
The fight of July 4 in 1910 was dubbed “The Fight of the Century.” As a competitive contest, it was no such thing. Jeffries, who had left all of his fight on the gym floor, was exhausted and battered to a KO loss. Prime-for-Prime, this one would have been VERY different. But no matter, Jeffries’ chance of being remembered as an unbeaten heavyweight champion was gone.
Now, here in 2022, Tyson Fury has the chance to join the very, very short list of unbeaten heavyweight kings. And Fury says he will call it quits after tomorrow’s fight with Dillian Whyte. If he is as good as his word (and most people seem to think Fury will not retire any time soon; at least not for keeps), and if he wins tomorrow’s battle, Fury will go out with a 32-0-1(22 or 23) record.
But can Fury do it? Will Fury do it? And if he does, where will Fury be ranked amongst the greatest heavyweight champions of all time?