(Gene Tunney & Jack Dempsey)
Previous Article: http://fightview360.com/a-boxing-insight-1911-to-1920/
For this article covering 1921 to 1930 we are going back to the heavyweight division to have a look at one of the names that is always on people’s lips when the discussion of who is the greatest Heavyweight of all time and we look at a young upstart Heavyweight who appeared on the scene at the time to dethrone the ageing King, I am of course talking about the great fighters Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney.
These two fighters defined a decade which was a popular time for the sport as the sport grew in stature and so did the number of people attending the fights, in this era we saw the record for the 1 Million Dollar and 2 Million Dollar gates, then there was the first ever radio broadcast of a live Boxing match and one of the biggest controversies pre 1920’s.
We start by looking at the legend that is Jack Dempsey, his name was very much prominent in the 1920’s and if anything big was happening then more than likely Jack Dempsey was involved with it. He hailed from Manassa, Colorado, USA which lent him to his nickname of the Manassa Mauler. He started fighting at the young age of 19 but it wasn’t until he was more established that he became regarded as one of the most popular boxers at the time.
He was 24 when he became the Heavyweight Champion of the world and he held the title for an impressive 7 years. Dempsey beat Jess Willard in brutal fashion by knocking him down seven times in the first round, then Dempsey broke his cheek bone, knocked out five teeth and broke two ribs in July of 1919 to make sure he would be the Heavyweight champion. The American audience had never seen a fighter like him before, they were used to more gentlemanly performances from the civilised boxers they watched.
On the way to meeting Tunney he fought the World War I hero Frenchman George Carpentier, on the 2nd July 1921 the fight was very popular on both sides of the Atlantic and it generated the first million dollar gate for a boxing event. Carpentier had the power to worry Dempsey but after he broke his thumb in the second round there was always going to be one winner and Dempsey done the business in round four.
After the Carpentier fight Dempsey took a two-year break from boxing, he came back fought two more times and won the first ever NYSAC Heavyweight title in another classic fight, against Luis Angel Firpo where there was a total of eleven knockdowns between the two fighters. After winning the NYSAC belt Dempsey took another break but this time it was three years.
At the time of the first fight against Gene Tunney, Dempsey was Thirty one which isn’t old for a professional athlete nowadays but back in 1926 it was considered anyone over 30 was well past their prime and after his two famous fights with Tunney he still had the utmost respect for his opponent, when Dempsey was asked about the controversial second fight known as The Long Count fight he said “I have no reason not to believe him, Gene is a great guy”. After the second defeat to Tunney Dempsey decided to retire after eighteen hard years.
After The Long Count Fight James Joseph ‘Gene’ Tunney defended his title against Tom Heeney in 1928 before retiring from boxing with 65 wins from 68 official professional bouts of which 43 where knock outs with 1 draw 1 defeat and 1 no contest. But leading up to those record-breaking bouts with Dempsey, Tunney the New York native started his boxing career at Light Heavy weight in 1915.
He went on to join the US Marine Corps during World War 1 where he won the Light Heavy weight championship of the American Expeditionary force in Paris. Tunney returned home and went on to win the American Light Heavy weight title twice from 1922 to 1923 in Madison Square Garden.
Before stepping up in weight Tunney suffered defeat at the hands of Harry ‘The Human Windmill’ Greb. If there ever was an epic rivalry it was between these two fighters as they met five times with Tunney claiming victory in three and a draw in the other. During this rivalry Tunney learned that he did not always need to punch the opponent’s head to win a bout, this is where he adopted his approach and worked the body of Greb.
In his days as a Light Heavy weight Tunney would often go toe to toe with his opponents, but with age comes experience and he slowly came away from this style especially when he turned heavy weight in 1924, he would box on the outside on the back foot keeping his opponent behind his left jab before exploding forward, using quick combos to keep the opponent off-balance.
(Gene Tunney V Jack Dempsey I)
Tunney would study his opponent’s and master their styles identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and went on to beat Heavy weights such as Gibbons and Carpentier by out manoeuvring them using his superior foot work. It is of little wonder why he went on and retired undefeated as a Heavy Weight champion having never been knocked out.
Only Tunney, along side Rocky Marciano and three other Heavy weights have retired without ever suffering a stoppage defeat. Along side Rocky Marciano again and Lennox Lewis as well as two others, Tunney retired as heavyweight champion having defeated every opponent he had faced as a professional (barring no contests). It is clear to see why Tunney was named the first ever Fighter of the year by The Ring Magazine in 1928, elected to the World Boxing hall of fame in 1980 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
The decade was always known for the second fight against Jack Dempsey, also known as the Long Count Fight, which at the time it caused great controversy, after Tunney had already shocked the world by beating Dempsey in September 1926 by winning a ten round unanimous decision, they would meet again in September 1927, at Chicago’s famous Solider Field stadium where it was the first 2million dollar gate.
A new rule had recently been introduced to boxing that was to play a big part of the history of this fight, .
the rule was if a fighter was knocked down to the canvas, they had ten seconds to get back onto their feet without the aid of anyone helping them and the opposing boxer would have to go to a neutral corner. In this fight Tunney was cruising until the seventh round whenever Dempsey unleashes a barrage of punches that send him to the canvas for the first time in his career. There is some confusion due to Dempsey not retreating to the neutral corner and some people say Tunney was on the canvas for a total of 13 seconds but I will let you be the judge of that.