International Boxing Hall of Fame

Gene Tunney

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Gene Tunney
 
Statistics
Real name James Joseph Tunney
Nickname(s) The Fighting Marine
Rated at Heavyweight
Nationality Flag of the United States American
Birth date May 25, 1897(1897-05-25)
Birth place New York City
Death date November 7, 1978 (aged 81)
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 86
Wins 81
Wins by KO 48
Losses 1
Draws 3

James Joseph "Gene" Tunney (May 25, 1897 November 7, 1978) was the heavyweight boxing champion from 1926-1928 who defeated Jack Dempsey twice, first in 1926 and then in 1927. Tunney's successful title defense against Dempsey is one of the most famous bouts in boxing history and is known as The Long Count Fight. Tunney retired as a heavyweight after his victory over Tom Heeney in 1928.

Tunney, who in World War I served in the U.S. Marines, had only one loss in his entire professional career a 10 round unanimous decision to Harry Greb for the American Light Heavyweight title, a defeat that he later avenged in four more fights against Greb. He was regarded as an extremely skillful boxer who excelled in defense.

In addition to beating Dempsey, the most famous fighter of his era, Tunney defeated Tommy Loughran, Tommy Gibbons, Georges Carpentier, and many other fine boxers.

Tunney also had a brief acting career, starring in the movie The Fighting Marine in 1926. Unfortunately, no prints of this film are known to exist.

He was elected as Ring Magazine's first-ever Fighter of the Year in 1928 and later elected to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.

Tunney in Marine uniform
Tunney in Marine uniform

Tunney, who was of Irish descent, married in 1928 a wealthy socialite, the former Mary "Polly" Lauder (1907- April 19, 2008) and fathered four children. Among them is John V. Tunney (born 1934), who was a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from California from 1965 until 1977. The others are Jonathan "Jay" Tunney of Stamford, Connecticut; Gene L. Tunney of Honolulu, Hawaii, and Joan Tunney Cook of Omaha in Boone County in northwestern Arkansas.

Mrs. Tunney's grandfather was George Lauder, a first cousin and business partner of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, founder and head of Carnegie Steel Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her father, George Lauder, Jr., was a philanthropist and yachtsman whose 136-foot (41 m) schooner once held the record for the fastest trans-Atlantic yacht passage ever made. According to a 2007 biography, Tunney promised Polly that he would quit boxing and defended his title only one more time against Tom Heeney of New Zealand.[1]

Upon his death at the age of eighty-one, Tunney was interred in the Long Ridge Union Cemetery in Stamford.

Fighting style

Tunney was a thinking fighter who preferred to make a boxing match into a game of chess which was not popular during the times when such sluggers like Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb and Mickey Walker were commanding center stage. Tunney's style was influenced by other noted boxing thinkers such as James J. Corbett and Benny Leonard. Always moving and boxing behind a good solid left jab, Tunney would start reading and dissecting his opponent from the first bell, preferring to stay on the outside and nullify any attack his opponent has at him, he would use quick counters to keep them off balance. Not known as a big puncher, Tunney could hit with venom if need be, especially once he had figured his opponents out and they were exhausted or hurt.

In his fights against Jack Dempsey, today's viewer can see Tunney's style: hands held low for greater power, fast footwork that adjusts to every move his opponent makes, and quick and accurate one-two style counter-punches with the left and right.

Tunney, while not known for having one of the truly great chins in the history of boxing, did own a very solid chin. He was never knocked out and the only time he was ever knocked down was in the second fight with Dempsey in the infamous "Long Count."

Cultural references

Stamp honoring Tunney
Stamp honoring Tunney

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had a comedy routine in which Lewis (in boxing shorts and gear) states he's fight'n Gene Tierney (the actress). Martin corrects Lewis and suggests that he must mean "Gene Tunney." Lewis then quips, "You fight who you wanna fight, I'm fight'n who I wanna fight, I'm fight'n Gene Tierney."

In the song She Twists the Knife Again from Richard Thompson's 1985 album Across a Crowded Room, describing the mismatched intensity in a strife-ladened relationship, Thompson writes: "I'm in a fist fight/She thinks she's Gene Tunney!"

He's also mentioned in Act 1 of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Willy tells his sons he has a punching bag with Tunney's signature on it.

Preceded by
Jack Dempsey
Heavyweight boxing champion
19261928
Succeeded by
Max Schmeling
Filled vacancy