Classic Fights: Battle of the Long Count

By Robert Ecksel on March 15, 2017
Classic Fights: Battle of the Long Count
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’ve tried to tell the truth and I never alibi.”

“Tunney took the count, whatever it was,” said Dempsey. “And that’s what any smart fighter would have done. In boxing, take what they give you…”

On September 22, 1927, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, former American Light Heavyweight and current National Boxing Association World heavyweight champion Gene Tunney (65-1-1, 48 KOs), “The Fighting Marine” from Greenwich Village, New York, fought former World, NYSAC, and NBA World heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey (54-6-9, 44 KOs), “The Manassa Mauler” from Salt Lake City, Utah, by way of Manassa, Colorado, a second time.

Their first fight took place a year earlier on September 23, 1926, at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dempsey was coming off a three-year layoff. He had won the World Heavyweight Title in 1919 by destroying Jess Willard in three rounds and successfully defended the crown five times. But in the intervening years, Dempsey had lost his legs, he had lost his edge, he had lost his killer instinct.

The first Dempsey-Tunney fight, “The biggest event in the history of sport” according to the New York Times, was a one-sided affair. Looking every inch like Gentleman Jim Corbett, Tunney landed at will and evaded Dempsey’s charges. Relying on nifty footwork and a high ring IQ, Gene raked Dempsey with hard punches to his body and blood-smeared face. At the end of 10 rounds, each of which went to Tunney, the fight was awarded to the new heavyweight champion of the world.

“I was slower than I thought, or Tunney was faster,” said Dempsey after the fight. “I was blaming the wet ring, but it didn’t bother Tunney. He glided around the ring like a great skater on ice.”

When Dempsey’s wife, the Hollywood starlet Estelle Taylor, saw her husband’s bruised and battered face, she asked what happened.

Jack told her, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

Dempsey had lost his title. His return to the ring was a bust. He considered calling it a day. As Grantland Rice wrote about Dempsey’s performance, “He didn’t throw rabbit punches; he punched like a rabbit.”

But Dempsey couldn’t stay away. “I’m not dead by a jugful,” he said. “Because I was beaten doesn’t mean I can’t fight any more. These things happen. You have to lose a fight once in a while.”

Ten months later, Dempsey fought a heavyweight elimination bout against Jack Sharkey, with the winner to meet the champion Gene Tunney.

Dempsey ended it with a knockout in the seventh.

According to the Associated Press, “Sharkey took the count of ten after going down from a vicious left hook to the jaw. The Boston sailor had claimed a foul blow to the mid-section just before the climax, but the referee, Jack O’Sullivan, refused to allow it and counted him out. Dempsey’s knockout victory, which sent the crowd into a delirious outburst, followed a slashing, slugging battle from start to finish. The former champion, staggered in the first round and groggy, came back to force the fighting and finally dropped his young rival.”

A reporter later asked Dempsey, “How could you hit Sharkey like that when he had his hands down and he was talking to the referee?”

Dempsey grinned. “What was I supposed to do?” he said. “Write him a letter?”

Tunney was a 7 to 5 favorite going into the rematch. There was plenty of hanky-panky preceding the fight, involving gangsters Al Capone and Boo Boo Hoff, and it was estimated that $10 million had been bet on the fight.

Yet the second fight was much like the first. “He was out-boxing Jack,” wrote Hype Igoe in the New York World. “Dempsey had some tricky shuffles away from Tunney’s lunging left, but when Tunney settled down to finer boxing, Dempsey became a mark. Until the seventh round. Then a thunderbolt came out of the sky.”

One minute into the seventh round, Dempsey caught Tunney with a long left to the jaw followed by an overhand right and a left hook. As Tunney was crumbling to the canvas, Jack landed an overhand right, two more left hooks, and a sweeping right hand.

Tunney was hurt and Dempsey knew it.

The referee, Dave Barry, told Dempsey to “Go to the farthest corner.” Dempsey disobeyed and said, “I stay,” giving precious seconds to the “weak and glassy-eyed,” in the words of Nat Fleischer, man on the canvas before him.

Eventually Jack went to the farthest neutral corner. The official timekeeper, Paul Beeler, shouted “Five!” but Barry began the count at “One!”

When Tunney’s head cleared and he struggled to his feet, the ref had reached a count of “Nine!” But 14 seconds, possibly as many as 18 seconds, had elapsed from the time Tunney hit the deck.

“Tunney took the count, whatever it was,” said Dempsey. “And that’s what any smart fighter would have done. In boxing, take what they give you.”

Tunney retreated and survived the round. A left-right combination dropped Dempsey in the eighth. At the end of the scheduled 10 rounds, Dempsey’s face was a bloody mess.

Gene Tunney had retained his title.

“The long count was one of the breaks,” said Dempsey after his appeals to have the decision reversed had been denied. “Tunney fought a smart fight. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’ve tried to tell the truth and I never alibi.”

Tunney had one more fight and retired.

Jack Dempsey never fought again.

Classic Fights: Battle of the Long Count
Classic Fights: Marciano KOs Charles
Classic Fights: Louis Crushes Schmeling
Classic Fights: Dempsey and Firpo
Classic Fights: Marciano KOs LaStarza

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Dempsey vs Tunney Long Count This Day in Boxing History September 22, 1927

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  1. Captain MAGA 01:19pm, 03/16/2017

    Irish…Hunker down, troop. It’s getting rough out there. Toast to ya, lad & HAPPY ST. PADDY’s eve.

  2. Captain MAGA 01:16pm, 03/16/2017

    Lucas McCain…Have always been interested in certain fighters for one reason or another and Tunney is one of them. Interested in different fighters for different reasons. Jack Sharkey interests me as well, but not as much as the original Sailor Tom Sharkey. Thanks for the review.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:58pm, 03/16/2017

    @Capitan Maga-Fair enough….

  4. Lucas McCain 12:54pm, 03/16/2017

    Captain—The Tunney is a bit odd.  It’s written from an “upper-crust” point of view, uncomfortably self-conscious about boxing itself and proud of Gene’s wide reading and intellectual ambitions.  But it’s a unique perspective and the author, Jay Tunney (not the Senator) was a very nice guy when I met him.

  5. Captain MAGA 12:14pm, 03/16/2017

    Irish… The National Socialists were fighting against the Communists. I think the “Obaministas” as you call them, have nothing in common with National Socialism whatsoever. The “Obaministas” are reincarnated neo-Bolsheviks. Not much for Savage, he’s what I would call, “controlled opposition,” but my prayers got out to him. Pretty damn cowardly for any man, much less a 6’5” ogre to attack a small elderly man. And to kick a small dog? Oh brother, bring on the Alt. Knight.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:57am, 03/16/2017

    6’5” Obamunista sucker punches 5’ 6”, 75 year old Michael Savage and drop kicks Savage’s ten pound poodle (Yea, that’s boxing related)! Obamunistas are the reincarnation of the Brown Shirts in the present day and they are recreating 1930s Nazi Germany. When they scream fascist they should choke on their words!

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:54am, 03/16/2017

    Isaac Lowe looks like a young Gene Fullmer, Travis will beat up Mansour and get cheated and GGG will get Jacobs out of there in under three minutes

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:08am, 03/16/2017

    “Dearly Beloved, When you got five loaves, two fishes and Jesus, you really got something!” ( Pastor J. Vernon Magee….long gone on to his Heavenly reward with a job well done)

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:10am, 03/16/2017

    “I stay”....Jack wanted to clock Tunney while he was trying to get to his feet like in the old days. You need to write a book Robert Ecksel…. your biological clock is ticking.

  10. peter 02:21pm, 03/15/2017

    This fight, and the story behind it, never gets old. The few added tidbits were of interest. Thank you!

  11. Captain MAGA 12:48pm, 03/15/2017

    Lucas McCain….Thanks for the information. Will definitely give it a look. I have read, “Tunney” by Jack Cavanaugh, and found it to be one of the better boxing books out there. Tunney is vastly underrated IMO. Tunney would have more than held his own with any of the champions pre-Sonny Liston, after that, the heavyweights might have been too big for Gene to handle.

  12. tony d 12:09pm, 03/15/2017

    three year layoff buried Dempsey although tunney was a great boxer if this had been 1919 Dempsey would have knocked gene out dempsey had quicker feet quicker hands and better conditioning it wouldn’t have been easy but I think Dempsey wins that fight!

  13. Lucas McCain 11:35am, 03/15/2017

    Agreed, Captain.  Tunney would have given Dempsey trouble at any point of his career.  But Dempsey really did crack him here, and if this were the 1919 Dempsey. . . who knows?  BTW, I recommend the book about Tunney by his son, about Tunney’s friendship with George Bernard Shaw.  Tunney was a man of many interests.

  14. Captain MAGA 08:06am, 03/15/2017

    Tunney nearly shutout Dempsey over 20 rounds of boxing. I think Tunney was never in any real danger of not beating the count. Just a way of adding drama to two bouts that were never really that competitive. Taking into account, Dempsey’s ring rust, lack of desire, etc., I still think Tunney just had the right style to beat Dempsey more times than not. I think Tunney would have done very well against Marciano and Louis as well.

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