Gene Tunney in Street Fight!

By Mike Casey on September 29, 2016
Gene Tunney in Street Fight!
Why was Gene Tunney was such a target? Was it because of his famously superior air?

Forget your perceptions of Gene as an elevated member of society who never mixed with the roughs…

Make that plural. Believe it or not, former heavyweight champion and successful businessman Gene Tunney was in quite a few street fights back in his days as a student. Forget your perceptions of Gene as an elevated member of society who never mixed with the roughs. Apparently, he mixed with them very successfully and gave them what for when they tried to spoil his walk to St. Veronica’s Parochial School at Leroy and Washington Streets in New York.

It was some walk for Tunney back in the days of New York’s old West Side, a veritable gauntlet of bullies and rough guys who wanted to spoil nice Gene’s day. But educated Gene was never fearful of standing his ground and giving his tormentors an educated walloping.

The school was a fair distance from Gene’s home in Greenwich Village, taking him along several blocks and into territory where some of the locals much preferred confrontation to a polite “Good morning.”  Already a canny counterpuncher,Tunney never picked a fight but stunned his enemies when he was pushed to it. Gene quickly established an enviable reputation for never losing a battle on the street.

However, your writer can’t help mischievously wondering why Tunney was such a target. Was it because of his famously superior air? Did he ask for the occasional right swing by quoting T.S. Eliot or possibly criticizing somebody’s dress sense?

It is an undeniable fact that Tunney had a certain way of ruffling people’s feathers, whether intentionally or otherwise. He certainly ruffled those of his great rival Tommy Loughran, who bristled at the mere mention of Tunney’s name.

Gene’s unfortunate habit of making a compliment sound like a thinly veiled insult never ceased to grate with Loughran. In 1928, former welterweight legend Jack Britton, considered to be an excellent judge of fighters, offered his opinion on Loughran. Said Jack, “There’s only one fighter in the game I wouldn’t bet against in a fight with Tunney. And you’ll probably laugh when I mention his name — Tommy Loughran. You know, you can’t knock out a fellow or beat him if you can’t hit him.”

To this, Tunney allegedly replied, “I understand that Tommy is a very nice fellow and a gentleman. But as to fighting — ah! That’s different!”

Loughran quietly seethed over the fact that Tunney had got to the fading and distracted Jack Dempsey first in 1926. Never shy in promoting his own credentials, Tommy said, “I licked Dempsey in his training camp and I know I could have knocked him out in a real fight, but Tunney had the jump and got the chance. I came near beating Tunney when I was just a novice and I know I can take him now because all he can do is back away and counter.”

As a person, Tunney impressed Loughran even less. “Who does he think he is?” Tommy barked. “He wasn’t born any better than I was. He never could fight and I can. He didn’t win the war and neither did I.”

It seems that Loughran’s nose was put out of joint when he clashed with Tunney at a classy hotel in Newark, where Gene believed he was the exclusive guest of honor. Tunney was shocked to see Loughran and a few other fighters in the lobby. The story goes that Gene approached Tommy and gave him a somewhat frosty handshake. The ensuing conversation reportedly went as follows:

“What are you doing here, Tommy?”

“Just waiting around.”

“I’m awfully glad to see you in a place like this.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Why, I mean that it is good to see some of the boxers in respectable places. It will help the public get a different opinion of the business if they see boxers in places like this.”

Loughran was apparently boiling by this point and replied, “You don’t know how to act in a respectable place and I do. If I didn’t, I’d let you have one.”

Fortunately for the guests, Tommy behaved himself and didn’t hang one on Gene’s chin.

Mike Casey is a writer and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

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  1. Beaujack 07:51pm, 10/02/2016

    Happy to read your latest column Mike. As for Tunney’s toughness.My dad as a young man worked in Greenwich Village when Gene Tunney started his career and he was a fan of the up and coming Gene Tunney. My dad scraped up dough to see Gene Tunney tackle the vaunted middleweight Harry Greb in MSG in 1922. My dad would tell me hw horrendous a beating tunney received at the hands of Greb almost drowning in his own blood for 15 long rounds without qu[tting and That alone showed Tunney’s inner toughness.He was later a friend of George Bernard Shaw an intellectual which was unusual for a boxer to have ,thus sealing Tunney’s reputation as a “snob”. But I have him along with Ezzard Charles as the two best light heavyweights of modern times…

  2. Jethro's Flute 02:14pm, 10/01/2016

    Would Gene have noticed if Tommy had hung one on his chin? 

    He was hardly the Bob Foster of his day.

  3. Senya13 12:22pm, 10/01/2016

    It had better be “forget your perception of Gene Tunney as a master boxer”, because in absolute majority of his fights he was not, he was a slugger, and not a clever boxer most believe him to be based on two Dempsey bouts.

  4. Eric 06:36am, 10/01/2016

    Yikes. The dreaded c*nt cap even makes Tunney look like a dork. When will the military trash these hats and opt for berets instead. I’m sure that if Tunney could have survived Paris Island in preparation for WWI, he could probably handle himself in a street fight. That was a different world in the Marine Corps back in dem days, a lot more civilized in today’s world. Salute to all the boxers that served our country. How long did Riddick Bowe last in boot camp? haha. See this is an old article, but see some more of the tired old caca about Tunney being a racist. Wonder if these same people would complain about African Americans in a California college in 2016, being allowed to live in their own dormitory. That’s right, no Whites, hispanics, or Asians are allowed. Wonder if the federal government will FORCE them to integrate by pointing their guns at those Black separatists and DEMANDING they become multicultural?

  5. Bob 06:23pm, 09/29/2016

    Mike:  Great to see you back. And back with a bang. Great piece.

  6. Emilie 05:51pm, 09/29/2016

    3 Weeks out and RIPPED!! Manny looks incredible!!!!! damn .. speed son! he looks faster than ever..

  7. nicolas 10:44am, 10/03/2015

    BIKERMIKE: At least officially I don’t believe Tunney fought any black fighters on the way up. Though curiously neither did Joe Louis fight any black fighters on the way up, except maybe one.

  8. bikermike 04:12pm, 10/02/2015

    FrankinDallas has a point…
    Tunney was a Professional pize fighter….and the money was not that time…to fight Black Fighters….besides…too many threats ....for so little money

    Tunney fought plenty tough Black Fighters on his way up…

    It was business….not length of penis..

  9. bikermike 04:05pm, 10/02/2015

    Officiating///then ...and now….is not always reflective of what took place in the ring…

    I’m not sure how this can be corrected

  10. bikermike 03:57pm, 10/02/2015

    There is a kind of inner fire ..that burns in people…Gene Tunney had that ‘disease’...
    He knew that courage could deal with ‘bullies’...and strength and skill..and stamina..could deal with most of the Professional Boxing..

    To Mr Gene Tunney..that left a lot of time to prepare for post ring activities…
    He beat Jack Dempsey twice…and a lot of others

  11. bikermike 03:52pm, 10/02/2015

    ...another one out of the park for MIKE CASEY…

  12. bikermke 03:51pm, 10/02/2015

    Tunney could,,and dd face anyone ..and when he was beaten..always avenged his loss.

    Instead of the ...” ,,oil…murder da bum”..kind of interviews…the Sport’s media was uncomfortable with this guy….who knew and had drinks with the editor/owners of the radio…newspaper .of the day..

    Tunney was plenty tough…..and his post ring career was proof….Tunney got one hundred cents on a dollar…in an industry where guys like ..‘Da Preem’ owed twenty cents for every dollar his purse allowed…

    The boys with crooked noses didn’t fuk with TUNNEY

  13. nicolas 12:28pm, 09/30/2015

    I had only wanted to respond to FrankinDallas point, of course I think it was a rhetorical question. Tunney has somewhat been criticized in recent years. I wish someone would do an interview with John Tunney on his father, so we could get a balanced perspective on who this man was. All I know is that Gene Tunney had no way any desire for his sons to become boxers.

  14. Mike Casey 07:18am, 09/30/2015

    I rate Gene similarly, Eric.

  15. Eric 06:59am, 09/30/2015

    I think Tunney would have done very well against other heavyweight greats, Louis & Marciano. His style could have presented both Marciano & Louis with some problems. Greatest light heavyweight of all time IMO, and certainly in the top 12-15 of all time heavyweights as well.

  16. Mike Casey 02:01am, 09/30/2015

    Thanks, Clarence. Very well put!

  17. Clarence George 02:33pm, 09/29/2015

    I like quirky, Mike, and this is nicely done.  Tunney was genuinely tough, of course, but I can see how his Little Lord Fauntleroy persona could be off-putting.

    And you’re quite right about the white-black issue.  It has its place, to be sure, but is often raised gratuitously.  More, judging a past era’s standards in light of our supposedly perfect ones is as delusional as it is self-righteous.  We should always keep in mind that most people—for good, ill, or some combination of the two—are very much a product of their time and place in history.  In addition, it’s impossible to discount the instinct for self-preservation.  One sometimes hears things like, “If I’d been in Hitler’s Germany, I would have shown those Nazis what for,” when in fact our “hero” would almost certainly have have kept his mouth shut, his nose clean, and his eyes firmly to the ground.

  18. Mike Casey 12:51pm, 09/29/2015

    Guys, this is a light-hearted tale to put a smile on the face. Can we please not turn it into another tedious racial debate?

  19. nicolas 12:33pm, 09/29/2015

    FranklinDallas: You are correct of course. Often fights between blacks and whites seemed to have been discouraged. However, at that time there were far more better white fighters than there are now, and think what it might be like without the influx of Eastern Europeans, which I think also has made fighters n Europe a lit better than some 30 years ago. According to I believe Max Schmeling, he even said that Tunney did not spar with black boxers, as while Dempasey at least did. I have also heard that he did offer Harry Wills the opportunity to fiht him, before he fought Dempsey, but Wills refused. I have also heard he turned down George Godfrey, another black fighter I think could have been world champion if given the opportunity. I have also heard that Tunney was somewhat racist, which is strange considering that his son John Tunney became a liberal democratic senator representing California.

  20. FrankinDallas 10:56am, 09/29/2015

    How many black boxers did Tunney fight? Just wondering….

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