Biography for Gene Tunney
James Joseph "Gene" Tunney was one of the greatest boxers in American history. He lacked natural talent but was an excellent "scientific" boxer who studied his opponents and developed his skills. In almost 70 career bouts, he lost only once. Unlike other boxers, Tunney read Shakespeare and poetry and spoke in an educated manner foreign to most boxing fans; he was also invited to lecture on Shakespeare at Yale University after he retired. Tunney recognized the dangers of boxing and retired at an early age to become a successful businessman and health and fitness expert. Tunney was born on May 25, 1898 in New York City. He was the son of an Irish immigrant who worked as a longshoreman. At age 15, Tunney took a job with the Ocean Steamship Company and eventually became a rate clerk. He attended Catholic schools and graduated from LaSalle Academy in 1915. While growing up, Tunney was interested in all sports, including swimming, handball, and basketball, but his favorite sport was boxing. He joined the Village Athletic Club and sparred with professional boxers. In July 1916, he fought professionally for the first time and then boxed occasionally in New York City and northern New Jersey. When World War I began, Tunney tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was first rejected because of an arm injury but was accepted in 1918. He was sent to France but did not see combat. While in training camp, Tunney was persuaded to box while in the service. Tunney fought in the light heavyweight division and eventually won the light heavyweight championship of the American Expeditionary Force. Because of his success, he decided to box professionally when he returned to civilian life. On November 14, 1919, Tunney began his professional boxing career. He won 24 consecutive fights over two years; however, he injured his right hand and was out of the ring for several months in early 1921. Tunney's victories over a string of increasingly powerful and well-known opponents caught the eye of promoter Tex Rickard. Rickard arranged a match between Tunney and Battling Levinsky for the American light heavyweight title. Tunney won the match by decision in a 12-round match at New York City's Madison Square Garden on January 13, 1922. Four months later, Tunney suffered his first and only defeat. On May 23, 1922, he lost his title to Harry Greb in a bout at Madison Square Garden. He suffered a bad cut above one eye and a broken nose and had to stay in bed for a week. After his recovery, Tunney fought a series of other opponents. He earned a rematch with Greb and regained the title in a close match on February 23, 1923. The two met for a third time later that year, and Tunney beat Greb decisively. In 1924, Tunney had 12 bouts. He won 11 and fought to a draw with Greb. The most important victory that year was a 15-round knockout of French champion Georges Carpentier in the Polo Grounds in New York on July 24. In front of a huge crowd, Tunney knocked Carpentier down four times in the 10th round and soundly beat him. In 1925, Tunney moved up to the heavyweight division. He weighed 185 pounds, 45 pounds more than his original fighting weight. Tunney soon proved that he could defeat the heavyweights. Among those he defeated were Bartley Madden and Tommy Gibbons. The man considered the major challenger to champion Jack Dempsey was Harry Wills. Wills, however, was African American, and fight promoters were concerned about him challenging and potentially beating the white champion. Going against the wishes of the New York Boxing Commission, Rickard arranged for a match between Tunney and Dempsey in Philadelphia on September 23, 1926. Dempsey, who had not fought since 1923, was out of shape. Tunney beat him decisively in front of a crowd of 120,000, a record for attendance at a sporting event. Tunney became the new heavyweight champion and received a purse of nearly $1 million. The next year, Dempsey defeated other major contenders and earned a rematch with Tunney. They met in Chicago on September 22, 1927 in one of the most famous fights in history. The fight brought in more than 100,000 spectators, and admission grossed more than $2.6 million, a long-standing record for gate receipts. Tunney pounded Dempsey for six rounds. Then, in the seventh round, Dempsey landed a series of punches that knocked Tunney down for the first time in his career. Instead of going to a neutral corner, however, Dempsey stood over Tunney for several seconds, delaying the referee's count. When the referee got to nine, Tunney got back to his feet. He was actually on the canvas for 14 seconds, four more seconds than the official knockout time under ordinary circumstances. Tunney knocked Dempsey down in the eighth round and won the fight on points to retain the championship, and the "long count" became a source of argument among boxing fans for decades afterward. While training for the Dempsey fight, Tunney bumped heads with a sparring partner and suffered partial amnesia for several days afterward. Realizing the danger of continuing to box, Tunney told Rickard to arrange one final title fight. He fought Tom Heeney of New Zealand on July 26, 1928 at Yankee Stadium. Tunney easily defeated Heeney and retired as the undefeated heavyweight champion and a millionaire. Experts regarded Tunney as an extremely intelligent fighter who planned strategies that took advantage of the weaknesses of his opponents. He had good footwork, an excellent jab, and a hard right punch, but he was not as hard a hitter as Dempsey or Joe Louis. Tunney was not a popular champion, partially because unlike many other fighters, he was not an aggressive risk taker. He had obvious contempt for sportswriters, and they returned the disdain. After retiring, Tunney married an heiress of the Andrew Carnegie fortune. They had four children, including one who served in the U.S. Senate. Tunney served as a successful business executive for many years. He was on the board of several corporations, including American Distilling Corporation, Technicolor, and Schick. He was also director of the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Youth Club. In 1940, Tunney gained notice again by attacking the American Youth Congress and calling it procommunist. He helped to establish a rival organization, the National Foundation for American Youth. Tunney also wrote many articles on physical fitness and clean living. During World War II, he directed the physical fitness program for the U.S. Navy. Tunney died on November 7, 1978 in Greenwich, Connecticut.