Gene Tunney
Gene Tunney
Biographical information
James Joseph Tunney
The Fighting Marine
6'0" (1.83 cm)
77" (196 cm)
Weight class
Light Heavyweight/Heavyweight
May 25, 1897
in New York City, New York, United States
November 7, 1978 (aged 81)
Boxing career information
Style/Boxing Stance:
Career record:
86 total bouts, 48 wins, 1 losses, 3 draws, 48 KO's, 2 no contests

James Joseph "Gene" Tunney (May 25, 1897 – November 7, 1978) was an American professional boxer and the World Heavyweight 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 an undefeated heavyweight after his victory over Tom Heeney in 1928.

Biography Edit

Mary Lydon from Culleen House, Gorthgarve, Kiltimagh, Ireland, emigrated to the United States after the Great Famine. She settled in New York City where she met John Tunney, also from Cill Aodain, Kiltimagh, County Mayo, Ireland. They married after a short courtship. The Tunneys had seven children; one son was killed in a homicide around 1920, another was a NYPD Detective from 1924 to 1951, dying in 1971, while Gene would become famous as a World HeavyweightBoxing Champion. Tunney fought some 68 official professional fights, losing only one, to Harry Greb, while fighting as a light heavyweight.[1] He reported that he lost a second fight during World War I, a 10 round decision, to Tommy Loughran, as a Marine before he began his professional boxing career. Tunney 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 Gibbons, Georges Carpentier and many other fine boxers.

Already the U.S. Expeditionary Forces champion, Tunney spent the winter of 1921 as a lumberjack in northern Ontario or the J. R. Booth Company of Ottawa, without revealing he was a champion boxer. He explained this as "wanting the solitude and the strenuous labors of the woods to help condition himself for the career that appeared before him."[2]

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.


In 1928, Tunney was married to a wealthy socialite, the former Mary "Polly" Lauder (1907 – April 19, 2008). The couple lived in Stamford, Connecticut and had four children. Among them is John V. Tunney (born 1934), who was a United States House of Representative and U.S. Senator from California from 1971 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, Arkansas. Tunney's daughter Joan was committed to a mental hospital on June 6, 1970 after she murdered her husband.

Mrs. Tunney's grandfather was George Lauder, Sr., 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 schoone 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 after the second Dempsey fight, against Tom Heeney of New Zealand.[3]

Death Edit

Upon his death at the age of eighty-one, Tunney was interred at Long Ridge Union Cemetery in Stamford. He died at the Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut and had been suffering from a circulation ailment.[4]

Fighting style Edit

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 as 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. Nevertheless, it is incorrect to think of Tunney as a stick-and-move fighter in the Ali style. While Tunney's heavyweight fights against Gibbons, Carpentier, and Dempsey featured his fleet-footed movement and rapid-fire jabbing, his earlier bouts, especially the five against Harry Greb, demonstrated his vicious body punching and willingness to fight toe-to-toe. It was Benny Leonard who advised Tunney that the only way to beat Harry "The Human Windmill" Greb was to aim his punches at Greb's body rather than his head.

Always moving and boxing behind an excellent left jab, Tunney would study his opponents from the first bell. He generally preferred to stay outside and nullify any attacks, while using quick counters to keep the opponent off balance. Although not a big puncher, Tunney could still hit with power, especially after hurting his opponents and mastering their styles.

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 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.

Publications Edit

In 1932, Tunney published a book called A Man Must Fight, in which he gave comments on his career and boxing techniques.

Cultural references Edit

Gene 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."[5]

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.

Mentioned in A Whistle in the Dark (Act 1, p31) by Tom Murphy : 'in the words of the great Gene Tunney, a man must fight back. His father was a Mayoman too'.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Tunney fought many other fights whose scoring was unofficial, judged by newspaper reporters. He also lost none of these "newspaper decisions."
  2. The (Ottawa, CAN) Globe, September 28, 1926, Tunney was Lumberjack for Ottawa Company, page 9.
  4. (Gene) Tunney, Boxing Champion Who Beat Dempsey, Dies. Lectured on Shakespeare. "Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight boxing champion who twice defeated Jack Dempsey, died yesterday at the Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut. He was 80 years old and had been suffering from a circulation ailment.", New York Times, November 8, 1978, Wednesday, accessed 2008-10-16.
  5. Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait, The Biography Channel. March 26, 1999

External links Edit

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