Tunney's portrait by Carl Van Vechten
|Real name||James Joseph Tunney|
|Nickname(s)||The Fighting Marine|
|Birth date||May 25, 1897|
|Birth place||New York City, New York|
|Death date||November 7, 1978 (aged 81)|
|Wins by KO||48|
James Joseph "Gene" Tunney (May 25, 1897 – November 7, 1978) was the world 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 an undefeated heavyweight after his victory over Tom Heeney in 1928.
Mary Lydon from Gurthgarve, Kiltimagh, Ireland, immigrated to the United States after the Irish potato famine. She settled in New York City where she met John Tunney, also from Kiltimagh. They married after a short courtship. The Tunneys had seven children; one son, a policeman, died, while Gene would become famous as World Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
Tunney fought some 68 official professional fights, losing only one, to Harry Greb, while fighting as a light heavyweight. 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 for 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."
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 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. 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, 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 after the second Dempsey fight, against Tom Heeney of New Zealand.
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. Nevertheless, it is incorrect to think of Tunney as only a fancy dan, 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 elusive and often butting 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, 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.
In 1932, Tunney published a book called A Man Must Fight, in which he gave comments on his career and boxing techniques.
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!".
Gene Tunney (May 25, 1897 – November 7, 1978) was the heavyweight boxing champion from 1926-28 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.