James Joseph "Gene" Tunney (May 25, 1897 – November 7, 1978) was an Irish American professional boxer who competed from 1915 to 1928. He held the world heavyweight title from 1926 to 1928, and the American light heavyweight title twice between 1922 and 1923. A highly technical boxer, Tunney had a five-fight light heavyweight rivalry with Harry Greb in which he won three, drew once, and lost once. He also knocked out Georges Carpentier and defeated Jack Dempsey twice; first in 1926 and again in 1927. Tunney's successful title defense against Dempsey remains one of the most famous bouts in boxing history and is known as The Long Count Fight. He retired undefeated as a heavyweight after his victory over Tom Heeney in 1928, after which Tunney was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine.
Mary Lydon from Culleen House, Gorthgarve, Kiltimagh, County Mayo, 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. They married after a short courtship. The Tunneys had seven children; one son was murdered around 1920, another was a New York Police Department detective from 1924 to 1951, dying in 1971, while Gene would become famous as a World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. At an early age, Tunney was inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt to become physically fit.
Tunney fought some 68 official professional fights, losing only one, to Harry Greb, while fighting as a light heavyweight. Tunney fought many other fights whose scoring was unofficial, judged by newspaper reporters. He also lost none of these "newspaper decisions." 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."
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 married a wealthy socialite, the former Mary "Polly" Lauder (April 24, 1907 – April 19, 2008). Mrs. Tunney was born into the Lauder Greenway Family; her grandfather was billionaire George Lauder, a first cousin and business partner of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. 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.
After Mr. Tunney's retirement, the couple lived in Stamford, Connecticut and raised four children. They had three boys including John Varick Tunney (1934–2018), who was a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from California from 1965 until 1977; Jonathan "Jay" Rowland Tunney of Stamford, Connecticut; and Gene Lauder Tunney (1931-2009) who became a lawyer and served as district attorney for Sonoma County, California, for 20 years. Their one daughter was Joan Tunney Wilkinson (1939 – 2008) of San Francisco. who was committed to McLean Hospital on June 6, 1970, after she murdered her husband, Lynn Carter Wilkinson Jr.
Previous to his marriage to Mrs. Tunney, Tunney was sued in 1927 for breach of promise by Mrs. Katherine King Fogarty.
Tunney died at the Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut at the age of eighty-one, after suffering from a circulation ailment. He was interred at Long Ridge Union Cemetery in Stamford, Connecticut
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. 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 was never knocked out, while only ever being knocked down once, that in his second fight with Dempsey in the infamous Long Count. This makes him one of only five Heavyweight champions, alongside Rocky Marciano, Riddick Bowe, Sultan Ibragimov and Nicolai Valuev to retire without ever suffering a stoppage defeat. Tunney, along with Marciano, Lewis and Vitali Klitschko is one of four heavyweight champions to have retired as champion and to have ended their career with a win in a world title fight. Having avenged his only defeat to Harry Greb, with whom he also drew), Tunney joins Ingemar Johansson, Rocky Marciano, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe as the only five heavyweight champions to have retired while holding a victory over every opponent he faced as a professional (barring no-contests).
In 1932, Tunney published a book called A Man Must Fight, in which he gave comments on his career and boxing techniques.
The Tunney Cup
In 1928, the U.S. Marine Corps presented – as a sign of friendship – a challenge cup to the Corps of Royal Marines, in the hope it might be competed for by Royal Marines association football teams. The Royal Marines named the trophy the "Tunney Cup," in honor of then–USMC Captain Tunney, who, with Sergeant Major Charles R. Francis, presented the trophy on behalf of the U.S. Marine Corps.
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!"
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, pg. 31) by Tom Murphy : 'in the words of the great Gene Tunney, a man must fight back. His father was a Mayoman too'.
Mentioned in the short story "Fallon" by JD Luther, when imprisoned character Tyson Wayne Vance recalls his abusive father, "Was more than one night momma'd look like she went fifteen rounds with Gene Tunney...",
The novelette "A KO for Christmas" by Shawn Pollock features a character, Stitch Stanford, who hopes to fight Gene Tunney for the heavyweight title.
Professional boxing record
|Professional record summary|
|85 fights||65 wins||1 loss|
|85||Win||65–1–1 (1)||Tom Heeney||TKO||11 (15), 2:52||Jul 26, 1928||Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.||Retained NBA, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles|
|84||Win||64–1–1 (1)||Jack Dempsey||UD||10||Sep 22, 1927||Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.||Retained NBA, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles|
|83||Win||63–1–1 (1)||Jack Dempsey||UD||10||Sep 23, 1926||Sesquicentennial Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.||Won NBA, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles|
|82||Win||62–1–1 (1)||Dan O'Dowd||KO||2 (10), 0:31||Dec 29, 1925||Waterfront Park, Saint Petersburg, Florida, U.S.|
|81||Win||N/A||Johnny Risko||NWS||12||Nov 18, 1925||Public Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.|
|80||Win||61–1–1 (1)||Bartley Madden||KO||3 (10)||Sep 25, 1925||Indoor Hockey Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.|
|79||Win||60–1–1 (1)||Italian Jack Herman||KO||2 (10)||Jul 3, 1925||Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.|
|78||Win||59–1–1 (1)||Tommy Gibbons||KO||12 (15)||Jun 5, 1925||Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|77||Win||N/A||Harry Greb||NWS||10||Mar 27, 1925||Auditorium, Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.|
|76||Win||N/A||Jeff Smith||NWS||15||Dec 8, 1924||Coliseum Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.|
|75||Win||58–1–1 (1)||Buddy McHale||TKO||2 (8)||Nov 10, 1924||Southern AC, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.|
|74||Win||57–1–1 (1)||Harry Foley||TKO||1 (8), 2:05||Oct 27, 1924||Auditorium, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.|
|73||Win||56–1–1 (1)||Ray Neuman||PTS||10||Sep 27, 1924||Cambria County Fairgrounds, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|72||Draw||N/A||Harry Greb||NWS||10||Sep 17, 1924||Olympic Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.|
|71||Win||55–1–1 (1)||Joe Lohman||TKO||8 (12)||Aug 18, 1924||Fairmont Arena, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.|
|70||Win||54–1–1 (1)||Georges Carpentier||TKO||15 (15), 0:14||Jul 24, 1924||Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|69||Win||53–1–1 (1)||Erminio Spalla||TKO||7 (12)||Jun 26, 1924||Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|68||Win||N/A||Jimmy Delaney||NWS||10||Mar 17, 1924||Auditorium, Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.|
|67||Win||52–1–1 (1)||Martin Burke||PTS||15||Feb 15, 1924||Coliseum Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.|
|66||Win||51–1–1 (1)||Ray Thompson||KO||2 (10)||Jan 24, 1924||Legion Arena, West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.|
|65||Win||N/A||Harry Foley||NWS||10||Jan 15, 1924||Coliseum, Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.|
|64||Win||50–1–1 (1)||Harry Greb||UD||15||Dec 10, 1923||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.||Retained American light heavyweight title|
|63||Win||49–1–1 (1)||Dan O'Dowd||PTS||12||Jul 31, 1923||Queensboro Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|62||Win||N/A||Jimmy Delaney||NWS||10||May 16, 1923||Chicago Coliseum, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.|
|61||Win||48–1–1 (1)||Jack Clifford||TKO||8 (10)||May 7, 1923||Fairgrounds Coliseum, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
|60||Win||47–1–1 (1)||Harry Greb||SD||15||Feb 23, 1923||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.||Won American light heavyweight title|
|59||Win||46–1–1 (1)||Chuck Wiggins||PTS||12||Feb 3, 1923||Commonwealth Sporting Club, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|58||NC||45–1–1 (1)||Jack Renault||NC||4 (8)||Jan 29, 1923||Philadelphia Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.||NC after the referee deemed both boxers to be too inactive|
|57||Win||45–1–1||Charley Weinert||KO||4 (15)||Nov 29, 1922||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|56||Win||44–1–1||Jack Hanlon||KO||1 (12), 1:22||Nov 3, 1922||Clermont Avenue Rink, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|55||Win||43–1–1||Chuck Wiggins||PTS||10||Oct 27, 1922||Commercial AC, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|54||Draw||N/A||Tommy Loughran||NWS||8||Aug 24, 1922||Shibe Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|53||Win||N/A||Charley Weinert||NWS||12||Aug 17, 1922||Broad AC, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.|
|52||Win||42–1–1||Ray Thompson||KO||3 (10)||Aug 4, 1922||Ocean Park Casino, Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S.|
|51||Win||41–1–1||Fay Keiser||PTS||12||Jul 7, 1922||Rockaway Beach Arena, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|50||Loss||40–1–1||Harry Greb||UD||15||May 23, 1922||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.||Lost American light heavyweight title|
|49||Win||40–0–1||Jack Burke||TKO||9 (10)||Apr 10, 1922||Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|48||Win||N/A||Fay Keiser||NWS||10||Mar 3, 1922||Armory, Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.|
|47||Win||39–0–1||Whitey Wenzel||TKO||4 (8)||Feb 14, 1922||Ice Palace and Auditorium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|46||Win||38–0–1||Jack Clifford||TKO||6 (12), 2:50||Feb 11, 1922||Clermont Avenue Rink, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|45||Win||37–0–1||Battling Levinsky||PTS||12||Jan 13, 1922||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.||Won American light heavyweight title|
|44||Win||36–0–1||Eddie O'Hare||KO||6 (8)||Dec 22, 1921||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|43||Win||35–0–1||Wolf Larsen||TKO||7 (12), 1:35||Oct 25, 1921||Pioneer Sporting Club, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|42||Win||34–0–1||Jack Burke||TKO||3 (8)||Oct 14, 1921||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|41||Win||33–0–1||Herbert Crossley||PTS||7||Sep 26, 1921||Dyckman Oval, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|40||Win||32–0–1||Eddie Josephs||PTS||12||Aug 18, 1921||Sisco Park, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|39||Win||31–0–1||Martin Burke||PTS||10||Aug 4, 1921||Dyckman Oval, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|38||Win||30–0–1||Soldier Jones||TKO||7 (8)||Jul 2, 1921||Boyle's Thirty Acres, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|37||Win||29–0–1||Johnny Ambrose||KO||1 (12), 2:45||Jun 28, 1921||Pioneer Sporting Club, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|36||Win||N/A||Leo Houck||NWS||10||Dec 7, 1920||4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|35||Win||N/A||Leo Houck||NWS||6||Nov 25, 1920||Olympia AC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|34||Win||N/A||Paul Samson Koerner||NWS||10||Oct 25, 1920||6th Regiment Armory, Paterson, New Jersey, U.S.|
|33||Win||28–0–1||Sgt. Ray Smith||TKO||2 (8)||Oct 22, 1920||Sportsman's Club, Camden, New Jersey, U.S.|
|32||Win||27–0–1||Ole Anderson||TKO||3 (10), 0:40||Jun 28, 1920||4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|31||Win||26–0–1||Jeff Madden||TKO||2 (12)||Jun 7, 1920||4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|30||Win||25–0–1||Jack Clifford||KO||3 (10)||Apr 9, 1920||Community Hall, Johnson City, New York, U.S.|
|29||Win||24–0–1||K.O. Sullivan||KO||1 (8), 2:15||Apr 5, 1920||1st Regiment Armory, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.|
|28||Win||23–0–1||Ed Kinley||KO||5 (8)||Mar 4, 1920||Grand View Auditorium, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|27||Win||22–0–1||Al Roberts||KO||8 (8), 1:06||Feb 2, 1920||1st Regiment Armory, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.|
|26||Win||21–0–1||Jim Monahan||TKO||1 (8), 2:50||Jan 26, 1920||4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|25||Win||20–0–1||Bud Nelson||KO||1 (8)||Jan 20, 1920||Schuetzen Park, Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S.|
|24||Win||19–0–1||Whitey Allen||KO||2 (8)||Jan 1, 1920||Schuetzen Park, Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S.|
|23||Win||18–0–1||Bob Pearce||KO||2 (8)||Dec 29, 1919||4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|22||Win||N/A||Dan O'Dowd||NWS||8||Dec 16, 1919||Schuetzen Park, Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S.|
|21||Win||17–0–1||Ted Jamieson||PTS||10||Apr 26, 1919||Cirque, Paris, France|
|20||Win||16–0–1||K.O. Sullivan||PTS||10||Apr 14, 1919||Paris, France|
|19||Win||15–0–1||Dare Lewis||KO||3||Mar 31, 1919||Tours, France|
|18||Win||14–0–1||Bob Martin||PTS||4||Jan 27, 1919||Paris, France|
|17||Win||13–0–1||Victor Marchand||KO||2||Jan 10, 1919||Paris, France|
|16||Draw||12–0–1||Tommy Gavigan||PTS||10||Dec 20, 1918||Romorantin-Lanthenay, France|
|15||Win||12–0||Howard Morrow||KO||6||Dec 10, 1918||Romorantin-Lanthenay, France|
|14||Win||11–0||Johnny Newton||KO||6||Nov 20, 1918||Romorantin-Lanthenay, France|
|13||Win||10–0||Hank Werhl||KO||6||Nov 1, 1918||Romorantin-Lanthenay, France|
|12||Win||9–0||Young Guerini||KO||1 (8)||Jul 8, 1918||4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|11||Win||8–0||Hugh Weir||KO||2 (10)||Jan 15, 1918||Pioneer Sporting Club, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|10||Win||7–0||Joe Borrell||KO||2 (10)||Dec 28, 1917||New Polo AC, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|9||Win||6–0||Sailor Wolfe||KO||2 (10)||Dec 29, 1916||Miners 8th St Theater, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|8||Win||N/A||George Leahy||NWS||6||Dec 22, 1916||Miners 8th St Theater, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|7||Win||5–0||Young Sharkey||KO||6 (10)||Dec 15, 1916||Miners 8th St Theater, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|6||Win||4–0||Young Guerini||TKO||8 (10)||Dec 8, 1916||Miners 8th St Theater, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|5||Draw||N/A||KO Jaffe||NWS||10||Jul 21, 1916||New Polo AC, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|4||Win||N/A||Billy Rowe||NWS||6||Dec 1, 1915||Fairmont AC, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|3||Win||3–0||George Leahy||KO||2 (6)||Aug 28, 1915||Fairmont AC, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|2||Win||2–0||Battling Genrimo||KO||3 (10)||Aug 6, 1915||Bowery Theatre, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|1||Win||1–0||Bobby Dawson||TKO||8 (10)||Jul 3, 1915||Sharkey AC, New York City, New York, U.S.|