Gene Tunney is one of the most overlooked and underrated champions in boxing history. "The Fighting Marine" was one of the great ring technicians of all time. He combined a terrific jab and lateral movement with tremendous counter punching.
Tunney lost just once in his career, to the legendary Harry Greb, and he won two rematches and drew with Greb in another.
Tunney's devalued status is a natural consequence of being overshadowed by the man he beat twice, Jack Dempsey. Dempsey was everything fans could want in a heavyweight champion. He was a relentless offensive destroyer with larger-than-life charisma.
But his aggressive style was made-to-order for a cool and rugged counter puncher like Tunney who also had the jab necessary to establish range. In their first meeting in 1926, Tunney beat Dempsey by unanimous decision to capture the title.
Their rematch was controversial, and came to be known as the "Long Count Fight." Tunney was again far ahead on the cards when Dempsey dropped him with a ferocious flurry in Round 7. Forgetting the new rule requiring fighters to withdraw to a neutral corner when an opponent was down, Dempsey at first continued to loom over Tunney, as was his custom when an opponent was down.
By the time the ref was able to send Dempsey back to his corner and resume the count, Tunney had gained an extra four to five seconds to recuperate, before rising at the count of nine. Still, in the grainy footage of the fight I've often seen, Tunney does look as if he could have risen earlier, if the ref's count had required it.
Tunney survived the round and dropped Dempsey hard in the eighth with a beautiful short-right counter. He went on to win another unanimous decision to retain his title.