I have to give credit where credit is due…..and regarding the HBO boxing series “Boxing’s Best – Grudge Fights”….this series may be at the top of the heap in my book as the best boxing special series ever produced….as HBO’s Barry Tompkins takes the viewers on a magical mystery tour down memory lane…..showing highlights and footage of some of boxing best fighters ever…..and in this case, some of the most memorable grudge fights ever put on in the ring throughout the history of boxing.
This video clips gives us a really awesome look at grudge fights in the heavyweight division that proved to be historic in the ferociousness that was exhibited by four former world heavyweight champions in their battles against their arch rivals…..featuring Jack “The Manassa Mauler” Dempsey vs Gene Tunney.….followed by the bouts between Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis vs Max Schmelling.
The Long Count Fight or the Battle Of The Long Count was the boxing rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey….held on September 25, 1927 at Soldier Field in Chicago. “Long Count” is applied to the fight because when Tunney was down the count was delayed due to Dempsey’s failure to go to and remain in a neutral corner….so, whether this “long count” actually affected the outcome remains a subject of debate in boxing circles a very few old fight fans whose grandfathers told them about the Tunney vs Dempsey battles within the four corners….so, I really wanted to pay homage to the champions of the past…..those brilliant boxers fighting unbelievable battles that are just getting lost in the annals of boxing history.
Just 364 days before their fight, on September 26, 1926, Gene Tunney had beaten Jack Dempsey by a ten round unanimous decision to lift the world heavyweight title, at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia. The first fight between Tunney and Dempsey had been moved out of Chicago because Dempsey had learned that Al Capone was a big fan of his….and he did not want Capone to be involved in the fight….but the truth is….boxing has always had strong ties to organized crime Capone reportedly bet $50,000 on Dempsey for the rematch….which fueled false rumors of a fix. What is really interesting to this lil ole Chiweenie Sportsphile was the fact that Dempsey was favored by odds makers in both fights….largely because of public betting which heavily tilted towards Dempsey.
The rematch was held at Chicago’s Soldier Field, and would draw a gate of $2,658,660 (approximately $22 million in today’s dollars). It was the first $2 million gate in entertainment history. Despite the fact that Tunney had won the first fight by a wide margin on the scorecards….the prospect of a second bout created tremendous public interest. Dempsey was one of the so-called “big five” sports legends of the 1920’s….not unlike Muhammad Ali in the 1960.s….1970’s….1980’s….and it was widely rumored that he had refused to participate in the military during World War I….when in fact, he actually had attempted to enlist in the Army….but had been turned down….to which a jury later exonerated Dempsey of draft evasion. Tunney, who enjoyed literature and the arts, was a former member of the United States Marine Corps nicknamed The Fighting Marine…. long before Leon Spinks came along for Promoter Don King’s D-Day Salute to the Marine Corps prior to ex-Marine Spinks bout on the Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion in World War II.
The fight took place under new rules regarding knockdowns: the fallen fighter would have 10 seconds to rise to his feet under his own power, after his opponent moved to a neutral corner….one of two with no trainers. The new rule, which was not yet universal, was asked to be put into use during the fight by the Dempsey camp, who had requested it during negotiations….wherein Dempsey, in the final days of training prior to the rematch….apparently ignored the setting of these new rules. Also, the fight was staged inside a 20-foot ring…..which favored the boxer with superior footwork…..in this case, Tunney….whereas Dempsey liked to crowd his opponents, and normally fought in a 16-foot ring that offered less space to maneuver.
Tunney, by most accounts, dominated the first 6 rounds of the fight….by using his familiar style of boxing from a distance while looking for openings…. and, at the same time, building a points lead….for the quiet Marine understood preparation for a decision….whereby up until the end of round six….nothing indicated this fight would be far different from their original meeting….then came round seven…..that is when all 104,943 boxing fans in attendance at Soldier Field.witnessed a moment that would live on in boxing history. With Tunney trapped against the ropes and near a corner, Dempsey unleashed a combination of punches that floored the champion….two rights and two lefts landed on Tunney’s chin and staggered Tunney….then came four more punches which deposited him on the canvas….as it was the first time in Tunney’s career that he’d been knocked down. Apparently dizzy and disoriented….Tunney grabbed on to the ring’s top rope with his left hand….Dempsey, who used to stand over opponents and rush right back at them after they got up….looked down on Tunney….when referee Dave Barry ordered Dempsey into a neutral corner to no avail….as Dempsey just stood there observing his opponent….which gave Tunney precious seconds to recuperate. It is generally accepted that Tuney gained between 5 and 8 seconds before the 10-count by the referee ever started….to which Tunney got to his feet at 9 count. In 2016, there are still boxing fans who believe that if Dempsey had responded to the referee’s orders in time….he would have likely regained the world heavyweight crown with a seventh round knockout of Tunney. The validity of this argument has been debated even to this day. In the fight film, a clock was superimposed that recorded Tunney’s time on the floor as 13 seconds, from the moment he fell until he got up. Because of this delay, it became known as The Long Count Fight.
By the eighth round, Tunney had resumed boxing from a distance, and he floored Dempsey with a punch. It’s notable that this time, the referee started counting right away, before Tunney had moved to a neutral corner. Tunney was then dominant in the final two rounds, and went on to retain the world title by a unanimous decision. After the fight, Dempsey lifted Tunney’s arm and said, “You were best. You fought a smart fight, kid.” It was Dempsey’s last career fight, and Tunney’s next-to-last.
In March 2011, the family of Gene Tunney donated the gloves he wore in the fight to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling refers to two separate fights between the an American boxer verses a German boxer…..at a time that started at the end of World War I with the era ending with the start of World War II….the time between two world wars….when a black American man-child from Detroit, MI took on a white, Arian race world heavyweight champion in two fights that are still today (2016) among boxing’s most talked about bouts. Schmeling won the first match by a knockout in round twelve….and in their second match….Louis won through a knockout in the first round. Although the two champions met to create a pugilistic spectacle remarkable on its own terms….the two fights came to embody the broader political and social conflict of the times….as the most significant African American athlete of his age and the most significant African American boxer since Jack Johnson….Louis was a focal point for African American pride in the 1930’s. Moreover, as a contest between representatives of the United States and Nazi Germany during the 1930’s….the fights came to symbolize the struggle between democracy and fascism….which really elevated Joe Louis’ status as the first true African American national hero in the United States.
In 1938, champion Joe Louis announced that he would face Schmeling for the title….with the rematch becoming an instant international sensation….as many clamored impatiently for its happening….but others, afraid of international tensions and the possibility of Hitler taking over the championship….protested vehemently ..causing significant controversy and ballyhoo….which led to the event becoming the most anticipated boxing match since the rematch between Dempsey and Gene Tunney Louis, with his poor, black roots was adopted by American fans as the symbol of America as a land of opportunity. In contrast, Americans perceived Schmeling and his ties to Hitler as an obvious threat to those opportunities and ideals. When the German walked to the ring at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938, he did so under a hail of garbage thrown from the stands. Louis came out blazing in the first round and Schmeling tried to counter-punch as he had in the first bout, but to no avail. Driven into the ropes and battered with a fusillade of short, crisp blows from every angle….Schmeling turned his back to his opponent and clutched onto the ropes, letting out a scream that even years later, many spectators could recall vividly. Schmeling later said that he screamed because he had been hit with a blow to the kidneys. Schmeling’s knees buckled under the punishment, and referee Arthur Donovan pushed Louis away, beginning a count on Schmeling. Schmeling reluctantly stepped away from the ropes, and Donovan allowed him to continue. A few punches later, Schmeling was knocked down again. From then on, he was helpless. He rose but fell moments later, and Donovan stopped the fight.
Many years later, in 1975, Schmeling said, “Looking back, I’m almost happy I lost that fight. Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory. I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal. After the war I might have been considered a war criminal.”