The Manassa Mauler - Part Two
by Andrea Wein
So, after the brutal punishment of Jess Willard, the Mauler went on to enjoy what have been deemed his “golden years”. From 1919 to 1926 Dempsey reigned as the Heavyweight Champ, he successfully defended his title against Frenchman Georges Carpentier in 1921 and young Argentinian Luis Angel Firpo in 1923. On September 23rd, 1926 Jack Dempsey fought Gene Tunney, for the first time, in Philadelphia. Dempsey had been previously inactive for three years when he fought that day and by all accounts, it showed very much, over ten rounds Tunney thoroughly out-boxed Dempsey. Dempsey was unable to display his previous strength, speed, and explosiveness. The shotgun jabs he was known for had slowed down considerably (relatively speaking of course, slow for champion boxers, not mere mortal slow ;) and Dempsey's title was taken from him that day, in a unanimous decision.
Since their first match was relatively uneventful in terms of how clearly Tunney dominated the fight, a rematch was expected from the start; it was delivered 364 days later. The rematch between Dempsey and Tunney is one of the most famous bouts in history; known as “The Long Count Fight.” September 22, 1927, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Dempsey and Tunney faced each other and 104,000 people showed up to watch. The first six rounds must have seemed somewhat like deja-vu to the audience. Tunney dominated with his usual style and built a points lead over Dempsey, until the seventh round. In the seventh round Dempsey came out with an energy reminiscent of his prime, a combination of punches unleashed with a fury that got Tunney pinned against the ropes and then knocked him down, for the first time ever in his career. Referee Dave Berry ordered Dempsey to his corner, but ole' Kid Blackie heard nothing that moved him and instead stood observing his felled opponent. Berry lost patience with Dempsey and finally escorted him to his corner before beginning the count; it is estimated this took Berry 3-4 seconds, the official timekeeper for the match had Tunney down for 14 seconds. Upon returning to the still down gene Tunney, the ref was able to count to nine before he was back on his feet. The controversy still remains as to whether Tunney would have been back on his feet if Dempsey had just gone to his corner. It should be noted that adding to this controversy is the fact that later when Dempsey was floored, Berry began his count before Tunney was in his neutral corner. This hotly debated move by the ref is what lead to the label “The Long Count” Tunney went back to dominating from a distance in the last two rounds and retained his title by another unanimous decision.
The rematch was the last career fight for Jack Dempsey, and the next to last for Gene Tunney. Later Tunney would say he “picked up the ref's count at two, and could have gotten up at any time after that,” he simply waited for obvious tactical reasons. Dempsey was quoted about this remark as saying that he had “no reason not to believe him. Gene's a great guy.” Still, the controversy over the match erupted like one of Dempsey's legendary blows, the explosion was even further fueled by a law prohibiting boxing match films to be transported over state lines. While no one could see the count for themselves the debate raged on, once the law was repealed the discussion dwindled significantly. Although Dempsey lost the match, and never regained his title from Tunney, the controversy of “The Long Count Fight” helps Jack Dempsey remain a prominent sports hero and a boxing legend. Shirley Povich of The Washington Post wrote that, "In defeat, he gained more stature." While the controversy and his ultimate defeat may keep him in the forefront of boxing history, Dempsey contributed to boxing in almost innumerable ways. In the last and final Part 3, we'll cover Dempsey's golden years which influenced boxing instantly and continue to till this day; we're going to try to number the innumerable......