Saturday, April 01, 2023  |



Dettloff: I stand corrected on Heeney, who was no bum

Fighters Network

In this space last week I wrote that you couldn’t blame Vitali Klitschko for taking an easy fight against Albert Sosnowski, as many formidable big men of the past, most of them better than Klitschko, defended against guys just as limited.

I included on the list the ludicrously undeserving Tom Heeney, who unsuccessfully challenged Gene Tunney in 1928 in Tunney’s last fight.

It turns out that in addition to sporting one of the longer nicknames in boxing history — “The Hard Rock From Down Under” — Heeney, who died in 1984, still has some fans out there, several of whom wrote to object to my lumping him in with the likes of Jose Roman, Lorenzo Zanon, Jean-Pierre Coopman and Terry Daniels.

Among the most passionate was Ryan G. Bivins, who wrote:

What idiot told you Tom Heeney was a bum? Or did you just look at his record AFTER Tunney ruined him? Heeney's track record in 1927 and 1928 (the year Tunney fought him) made him more than qualified. Jack Delaney wasn't a bum. Jack Sharkey wasn't a bum. Johnny Risko wasn't a bum. Jim Maloney wasn't a bum. Paulino Uzcudun wasn't a bum, but don't take my word for it, check the ratings from your own magazine.

(Editor’s NOTE: THE RING rated Heeney fourth in the world at the time of his title challenge.)

Tom Heeney (was better than ) anyone Vitali has fought since Lennox Lewis. He'd roll over in his grave if he knew you put him in the same department as Albert Sosnowski.

Here’s another, from reader Ken Bridgham.

“ÔǪ Tom Heeney deserves exception from the list of uninspiring title challengers you mentioned. While Heeney's name may never appear on the Hall of Fame's walls, if I remember correctly he won his shot at Tunney by actually winning (sort of) a brief tournament of contenders, the final bout being a draw with future champ Jack Sharkey. Sharkey probably deserved the shot more than Heeney, but a guy who beats Johnny Risko and draws with Sharkey isn't altogether as horrible a choice for a challenger as Albert Sosnowski or a Jose Roman.”

And one more:

Dear Mr. Dettloff:
This is to inform you that the Los Angeles County court has granted an order of protection against you on behalf of complainant, actress Meghan Fox. You are hereby commanded to remain at least 300 yards away from said complainant and cease and desist all attempts at contact. Furthermore 

Whoops! Wrong email. I really have to work on my copy-and-paste skills. Here’s the one I meant to include. It’s from reader H. Nottage.

Hey Dettloff,
Tom Heeney was no bum. If you had any skills as a journalist, you’d know that. I hope that when I die I am reincarnated as talent so I never have to see you again!

To a large degree, Bivins, Bridgham, Nottage and Heeney’s other defenders are right. Heeney was no bum, at least measured against the other heavyweights of his era. In fact, no less an arbiter than the great Jack Dempsey, on visiting Heeney’s training camp prior to the Tunney fight, told the press, “Heeney, in my opinion, has a better than even chance of winning. Only a superman can beat him. He looks to be in great shape. He is strong and rugged and apparently has lots of stamina.”

It should be noted that Dempsey had to fight his way through a crowd of 2,000 to see Heeney spar, and many reportedly were on hand in the hope that the “Manassa Mauler,” by this time a retired living legend, would show up to announce a comeback.

Also, for all we know, Dempsey’s high praise for Heeney might have been a favor to promoter Tex Rickard, who was struggling trying to get the masses behind the fight; generally, anticipation was lukewarm, in part because Tunney, a 3-1 favorite, was expected to win easily despite the fact he hadn’t fought in 10 months while Heeney had fought five times during the same period.

(Dempsey’s comments didn’t help much. The fight ended up drawing a “disappointing” 50,000 fans to Yankee Stadium, which truly was second-rate when measured against the 130,000 Dempsey and Tunney did the year before at Soldiers Field in Chicago.)

Nevertheless, Heeney had earned his shot, in order, by beating Uzcudun, Maloney, Risko, drawing with Sharkey and beating Delaney, all Top-10 guys. The New York Times’ James P. Dawson, who picked Tunney to win, described Heeney this way:

“The challenger, built solid as a rock, is tireless on the attack and is endowed with wonderful strength in his resistance to punishment. His forte is to wade right into an opponent and beat a drum-fire of blows at close quarters ÔǪ but in action, comparatively speaking, (he) is awkward and sluggish.”

Dawson’s call was right; Tunney scored at will against Heeney and stopped him when referee Eddie Forbes called it off at 2:52 of the 11th round with Heeney on his feet but entirely defenseless. The Times described the bout as “exciting and highly spectacular, albeit one-sided from its beginning.”

Still, losing to Tunney, whose only career loss came against Harry Greb, was no disgrace.

Historian Bert Sugar puts Heeney in proper perspective.

“He was a good, but not a great fighter,” Sugar told “There was nothing great about him. After he fought Tunney, Tunney said, ‘He has the world beat for courage,’ which means he just stood there for 11 rounds while Tunney beat the be-jabbers out of him.

“He was an adequate, plugging fighter. He might have been the best of a very pedestrian class that wound up with someone sitting on their ass winning the heavyweight championship.”

That, of course, is a reference to the Sharkey-Max Schmeling fight for the vacant title that took place in 1930 and was won by Schmeling when he could not continue following an alleged low blow in the fourth.

At any rate, Heeney was upbeat following the loss to Tunney, telling the press, “I think I will be the next champion. The bout I had with Tunney taught me a great deal. I made a lot of mistakes in that fight that I’ll never make again.”

The opposite occurred. Heeney went into the Tunney fight with a reasonable (for the era) record of 32-8-5 (with 15 knockouts) but over the next four years lost 14 fights while winning just five and drawing three times. He retired in 1933 after Stanley Poreda stopped him on cuts in New York.

And by this time you know that Albert Sosnowski, for all his flaws, lasted into the 10th against Klitschko, which is a hell of a lot better than Roman did, or Daniels, or Zanon or Coopman when their big chance came.

If he were around, Heeney might just congratulate him on the effort.

Some random observations from last week:

Think the Klitschko brothers aren’t competitive with one another? Check out this quote Big Brother gave the press a few days before his win over Sosnowski: “I promise David Haye that the fight with me would be much shorter than with my brother. I will knock him out in two, three or a maximum of four rounds.” Ouch! When contacted for comment, Wlad reportedly said: “I’m telling!” ÔǪ

I’m picking Yuri Foreman to upset Miguel Cotto at Yankee Stadium Saturday night. If you want to know why, check out the next episode of Ring Theory, which will be posted later this week here at, and also here. ÔǪ

The Teddy Atlas Metaphor Machine was firing on all cylinders during Librado Andrade’s bloody win over Eric Lucas Friday night. My favorite? When Andrade was working over Lucas in the corner and Teddy said he was in Lucas’ kitchen. And he was eating. Brilliant. ÔǪ

So Shannon Briggs knocked out two stiffs last week, each inside a round. Big deal. Know what will impress me? When he can make it into the third round of a fight without needing an iron lung in his corner. 

I understand Tomasz Adamek’s team looking for very tall guys so Adamek can get used to fighting giants, but Michael Grant? Why didn’t they just pick a totem pole? ÔǪ

Not much time left to book a room in Canastota, N.Y., for the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony weekend, which runs June 10-13. If you haven’t been there yet, stop putting it off. Some of these guys were around to see water invented. You never know when they’ll be gone. Oh, wait — yes you do: soon. So stop procrastinating.

To wit: About 15 years ago I’m on the Hall grounds late in the day telling a friend how I think some fight or another is going to turn out. A voice behind me says, “What are you, a bookie?” I turn around. It’s Willie freakin’ Pep — one of the three or four best prizefighters who’s ever lived. Big smile on his little mug. Just standing there with a few fans, laughing, joking. We chat a little. I hyperventilate. That’s all I remember.

Willie’s dead now, of course. So are a lot of the guys from that era and from the eras that have followed. Cycle of life stuff. So stop putting it off.

Among those scheduled to attend this year: Al Bernstein, Sergio Martinez, Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Carmen Basilio, Billy Backus, Nino Benvenuti, Ken Norton, Bert Sugar, Ray Mercer, Micky Ward, Lou Duva, Angelo Dundee, Tony DeMarco, Gerry Cooney, Aaron Pryor, and many, many more. For more info go here .

Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at [email protected]