Sunday, March 26, 2023  |


The best of all time A to Z: Tunney


This is the 20th in a 26-part series in which endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment — the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) — demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others that were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar — who provided input — tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes ÔǪ today’s letter: “S.”

Lifespan: 1897 – 1978
Hometown: Greenwich, Conn. (from New York)
Record: 66-1-1 (48 KOs)
Active: 1915-28
Weight class: Light heavyweight, heavyweight
Titles: World heavyweight
Sugar’s ranking: No. 13
The thought process: Tunney didn’t necessarily fit the mold of heavyweight champion at the time he fought, the mold in which vicious knockout artist Jack Dempsey fit perfectly. The genteel and cerebral Tunney acknowledged that he read the classics, which undoubtedly left many fans scratching their heads. One thing was certain, though: “The Fighting Marine” was a boxing wizard. He lost only one time, to the great Harry Greb in a foul-marred light heavyweight fight in 1922. He subsequently beat Greb in four meetings after receiving advice from Benny Leonard, which probably is the greatest accomplishment of his career. However, Tunney is best known for his two fights against the great Dempsey. The son of Irish immigrants boxed in relative obscurity as Dempsey became a cultural icon but, supremely confident, he always believed he had the ability and style to beat Dempsey. And, when he received the opportunity in 1926, his timing couldn’t have been better. The heavyweight champ hadn’t fought in three years, having married actress Estelle Taylor and become immersed in the Hollywood social scene. A reported 120,557 packed Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia to watch Tunney give Dempsey a boxing lesson and claim the title, one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. The rematch, the following year in Chicago, provided one of the most-controversial moments. Tunney was giving the challenger another boxing lesson when Dempsey put him down with a flurry of hard punches in the seventh round, setting up the famous “long count.” Dempsey apparently forgot the new rule requiring a fighter to go to a neutral corner, forcing referee Dave Barry to start his count late while he led Dempsey away. Tunney, his eyes focused on Barry during the count, got up at “nine” but received as many as 14 seconds total. Some believe Tunney was saved by the extra few seconds; others believe he could’ve gotten to his feet at any time. Only one thing was certain: The champion recovered quickly and Dempsey would receive no more chances. Tunney would score a knockdown in eighth round and again cruise to victory. Dempsey would never fight again while his two-time conqueror would fight only once more, stopping Tom Heeney in 1928. Tunney would never be the celebrity Dempsey was but his resume was just as impressive. One example: He was 10-1 against hall of famers, a remarkable feat. Historians today recognize him as a great fighter but he might actually be underrated.
Five more (alphabetical order): Charles “Bud” Taylor, Lew Tendler, Dick Tiger, Felix Trinidad and Mike Tyson.
Sugar quote: “The problem he had was that he fought in the shadow of the man he beat.”

A: Armstrong:

B: Burley:

C: Charles:

D: Duran:

E: Elorde:

F: Foreman:

G: Greb:

H: Hagler:

I: Ibeabuchi:

J: Johnson:

K: Ketchel:

L: Louis:

M: Moore:

N: Napoles:

O: Olivares:

P: Pep:

Q: Qawi:

R: Robinson:

S: Saddler: