Masters of the Sweet Science – Gene Tunney
By Mohummad Humza Elahi: Amidst the hype and fireworks that comes with the modern age of boxing, those that came a few generations prior are often forgotten in the annals of history; what true boxing fans appreciate is a glimpse into the archives to take a look at fights that have survived the test of time, those great contests where boxers fought 15 hard rounds and racked up incredible records (for instance, the only man to defeat Tunney was Harry Greb, whose own record stands at a jaw-dropping 261-20 from 299 fights) but when you take a closer look at the footage that still exists, you can see the seeds of the sweet science, those that took a rigorous approach in understanding the body mechanics and movements of fighters and how one could develop plans to neutralize the opposition.
“I did six years of planning to win the championship from Jack Dempsey.” – Gene Tunney Gene “The Fighting Marine” Tunney was an incredible boxer. He often studied his opponents prior to and during fights and adjusted his style to suit the situation in front of him. There’s footage that came out recently of him demonstrating punches and counters with James J Corbett, nicknamed “Gentleman Jim”, who was 58 at the time and could still move like a lightweight. Here, in these few minutes, crystallizes why Tunney is so important to boxing. He carried on the work started by Corbett, his Newton to Corbett’s Kepler, to lay the foundation of a greater tactical awareness and mastery of mechanics that so many fighters use today.
Tunney’s final card is an impressive 80-1 with 48 knockouts that includes 2 fights with Dempsey and 5 with Greb alongside names such as Tommy Gibbons, Georges Carpentier, Battling Levinsky and Leo Houck. Footage that exists show him to be far ahead of his time in terms of tactical nous inside the ring and the fluidity with which the put together combinations; as whilst most fought with a rugged, brawling style, Tunney would bob and weave around his opponents.
Peppering them with jabs and pivoting to create angles for hooks and uppercuts, it was no wonder that he simply outclassed many of his time. An excellent example for those unfamiliar is his last fight with Heeney, where Tunney threw lead right hands that baffled the heavier man who had no reply although he gave plenty of heart. However, he is best remembered for his classic clash with Dempsey in 1926 infamous for the “Long Count”.
You can watch what remains of the fight footage but it serves to underscore an important fact; Tunney dominated Dempsey apart from the 7th, after he recovered, he took control again showing the complete definition of ring generalship. Throughout the fight Gene’s hand speed proved too much for Jack, letting off a quick jab before throwing the right as Dempsey came charging in, almost head first at times to close the gap but to no real effect.
Tunney’s footwork maintained the distance and allowed him to counter almost at will and if he couldn’t back him up, Tunney clinched until the ref broke them and away they would go again, ebbing and flowing around the ring as the matador played with the bull for 15 rounds. This is boxing. Barbarism elevated to art. Tunney laid the ground work for the heavyweights that followed, including Ali. So if you desire to understand the inner workings of the modern style, watch Gene Tunney; a true master of the sweet science.