1. JACK DEMPSEY was the people’s champion when he fought Gene Tunney for the second time on September 22, 1927. Although always popular, the former hobo stole the public’s affection in defeat, when he lost to Tunney in their opening bout 366 days before. Promoter Tex Rickard was aware of Dempsey’s newfound status, and spent an entire year hyping the sequel.
2. BEFORE their opening bout, Rickard had been trying to match Tunney with leading black contender Harry Wills in an eliminator but Wills – for so long avoided – priced himself out of the market. Rickard wasted little time in making Dempsey-Tunney, and around 120,000 turned up at Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium to watch the fight.
3. TUNNEY was the opposite of Dempsey in so many ways. Gene was considered, articulate and educated. Jack, meanwhile, was a rugged and wild creature who trusted his instincts, and acted upon them. In their first fight, Tunney had dominated with his superior boxing ability, winning a unanimous 10-round decision. His jab was a dream and Dempsey – inactive for three years and past his best at 31 – could do nothing to stop the world heavyweight title slipping from his hands.
4. SO the rematch was set for Chicago’s Soldier Field, and 104,493 fans – the majority Dempsey supporters – turned up to see if Jack could regain his crown.
5. THE champion’s purse was a whopping $990,000 but he sent promoter Rickard $10,000 so he could be paid a flat $1million. Dempsey – fighting as a challenger for the first time in eight years – would earn $450,000 for his challenge.
6. BEFORE the opening bell, referee Dave Barry had carefully explained that should either heavyweight be knocked down, the other should walk to a neutral corner and then the count will begin. Previously, a fighter could hover over their wounded prey.
7. TUNNEY was in charge for the opening six rounds, his jab, again, proving the perfect weapon against the onrushing Mauler. And then, in the seventh, it happened. Dempsey noted that his rival’s guard was low and a right rocked the champion back, before a two-punch volley dropped him. The crowd went beserk.
8. DEMPSEY had won the title by beating up Jess Willard in 1919, knocking him down over and over again. Back then, the rules were different. Dempsey was allowed to greet opponents who regained their footing with a swift blast to the head. But this time, against Tunney, the rules were different. Initially, he refused to stand in the neutral corner, buying Tunney some extra seconds to recover. Eventually, the champion got up at ‘nine’. It must be noted that despite being on the canvas for 14 seconds, Tunney appeared to listen for the count and looked able to rise earlier.
9. THE majestic champion regained control, almost as soon as he regained his footing. He dropped Dempsey in the eighth round, and closed the fight in charge. Again, Dempsey lost via convincing 10-round decision.
10. DEMPSEY would retire after the bout, declaring he had plenty of cash and all his faculties. Tunney did not hang around for much longer, either, but that seventh round, and the long count, would forever be argued over by fans. But not by the fighters. Tunney claimed he had picked up the referee’s count at “two” and could have got up at any point but chose to wait until “nine” for tactical reasons. Dempsey said: “I have no reason not to believe him. Gene’s a great guy.”