Remembering the Long Count Fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney
The “Long Count” fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney took place on September 22, 1927 and it turned out to be one of the most controversial heavyweight boxing matches in history. The fight was the return match between Tunney, the reigning champion, and Dempsey, who was seeking to regain the title he lost to Tunney in their first fight a year earlier.
Actually it was one day less than a year earlier. And the first fight took place in Philadelphia, although that was not the original site. Chicago was earmarked as its original destination, but legend has it that Dempsey got wind of the fact that Al Capone was a big fan of his, and he had no desire to meet Capone or have him involved in the fight in any way.
So it wound up in the massive Sesquicentennial Stadium, which years later was renamed John F. Kennedy Stadium, the site of 41 Army-Navy games.
Dempsey and Tunney were both considered top fighters of their time, with Dempsey being known for his powerful punches and aggressive style, while Tunney was known for his technical skills and intelligence in the ring. In fact, some saw both of them as well ahead of their time. The first fight between the two had been a hard-fought battle, although Dempsey lost by the ten-round decision by a rather decisive verdict after having the previous three years inactive.
Soldier Field in Chicago wound up being the site of the rematch (apparently Dempsey overcame his aversion to Capone) and was watched by over 100,000 fans, making it one of the largest crowds to ever attend a boxing match. Dempsey was enormously popular, even amid rumors that he had dodged military service in World War I (he actually was turned down for induction).
There was a new rule in place for the rematch. When a fighter was knocked down, the man scoring the knockdown had to go into the furthest neutral corner until the count ended or the other fighter got up. The irony, as it turned out later, is the Dempsey’s people were the ones who requested the rule be put into place. It was by no means a standard in other boxing jurisdictions.
The bout started off with Dempsey coming out aggressively, as he was known to do, and landing several powerful punches that had Tunney on the defensive. However, Tunney was able to weather the storm and eventually started to take control of the fight with his technical skills and clever defense. One could say that he was building up a decisive points lead, which in a ten-round fight was even more critical than it would customarily be over the usual 15-round championship distance.
In the seventh round, Dempsey landed a series of punches that knocked Tunney to the canvas. According to the aforementioned, recently-instituted rules, the referee was required to begin counting only when Dempsey moved to a neutral corner. However, Dempsey lingered over Tunney, anticipating an opportunity to finish him off, and the referee had to physically move Dempsey to the neutral corner before starting the count. This delay is what became known as the “Long Count.”
According to the rules, Tunney had until the count of ten to get back up and continue fighting, but the delay caused by Dempsey’s actions meant that Tunney had actually been down for much longer (14 seconds, as a stopwatch was applied to the replay). When Tunney finally got back up, he appeared to be shaken but managed to continue fighting and ultimately won the bout by a unanimous decision – once again, over ten rounds.
The truth is, Tunney was not counting from one to ten. He appeared very clearly to be paying close attention to referee Dave Barry and HIS count. So the argument can be made that there was nothing that should have been hotly disputed about it.
Nonetheless, the “Long Count” fight was surrounded by controversy and speculation, with many fans and boxing experts suggesting that the delay had allowed Tunney to recover and ultimately win the bout. Some even went as far as to suggest that the referee had intentionally delayed the count to give Tunney a chance to recover. Regardless of the reasons behind the delay, the “Long Count” fight remains one of the most memorable and controversial fights in boxing history.
Tunney would go on to have one more fight, and successfully defended his title against Tom Heeney, before retiring as the champion. Dempsey never stepped into a professional prize ring again, except to do exhibitions.
In conclusion, the “Long Count” fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney was a significant moment in boxing history and a tremendous source of discussion between boxing fans young and old. While the controversy surrounding the delay in the count will indeed always be a topic of debate, there is no denying that the bout was a thrilling and memorable encounter between two of the greatest heavyweights of their time – and ALL time.