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Tunney kept working the right, trying to bring Dempsey out of his trademark crouch. Blood drained from a gash over Dempsey's right eye as he returned to his corner after losing the fourth round. Before the fight, Tunney had hopes of finishing Dempsey off in the fifth, but Dempsey came out bombing the body, pressing forward, still dangerous. Near the end of Round 5, however, Tunney again staggered Dempsey with two stiff rights to the head. After the bell, a Chicago cop named Bill Smith climbed to the ring apron and shouted at referee Barry to stop Dempsey's rabbit-punching or "...be carried out of here dead!"
Tunney's corner wanted to file an official protest, but Tunney said no. Although sportswriters considered him a highbrow, Tunney's ring peers knew him more for his guts and ring ability. Nobody had ever knocked him down, and his single loss, to Harry Greb in 1922 (he later fought Greb four more times without losing again), was suffered gallantly. "By the third round," Grantland Rice reported, "Gene was literally wading in his own blood," yet he endured the 15-round shellacking like the Marine he was. Tunney had won the American Expeditionary Force light heavyweight championship, in Paris, the same year Dempsey won his crown.
It was Dempsey who displayed tremendous courage in Round 6. His right eye bloodied, his left eye badly swollen, he tore into Tunney, first pounding the midsection, then shifting his target upward to win the round.
The day before the fight, Frank Hague, the mayor of Jersey City and Tunney's friend, had asked the champion about a rumor that he'd agreed to take a dive in the seventh. "If I am knocked out in the seventh round," replied Tunney, "it will be because Dempsey knocked me out. There will be no feigning on my part."
Few fighters would have used the word "feigning." Coming from Tunney it sounded natural. Growing up on the West Side of Manhattan, Tunney acquired a prodigious vocabulary by memorizing the dictionary. The press had also made much of the world champion's love of Shakespeare. Tunney's Shakespearian education began while he was on a troopship sailing to France. A fellow Marine, who happened to be packing Julius Caesar and A Winter's Tale, became seasick and vomited on Tunnney's military tunic. Rather than keep the tunic, Tunney reported it missing and was given extra duty. The shipmate, grateful that Tunney hadn't ratted on him, offered him A Winter's Tale, then coached him through it. "After training on A Winter's Tale," Tunney said later, "I read such works as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello with ease."
Before their first fight Dempsey had acknowledged Tunney's scholarly reputation in a manner that his fans appreciated. "I'll knock the big bookworm out inside of eight rounds," he said.
Tunney opened the seventh round of the rematch boxing masterfully. But halfway through it Dempsey timed a right over Tunney's left lead, then pursued the woozy champion to the ropes and connected with a left, a right and several more of the short, brutal punches that typified his style.
"There were seven crashing blows," Tunney recalled. " Dempsey battering me with lefts and rights as I fell against the ropes, collapsing to a sitting position on the canvas."
Forgetting referee Barry's neutral-corner instructions, Dempsey reacted as he always had: He hovered over his fallen opponent, ready to pounce. "I couldn't move," Dempsey told Dan Daniel, cofounder of The Ring magazine. "I just couldn't. I wanted him to get up. I wanted to kill the sonofabitch."
Timekeeper Paul Beeler began counting. Seeing Barry's struggle to haul Dempsey away, he stopped. Four seconds elapsed before Dempsey moved toward a neutral corner. Beeler then shouted "five," expecting Barry to pick up the count at that point. But Barry began at "one," in strict accordance with Illinois boxing commission rules, as he would later contend.