Nobody, apparently, wanted to see Tunney fight Heeney—except Tunney. Tex Rickard lost $150,000 on the promotion of the fight, which took place in New York on July 26, 1928. The fight itself developed into what boxing men call a "pigsticking."
Let me give you a story I've never completely told before," Gene said. "I was in my best form for this fight. Absolutely indefatigable. I was determined to knock Heeney down with my first punch. I walked out and hit him with a straight right hand—a terrific blow—but he didn't go down.
" 'Oh, oh!' I said to myself, 'this fellow is tough.' I decided then to box him. For four rounds I hit him so often about the head that my wrist began to get sore and I shifted to his body. Then in the eighth round I hit him again with another solid right, just above the eye. I saw Heeney back away, trying to pry open his eye with his glove, even though the eye hadn't been closed.
"I knew what had happened. I had had two personal friends lose the sight of an eye after being hit in that spot. It damages the blood vessel, you know. Heeney had been temporarily blinded. I stepped back and did not hit him again for the rest of the round.
"Between rounds it was my habit to observe my opponent's corner. I saw Jimmy Dawson, a boxing writer, rush over to ask Charley Harvey, who managed Heeney, what had happened. Then I saw Harvey make a jabbing motion with his thumb, implying that I had stuck my thumb in Heeney's eye."
Tunney shook his head at the old memory. "I was furious," he said. "For the next two rounds I gave Heeney a terrible beating—the worst beating of his life, and all because of his manager. But in the 11th round he was still rushing me. 'There's heart!' I said to myself. I evaded him, and he almost fell. Then I turned to the referee and said:
" 'If you want me to go on hitting this man, I won't be responsible for the consequences.' And he stopped the fight."
"Have you ever seen Heeney since?" Gene's visitor asked.
"Well," Tunney said, "this is very interesting. During the last war I made a trip to the Solomon Islands. I found that Heeney was also there—he had become an American citizen and a first-class seaman in the Seabees. I had him transferred, which was a very difficult thing to do, and made a chief athletic specialist, tripling his pay.
"Now sometime after the war I ran into Ernest Hemingway, and he said, 'Tom Heeney tells me you were a dirty fighter.'