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Blood, Sweat, Toil but No Tears from Tunney
James R. Fair
March 27, 1967
The speakeasy crowd said it was an easy fight for Harry Greb, but somewhere in the midst of it a battered and bleeding young bookworm figured out how the champion could be taken
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March 27, 1967

Blood, Sweat, Toil But No Tears From Tunney

The speakeasy crowd said it was an easy fight for Harry Greb, but somewhere in the midst of it a battered and bleeding young bookworm figured out how the champion could be taken

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"Sure. Fighting is my trade and I'll fight him any time, but it's gonna be a different story the next time."

The late Harry Keck, dean of Pittsburgh sports editors, was the first of only three well-known reporters to pick Gene to beat Dempsey for the heavyweight title in Philadelphia in 1926 and then to pick him to retain it in a rematch in Chicago the next year. Keck asked Greb that night if Tunney had hurt him at any time during the fight.

"Hell, yes," said Greb. "He hurt me in damn nearly every round—and him bleeding the way he was. Don't let anyone tell you he's just a counterpunching boxer who can't hurt you. He's the most punishing and most accurate hitter I ever fought. If you don't take the fight to him he'll take it to you, and any move you make is usually the wrong one. You end up catching a left in the puss and a stinging straight right to the body. I couldn't keep away from that right."

Greb excused himself for a moment. When he returned to the bar he admitted that on two trips to the toilet since leaving the Garden, he had passed blood in his urine. "That's the first time that ever happened to me," the fighter said, "and I've been belted in the body by the hardest punchers in the business. Also you may notice I'm not ordering no steak tonight. That's because my face stopped so many left hooks, left jabs and right crosses it feels like somebody's been hitting it with a sledge hammer. I'll bet I never really hurt Gene at all. I just bloodied him, and the loss of all that blood weakened him."

As more and more speakeasy customers came up to congratulate him on his easy victory, Greb began to get really cranky. Finally he told one of them, "You're congratulating the wrong man. I'm not Harry Greb. This is Greb sitting next to me." He touched my arm. "Get up, Harry, and show this gentleman that series of punches you hit Gene with in the first round. Don't be shy. Get up and show him, champ." Unable to find my arms and not sure where my legs were (this was not an abnormal condition for anyone who had researched as many speakeasies as I had), I got up—and fell across Greb's lap.

"That's the way it happened, mister, a beautiful reenactment," Greb told the customer, who stood there blinking in wonderment until one of his friends led him away.

Tunney himself, interviewed after the fight, had a less dramatic but perhaps more informative explanation of what had happened. He gave at least some of the credit to Abe Attell, the old (1904-1912) featherweight champion who was a ringside spectator. "Abe was sitting near my corner," said Gene, "and when he saw the sorry condition I was in he ducked out to the nearest druggist and bought his entire supply of adrenalin chloride, a coagulant. He slipped the bottle to Doc Bagley, my manager. Between rounds Doc's fingers flew. He is a superb cut man. He managed to stop the bleeding, but he couldn't keep Greb from busting my face apart after that."

As a boxing writer, I must have covered more than 10,000 fights. I never in all my life saw anyone take a more sustained beating or lose more blood than Tunney did that night. And yet as he lay on the rubbing table, in complete control of his mental faculties but too weak to sit up, he recalled every round of the fight from opening to closing bell, and discussed them like an impartial expert.

"I discovered early that it was possible for me to whip Greb," he said. "As each round went by, this discovery became a positive certainty."

The discovery bore fruit in four successive fights against Greb—two 15-rounders in the old Garden, a 10-rounder each in Cleveland and St. Paul. Never again would Tunney be beaten by Greb or by anyone else. He lost just that once in 77 fights. Six months after losing the 175-pound title back to Tunney (in February, 1923), Greb lifted the middleweight title from Johnny Wilson in a roughhouser during which Referee Jack O'Sullivan stepped between these rugged practitioners and, glowering at Greb, asked him what he thought he was doing. "Gouging Johnny in the eye, can't you see?" Greb said haughtily. Satisfied with this explanation, O'Sullivan moved away, and the fighters returned to work. Greb was the world middleweight, Tunney the American light-heavyweight champion in their last three fights. Weight was no problem to Greb, who could fight at 158 pounds one week, 170-175 the next with no loss of speed, endurance or sharpness. He lost his 160-pound title to Tiger Flowers in February of 1926 and failed to regain it in a rematch the following August, when he retired. He died two months later, on October 22. Gene Tunney had been heavyweight champion one day short of a month. He dropped everything and went to Pittsburgh to serve as honorary pallbearer to the man of whom he had seen so much inside the ring and so little outside it.

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