"Few human beings have fought each other more savagely or more often than Harry Greb and I," Tunney wrote in his autobiography, Arms for Living, published by Wilfred Funk in 1941. "We punched and cut and bruised each other in a series of bouts, five of them. The first of the five is for me an enduring memory, a memory still terrifying.
"I was in bad shape for the bout. This was in the time when my hands were chronically ailing with imperfectly mended fractures, sore and swollen.... Before going into the ring Novocain was shot into them to deaden the pain that would ensue upon striking blows. Moreover, I had above my left eye a half-healed cut sustained in training. Adrenalin chloride was injected into the eyebrow to prevent the cut from bleeding too much if reopened by Greb's punches. Then the bout started, and the nightmare began. In the first exchange of the fight I sustained a double fracture of the nose which bled continually.... Toward the end of the first round my left eyebrow was laid open four inches. In the third another cut over the right eye left me looking through a red film. For the better part of 12 rounds I saw a red phantom-like form dancing before me. It is impossible to describe the bloodiness of this fight.... How I ever survived the 13th, 14th and 15th rounds is still a mystery to me.
"All five of our fights were of that order of savagery. My showing became better from one to another—and in the last one I beat Harry about as badly as he had beaten me in the first. The ferocity of the hammering Greb took is indicated by a remark he made toward the end. In a clinch, he said, 'Gene, don't knock me out.' That from Harry Greb was monumental. No one was gamer. Pain and punches meant nothing to him—the cruel mauling, the bruising punishment. But Harry, hopelessly beaten, didn't want the folks back home to read that he had been knocked out. I was never paid a higher tribute. Here was one of the greatest fighters of all time laying down his shield, admitting defeat and knowing I would not expose him.... Greb was curiously secretive in pride, oddly vain. He was concerned about his looks.... When tough Harry Greb went to one of the roughhouse, slugging brawls for which he was famous, he took with him not merely his pugilistic equipment, trunks, bathrobe, ring shoes. Invariably he carried along a comb and brush, mirror, and—marvel at it—a powder puff! Going into the ferocious fracas, he always had his hair plastered down with stickum. This was one of the strangest eccentricities I ever observed in the realm where fists thud into the human visage.... Harry Greb's vanity about his looks cost him his life. Retiring from the ring with a substantial and hard-earned fortune, his first concern was his nose, flat and shapeless from countless punches and repeated fractures. Like an aging society beauty, he resorted to plastic surgery. He died on the operating table while his nose was being made shapely.... He and I remained the best of friends, with never the slightest bit of anger or ill will."
A week or 10 days following his last Tunney fight, Greb was having a drink with friends in the Times Square area.
"I'm through fighting Gene," he said quietly. "He's too tough, hits too hard and knows what moves I'm gonna make before I do." He glanced around the speakeasy to be sure no outsiders were listening. "He was killing me in St. Paul," he confided. "I knew I couldn't stay the 10-round distance, and I didn't want to be knocked out or have the referee stop it, so I asked him in a clinch to take it easy. 'Sure, Harry,' he said. 'Stay in close and grab and hold, and I won't hurt you.' I knew I could trust him, and he knew I wasn't playing possum."
Greb thanked Gene right after the fight for a courtesy he had never before and would never again ask an opponent to grant him. Gene patted him on the back. "You're a good boy, Harry," he said. "We're friends, aren't we?"
Before leaving the speakeasy, Greb said to Packey O'Gattey, "There's something I want cleared up. Is it true, as the newspapers say, that Gene reads books?"
"Sure, it's true," Packey assured him. "I seen him read books lotsa times in training camps."