The biggest fight of the year takes place this weekend in Las Vegas, as Sergey Kovalev defends his WBA, WBO and IBF light heavyweight titles against former super middleweight champion Andre Ward. The winner of this bout will walk away with a claim on the mythical pound-for-pound crown, and likely punch his ticket to the boxing Hall of Fame.
In honor of this bout, I will spend the week highlighting great moments from the history of the light heavyweight division. Today we will look at the great rivalry between Harry Greb and Gene Tunney.
Tunney is most well-known as the man who lifted the heavyweight crown from the ferocious Jack Dempsey. But prior to that historical moment, he was among the greatest light heavyweight champions in boxing history.
Tunney was a boxing golden boy. The Fighting Marine was an intelligent, thoughtful conversationalist outside of the ring. Inside, he was a cagey, intelligent student of the Sweet Science.
His hardest lessons came on May 23, 1922, when he faced The Pittsburgh Windmill, Harry Greb. Greb is viewed by many historians as the best middleweight of all time, and one of the top pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
Greb broke Tunney’s nose with a headbutt in Round 1. Later in the same round, Greb cut Tunney open above his left eye with a punch. In Round 3, Greb cut Tunney above his right eye. From the middle rounds on, Tunney’s face was a mask of blood. Tunney fought on close terms for much of the bout, but was staggering and weak by the time he made it to the bell. It was the first loss of his career.
And it would be the last. Just three months later, Tunney defeated the great Tom Loughran. He defeated Greb in two rematches during 1923, again in 1924 and a fourth time in 1925. He beat Georges Carpentier in 1924 and Tommy Gibbons in 1925.
By 1926, Tunney was in line for a shot at Dempsey, the greatest sports star of the era. Most fans did not give him a shot. Greb knew otherwise. He would later note that Dempsey’s camp had recruited him as a sparring partner, “but I couldn’t take Jack’s money. I knew he didn’t have a chance.”