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May 23 2011

May 23…The Battle Of The Long Count…Dempsey vs. Tunney

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The Battle Of The Long Count was the boxing rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey, held on September 22, 1927, at Soldier Field in Chicago. Nearly a year before, in Philadelphia on September 23, 1926, Tunney had beaten Dempsey in a 10-round unanimous decision to earn the world heavyweight title. The 1927 rematch took place under new boxing rules regarding knockdowns, which stated that a fallen fighter had just 10 seconds to rise to his feet, but the count could not begin until after his opponent had moved to a neutral corner. In the seventh round of the 1927 fight, Dempsey knocked Tunney to the floor, but did not move back to a neutral corner. Instead he stood watching his opponent, providing Tunney with extra time to recover. Tunney returned to the match and won the fight easily on points, retaining the world heavyweight title. “The Long Count” was the last fight of Dempsey’s career. Tunney retired undefeated in 1928. This rematch drew a gate of $2,658,660 and was simultaneously the first $1 million gate and the first $2 million gate in entertainment history.

Radio was in its infancy, yet NBC estimated that on the night of Sept. 22, 1927, about 50 million people around the world heard Gene Tunney successfully defend his championship against Jack Dempsey. Listeners heard from ringside, against the steady roar of a Soldier Field crowd estimated all the way up to 150,000, the excited voice of Graham McNamee. He was heard in Paris, in Rio, in London, and Iceland. In every little town in the United States and Canada, families huddled near their radios, sharing the excitement in McNamee’s voice. His storied voice filled hushed New York and Chicago night clubs, particularly when he shrieked during the fight’s epic seventh round: “Some of the blows that Dempsey hit make this ring tremble! Tunney is down! From a barrage! . . . They are counting!”

Sporting events were an integral part of American culture. During this period in history, boxing brought the whole country together and fights such as “The Long Count” were milestones in sporting entertainment. America, 84 years ago, was an exciting place, certainly an appropriate stage for possibly the most anticipated sports event in history. Four months before the fight, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, bound for Paris. Babe Ruth, of perhaps baseball’s greatest team, the ’27 Yankees, and his young teammate, Lou Gehrig, were annihilating American League pitching. On the night of the Long Count Fight, Ruth hit his 56th home run at Yankee Stadium. In eight more days he would hit his 60th. The Roaring Twenties…Flappers, Al Capone, hip flasks, George Gershwin, jazz and the golden age of sports. September, 1927…a new Pierce-Arrow cost $2,495. AT&T announced that telephone service would be available soon between New York and London at $75 for three minutes, $25 for each additional minute. Tunney’s purse for beating Dempsey in Chicago was staggering…$990,000. Dempsey’s check was for $437,500. Some perspective…Babe Ruth’s contract was $70,000 and Calvin Coolidge was making $75,000 to run the country.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired objects from the career of boxer Gene Tunney, through a donation from the Tunney family…the boxing gloves that James Joseph “Gene” Tunney wore in the historic 1927 heavyweight boxing championship rematch fight, commonly known as “The Long Count,” against Jack Dempsey. “The Tunney family is honored that this museum, so much a part of our national heritage, will become the permanent home of a pair of brown, leather boxing gloves worn in one of my father’s—indeed one of the 20th century’s—most historic fights,” said Jay R. Tunney, son of Gene Tunney. “He would be immensely proud, as we are.” Following is a video of the historic “Long Count” match.

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