James Raj “Gene” Tunney (May 25, 1897 – November 7, 1978) was an American professional boxer who competed from 1915 to 1928. He held the world heavyweight title from 1926 to 1928, and the American light heavyweight title twice between 1922 and 1923. A highly technical boxer, Tunney had a five-fight light heavyweight rivalry with Harry Greb in which he won three, drew once, and lost once, though many ringside reporters believed Greb should have won the decision in their 2nd meeting. He also knocked out Georges Carpentier and defeated Jack Dempsey twice; first in 1926 and again in 1927. Tunney’s successful title defense against Dempsey remains one of the most famous bouts in boxing history and is known as The Long Count Fight. He retired undefeated as a heavyweight after his victory over Tom Heeney in 1928, after which Tunney was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine.
Mary Lydon from Culleen House, Gorthgarve, Kiltimagh, County Mayo, Ireland, emigrated to the United States after the Great Famine. She settled in New York City, where she met John Tunney, also from Cill Aodain, Kiltimagh. They married after a short courtship. The Tunneys had seven children; one son was murdered around 1920, another was a New York Police Department detective from 1924 to 1951, dying in 1971, while Gene would become famous as a World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. At an early age, Tunney was inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt to become physically fit.
Tunney fought some 68 official professional fights, losing only one, to Harry Greb, while fighting as a light heavyweight. Tunney fought many other fights whose scoring was unofficial, judged by newspaper reporters. He also lost none of these “newspaper decisions.” He reported that he lost a second fight during World War I, a 10-round decision, to Tommy Loughran, as a Marine before he began his professional boxing career. Tunney was regarded as an extremely skillful boxer who excelled in defense. In addition to beating Dempsey, the most famous fighter of his era, Tunney defeated Tommy Gibbons, Georges Carpentier and many other fine boxers.
Already the U.S. Expeditionary Forces champion, Tunney spent the winter of 1921 as a lumberjack in northern Ontario for the J. R. Booth Company of Ottawa, without revealing he was a champion boxer. He explained this as “wanting the solitude and the strenuous labors of the woods to help condition himself for the career that appeared before him.”
He was elected as Ring Magazine‘s first-ever Fighter of the Year in 1928 and later elected to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.