On September 22, 1927, heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney, with help from a controversial long count, defeats former champ Jack Dempsey at Soldier Field in Chicago.
A year earlier, on September 23, 1926, Tunney, a 6-foot former Marine with matinee-idol looks, faced Dempsey, who had held the heavyweight title for a remarkable seven years, at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia. The match was attended by an enormous crowd of 102,000 people, most of whom hoped to see the confident young challenger defeated by the popular heavyweight champion. Tunney, however, had not only trained but studied for the fight, sparring with former Dempsey opponents and poring over taped footage of the champ. The hard work paid off: Tunney won in a 10-round decision, shocking the boxing world.
The rematch, held 364 days later in Chicago, kicked off at just after 10 p.m. The crowd cheered on Dempsey as he circled the champion, but Tunney dominated the first round, consistently connecting his jabs and crosses and knocking Dempsey into the ropes near the end of the round. By the third round, though, Dempsey was peppering Tunney with shots to the body, despite warnings from the ref to watch his low punches. It looked as though Dempsey had scared the champ, but he recovered his composure. Over the next two rounds, Tunney kept Dempsey at bay with quick jabs and crosses and wrested back control of the fight, as Dempsey circled him, looking for an opening. In the fifth, Tunney countered a Dempsey bull rush and stunned the older man yet again.
It was the seventh round that made the match go down as one of the most memorable and controversial in boxing history. As Tunney attempted to keep Dempsey at arm’s length, Dempsey, in a low crouch, hit him in the chin with a left hook, followed by his famous right hook, again to Tunney’s jaw. Another left hook then sent Tunney to the canvas. Dempsey failed to return to a neutral corner as the rules dictate, and the referee turned to remind him of his mistake before beginning the standard nine count. Although Tunney made it to his feet before the ref completed the count, and was thus allowed to continue the fight, taped footage later showed that Tunney had actually stayed down for 14 seconds, which should have given Dempsey the knockout. Instead, the fight continued and Tunney, having won the last three rounds on the judges’ scorecards, was awarded the victory.