By Sean Crose
There are solid reasons why people “in the know” raise their eyebrows at the name of 20s era heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Hey never fought a black opponent for the title, after all, even though there were many black fighters out there at the time. Tunney was also gifted a notorious “long count” after Jack Dempsey put him on the mat in their 1927 rematch (it still may be the single most controversial even in sport’s history).
Still, it’s hard not to give Tunney his due. Here was a guy who lost just once in his life in a career that spanned 66 fights. You read that right. They guy fought in the ring 66 times. Against solid competition, too. Scratch that, against great competition. What’s more, however, Tunney was one of the most skilled practitioners of the fight game the sport has ever known. Today’s slick defensive fighters probably wouldn’t be so slick if Tunney hadn’t broken new ground by making “scientific” boxing so notable.
It’s easy to understand, then, why promoter Bob Arum wants to compare Long Island’s Chris Algieri to the iconic heavyweight once known as The Fighting Marine. Arum’s trying to build up Algieri’s upcoming bout with one of the sport’s current icons, Manny Pacquiao. The fight’s a hard sell, and the seasoned Arum has to pull out every trick in the book to make it appealing to the masses.
Does Arum have a point when he compares Algieri to Tunney, though? Or is he simply drawing at straws? We’ll start with the things Algieri and Tunney, two men separated by large portions of time and size, have in common. For one thing, they look eerily similar. Check out pictures of the one, then the other, and you’ll note the resemblance.
They’re also rather similar in the ring in that both are defensive scientists. In other words, they win by avoiding punches, keeping the competition at bay, and controlling the tempo of the bout. Lastly, both men have the clean cut thing going. Algieri has a Master’s Degree and lives in what appears to be an upscale Long Island neighborhood. Tunney aspired to rise socially. He married a socialite and was known to associate with literary movers and shakers across the pond in Paris.
Yet serious differences exist between the two men as well. First of all, Tunney came from humble origins. A product of New York City, he was the son of Irish immigrants during a time when being Irish was looked down on. Part of rising up in the world for Tunney meant serving in the Marines (which he rightfully considered to be an honor) and working as a lumberjack before finding glory in the ring.
Unlike Tunney, Algieri is a man with options. There’s that advanced degree, after all. There’s also talk that he wants to go to medical school. Tunney longed for socio-economic respectability. Algieri already has it. And he doesn’t need boxing to keep it. What Algieri doesn’t have, however, is something Tunney had in abundance. And that’s strength.
Something few bring up about Tunney is the fact that he was an extremely strong fighter. Because he was such a defensive genius, most probably just assume a kind of wispy athleticism carried him through his career in the ring. That sort of thing works for Algieri, after all, just as it’s worked for countless other defensive practitioners, from Pernell Whitaker to Willie Pep.
Tunney was different from other defensive masters, however, in that he could hit. Really hit. Before he battled Dempsey, Tunney had knocked out well in excess of forty men. Think about it, the guy KOd almost as many people as Floyd Mayweather has fought in his entire career. Tunney was no pitty-pat artist, no matter how slick and frustrating he may have been.
Algieri, on the other hand, is not a powerful puncher. He has few knockouts on his record and it’s very unlikely he’ll get one when he meets Pacquiao in the ring. Tunney beat Demspey with a combination of strength the skill. Algieri will have to beat Pacquiao (who indeed has at least a bit of a Dempseyesque quality to him) with just skill. That’s a very telling difference between Algieri and the legendary champion.
There is one more thing to mention, though. And it’s something that both Tunney and Algeri are rightfully known for having in abundance. And that’s heart. Years before he battled Dempsey, Tunney suffered his only defeat at the hands of Harry Greb, a classic tough guy. Greb beat Tunney so bad that Tunney’s face was turned into a bloody, grotesque mess. Indeed, Tunney may have been in danger of dying on that occasion.
Yet he never gave up. He. Just. Kept. Fighting. Several months ago, Algieri found himself in a similar situation when the rugged Ruslan Provodnikov turned one of his eyes into a purple hot air balloon. It was unpleasant to look at and had to be hell to live with. Algeri, however, went the Tunney route. He. Just. Kept. Fighting.
Tunney came back and bested Greb in the ring sometime after their first bout. Just like Algeri pulled off a victory that night over Provodnikov (albeit a somewhat controversial one). They might not have an enormous amount in common, but both Tunney and Algeri have proven to be similar in the one area of boxing that counts the most.
And that’s something worth noting.