The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired fight-used memorabilia from the career of legendary boxer Gene Tunney, through a donation from the Tunney family. The donation includes two awards, a studio portrait, a screen of boxing prints and the boxing gloves that Tunney wore in the historic 1927 heavyweight boxing championship rematch fight, commonly known as “The Long Count,” against Jack Dempsey.
The gloves had been on the auction block at Sotheby’s in February of 2010.
“The Long Count” was the rematch between world heavyweight champion Tunney and the former champion Dempsey, held Sept. 22, 1927, at Soldier Field in Chicago. Nearly a year before, in Philadelphia Sept. 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.
“Sporting events are an integral part of American culture,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “During this period in history, boxing brought the whole country together and fights such as ‘The Long Count’ were milestones in sporting entertainment, so we are thankful that the Tunney family chose the museum to preserve these objects.”
Tunney, “The Fighting Marine,” fought more than 70 professional fights, losing only one to Harry Greb, May 23, 1922, while fighting as a light heavyweight. After his last match, defending his title against Tom Heeney in July 1928, Tunney married socialite Mary “Polly” Lauder and the couple had four children. He died in 1978.
“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.”
Tunney was named Ring Magazine’s first “Fighter of the Year” in 1928 and went on to be elected in to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. Following his ring career, Tunney wrote two books, numerous magazine articles and became a successful businessman, ultimately serving on the board of more than a dozen companies.
The Tunney gloves and other objects will join related boxing objects in the museum’s sports collections, including Joe Louis’ boxing gloves from his 1936 historic fight against Max Schmeling; the robe Muhammad Ali wore during the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire and the gloves he wore while defending the second of his three world heavyweight championships; and the 1886 boxing championship belt worn by the country’s first national sports celebrity, John L. Sullivan.