1928-07-26 Gene Tunney w rsc 11 (15) Tom Heeney, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD

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1928-07-26 Gene Tunney w rsc 11 (15) Tom Heeney, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD. Referee: Ed Forbes. Heeney (203½) made a fast start, catching the champion with good punches and in the second round both men were rocked back on their heels. It was clear to see that Tunney (192) was the better boxer and once he had got the jab working he was able to gain the upper hand, countering with blows to head and body. The tough New Zealander was always dangerous, especially with the left hook, but by closing on the inside Tunney was able to negate its effect. By the eighth Heeney’s left eye was swollen and it was then that Tunney began to come off the back foot to spear home lefts that worsened the damage. At this stage all Heeney had left was his courage and in the tenth he was dropped by a solid right to the head. The contest was almost over and although saved by the bell the challenger had to be revived during the interval. Despite the brave Heeney coming out for the 11th he was ready to be taken, as Tunney battered away at him, and with eight seconds of the session remaining the referee came to his rescue.

Almost immediately afterwards, on 31 July, Tunney announced his retirement, which then saw Johnny Risko, who had recently beaten Jack Sharkey (w pts 15 on 12 March at Madison Square Garden, NYC) in an eliminator, filing a claim on 3 August with the NYSAC to be recognised as the champion. He was then followed by the light heavyweight champion, Tommy Loughran, Young Stribling, Heeney and Sharkey and others, all trying to stake a claim. However, an elimination tournament was ordered by both the NYSAC and NBA and, on 15 August, the promoter, Humbert Fugazy, staged a bout between Risko and Roberto Roberti, won by the latter on a sixth-round disqualification (at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NYC), while his main promotional rival, Tex Rickard, looked to get busy. It was also reported that Tunney and the NYSAC Chairman, William Muldoon, would be putting up a trophy that would be inscribed with the names of future heavyweight champions.

While Rickard was banking on Jack Dempsey returning to the ring to meet the next best opponent, highly-rated men such as Pierre Charles (outpointed over ten rounds by Otto Von Porat on 9 August at the Mills Stadium, Chicago, Illinois) and Knute Hansen, who was knocked out in the eighth round by KO Christner on 4 December at the Public Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, were effectively eliminated during 1928, prior to Rickard introducing his year-end ratings, which had Dempsey, Sharkey, Stribling and Paulino Uzcudun as the leading men.

Unfortunately, while in Miami trying to set up an official eliminator between Sharkey and Stribling he was taken ill and died on 6 January 1929, following an operation to remove an appendix. Former champion, Dempsey, who announced his retirement a few weeks later, was drafted in to help the promotion along and the fight eventually took place, with Sharkey winning on points over ten rounds at Flamingo Park, Miami Beach, Florida on 27 February 1929. Following his victory, the majority of the American press were reporting that Sharkey should now be recognised as the American champion.

Meanwhile, Max Schmeling, who had already beaten Joe Monte, Joe Sekyra and Pietro Corri since arriving in America and had stopped Risko inside nine rounds at Madison Square Garden on 1 February 1929 was being lined up to meet Uzcudun in a semi-final eliminator, the winner to meet Sharkey for the vacant title. Since losing to Big Boy Peterson on a second-round disqualification at Ebbets Field on 19 October 1928, a result nobody took too seriously, Uzcudun had beaten Von Porat and Jack Renault before pushing Christner (w pts 10 on 22 February 1929 at Madison Square Garden) further down the queue. After Schmeling defeated Uzcudun over 15 sessions on 27 June 1929 at the Yankee Stadium, plans for Schmeling v Sharkey in September were unfortunately scuppered due to a series of contractual disputes between Schmeling and his former manager, Arthur Von Bulow.

This ultimately sidelined Schmeling and in the interim the NYSAC set up contests between Phil Scott and Victorio Campolo (a first-series eliminator), the winner to meet Schmeling in a semi-final, and Sharkey and Loughran (the other semi-final leg being an American title fight). Sharkey beat Loughran (w rsc 3 at the Yankee Stadium on 26 September 1929), while Scott beat Campolo (w pts 10 at Ebbets Field on 23 September 1929) and looked forward to meeting Schmeling for the right to fight for the vacant title. However, with Schmeling still unavailable to fight and now temporarily suspended by the NYSAC, Von Porat was drafted in as Scott’s opponent, losing on a second-round disqualification at Madison Square Garden on 9 December 1929. When it was recognised that the German was not going to be available for some time yet, Scott and Sharkey signed to meet at the Madison Square Garden Stadium, Miami, Florida on 27 February 1930. Reported in some quarters as being a world title bout, Sharkey beat Scott (w rsc 3) and would go on to meet Schmeling in what would be generally recognised as a fight that would decide the championship.

By the time Schmeling v Sharkey was in place, Tuffy Griffiths had punched his way into a position to meet the winner after beating Risko (twice), Big Boy Peterson, Ludwig Haymann, George Cook and Uzcudun. Unfortunately for Griffiths he was then stopped by Jack Gagnon inside six rounds, and although gaining revenge shortly after his big chance had gone.

While all of this had been going on, the ‘black’ heavyweight champion, George Godfrey, had lost his title after being disqualified in the third round against Larry Gains at the Maple Leaf Stadium, Toronto, Canada on 15 August 1928. Then, after Gains had been adjudged by the newspapers to have dropped a ten-round decision to Seal Harris at the Cadle Tabernacle Arena, Indianapolis, Indiana on 20 December 1928 in his first defence, the winner also laid claim to the ‘black’ title. This was confirmed in the February 1929 edition of The Ring. After beating Neal Clisby (w pts 10 on 7 May 1929 at the Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California), Harris then drew over ten rounds against Long Tom Hawkins (at The Coliseum, San Diego, California) on 17 May before losing his ‘black’ title claim when Hawkins knocked him out in the seventh round at the same venue on 21 June. Hawkins then defended against Harris (w co 1 at the Dreamland Auditorium, San Francisco, California on 19 July) before taking on the former champion, Godfrey and winning on a third round disqualification at the Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles on 13 August.

Hawkins next put his version on the line against Al Walker (w pts 10 on 1 October at the Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles) before being stripped of it by Bearcat Wright, who stopped him in the ninth round at the Dreamland Auditorium, San Francisco on 25 October. Wright then made successful defences against Cowboy Billy Owens (w co 2 at The Coliseum, Des Moines, Iowa on 12 November) and Hawkins (w pts 10 on 10 January 1930 at The Coliseum, San Diego).

Just to add to the ‘black’ heavyweight title confusion, Bob Lawson had beaten Walker twice in 1929 (w pts 10 on 2 April and w disq 4 on 7 June) in billed title fights at The Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, but as he had already been beaten by Godfrey he failed to gain much support. Lawson, who had been claiming the ‘black’ title since 1927, was yet another of his race who failed to get proper recognition.

Earlier, having knocked out Leonard Dixon inside three rounds at The Auditorium, Roanoke, Virginia on 23 December 1929, and with Gains fighting in Europe, Godfrey reclaimed the ‘black’ title and defended it against Roy Ace Clark (w co 7 at The Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 24 March 1930) and Jack Rozier (w rsc 1 at The Ballpark, Baltimore, Maryland on 16 May).