“The fight took place under new rules regarding knockdowns: the fallen fighter would have 10 seconds to rise to his feet under his own power, after his opponent moved to a neutral corner (i.e., one with no trainers). The new rule, which was not yet universal, was asked to be put into use during the fight by the Dempsey camp, who had requested it during negotiations. Dempsey, in the final days of training prior to the rematch, apparently ignored the setting of these new rules. Also, the fight was staged inside a 20-foot ring, which favored the boxer with superior footwork, in this case Tunney. Dempsey liked to crowd his opponents, and normally fought in a 16-foot ring that offered less space to maneuver.”
Above: Dempsey stands over Tunney as the referee tries to separate them - the infamous Long Count
364 days before, on September 23, 1926, “the Fighting Marine” Gene Tunney upset heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, earning the championship belt by lopsided decision. Though the fight was one-sided, public interest for a rematch was high, and the two decided to battle again, this time in Soldier Field, Chicago. Despite his loss, Dempsey was still the betting favorite.
For the bulk of his career, Dempsey had fought under a somewhat crueler system of boxing than we’re used to today. Under the old rules, as soon as one knee left the canvas, the fallen opponent was fair game, making it possible for a bloodthirsty fighter to strike his opponent before he could really defend himself. A knockdown could very easily lead to more knockdowns. Dempsey had exploited this rule throughout his career, hovering over fallen foes and smashing them with hooks whenever they tried to rise.
Only recently had a new rule been introduced: when a man was down, his opponent had to go to a neutral corner before the count could begin. Much like the introduction of gloved boxing, the rule was optional and hardly universal. But for some reason, the camp of Dempsey, who’d used the rule to his advantage all his professional life, requested that the rule be implemented in this bout - thus setting the stage for one of the most legendary moments in boxing.
For the first six rounds, Tunney repeated his earlier performance, boxing Dempsey with apparent ease. In the seventh round, however, Dempsey trapped Tunney on the ropes and hit him with four good punches to the chin. Tunney hit the canvas for the first time in his professional career. Jack, glowering like the two-fisted whirlwind he was, stood over Tunney with predatory eyes. The referee, aware of the rules agreed upon, tried to talk Dempsey into a neutral corner, but Jack wouldn’t go. For five full seconds, Dempsey stood silently, looking at his fallen foe. When he finally went to his corner and the referee began the count, it took Tunney ‘til the count of nine to rise. The ringside clock had Tunney down for fourteen full seconds. Had the count begun immediately after the knockdown, Jack ostensibly would have taken a knockout victory - though Tunney would later say that he’d waited 'til the count of nine when he could’ve risen any time.
Instead, Tunney regained his footing and boxed Dempsey soundly for the final three rounds, even flooring him in the eighth en route to a unanimous decision victory. When the fight ended, Dempsey lifted Jack’s arm and told him “you were best. You fought a smart fight, kid.” With that, Dempsey retired.
“When the battered Dempsey returned to his dressing room, he explained the defeat to his film actress wife Estelle Taylor by saying, ‘Honey, I forgot to duck.’ This phrase was later used by President Ronald Reagan to his wife after Reagan was shot during a failed attempt on his life in 1981.”