Back In The Ring
After three years off, Dempsey was itching to get back in the ring. His much anticipated return came against Gene Tunney in September 1926. Tunney represented a shift in boxing strategy. While Dempsey was from the hit and be hit school of bar room boxing, Tunney was a more defensive fighter. Tunney's popularity suffered because of his "hit and run" style, but was chosen because of "Tex" Rickard's reluctance to promote a mixed race title fight. While there were many black fighters who deserved a shot at the champion, Rickard believed it would be financially disastrous. Of the two worthy heavyweights between 1923 and 1926, Harry Wills and Gene Tunney, Dempsey fought Tunney, not because he was the top contender, but because he was white.
Held at Philadelphia's Sesquicentennial Stadium and broadcast on radio by the newly formed National Broadcasting Company, a visibly slower Dempsey was defeated in the driving rain. Dempsey's many fans were quick to excuse the fighter's disappointing loss. Among the many explanations were his three years out of boxing. However disappointing, the fight would set the stage for the controversial rematch at Chicago's Soldier Field on September 22, 1927. The rematch set a new record with its $2.3 million gate. The radio broadcast was said to have reached three of every four Americans. This was Dempsey's opportunity to prove his worth and regain his title. Trailing in the seventh, Dempsey landed a combination of powerful punches that floored Tunney. Rather than return to a neutral corner, however, Dempsey lingered over the downed boxer and delayed the referee's count. Tunney rose on the nine count, that with the delay, had actually been closer to eighteen, and held on to defeat Dempsey. It would be Dempsey's final title fight and the "Battle of the Long Count" would be debated for a generation.
Dempsey accepted his loss gracefully and never publicly debated or excused himself. His defeats only seemed to make him more popular with the adoring public, however, and he was quick to capitalize. In 1928, he starred with his wife in The Big Fight, produced by David Belasco of Broadway fame. When his former promoter "Tex" Rickard died in 1929, Dempsey got back into the fight game as a promoter, but the collapse of the stock market, the Depression and his divorce bankrupted the champ and he began to consider a return to fighting. After a few exhibitions and a loss to Kingfish Levinsky he retired for good at the age of thirty-six.