Keiter got caught in the middle of the Tunney-Dempsey retelling
IT'S time for another Les Keiter story.
This is the story of the famous Long Count fight, 1927, Chicago, Soldier Field. So long ago that not even Les Keiter could tell the story. Could he?
"I was too young, I was 7 years old then," Keiter said. "But I later became involved."
But, the Long Count. It was 1927, and Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney were giants. This was their world-title rematch. It was a record purse, more than 100,000 fans in attendance -- boxing's first superfight.
Tunney, who'd won their first fight, was winning again, ahead on points. Then, in the seventh round, Dempsey unleashed a flurry of punches, and Tunney was in trouble. Tunney went down, dazed, one hand hanging onto the rope.
Dempsey stood over him. The referee gathered Dempsey, had to physically take him to a neutral corner, lectured him. Then the referee turned to Tunney and started, "1! ..."
"And by the time he got to 7," Keiter said, "it had been about 21 seconds."
Tunney got up, won the fight.
Forevermore, it was known as the Long Count.
Flash forward to 1945, the South Pacific. The island of Peleliu, Palau. Young Naval officer Les Keiter is broadcasting a boxing smoker on Armed Forces Radio. The celebrity referee? None other than Coast Guard commodore Gene Tunney.
"I couldn't let this get away," Keiter said. A brief interview?
"Make it brief," Tunney said.
Keiter's first question was about the Long Count fight. It was the only question he'd need: "I was not fighting a man, I was fighting an animal!"
Tunney said Dempsey had not known Marquis of Queensbury rules, was raining illegal blows on him. Not wanting to get hurt, Tunney decided to sit down until things got sorted out. Once order was restored, Tunney got up, outboxed Dempsey, won on points.
"And they called it," Tunney said in conclusion, "the famous 'Long Count.' "
OK, flash forward again, many, many years later. Les Keiter is flown from Hawaii back to Philadelphia, to be the emcee at a banquet honoring the great Gene Tunney. The guest speaker? None other than Jack Dempsey. Linked by one of the most memorable moments in one of the biggest fights in boxing history, the two men had become good friends.
"I was sitting between the two of them," Keiter said.
"I told the story that I just told you."
Then, "Dempsey stood up and he said, 'I've never heard such a cockamamie story in my life!' He said, 'What really happened was they stole my title away from me!' And he told his story."
It was the Long Count. It happened in 1927.
"I'll never forget my role in it," Les Keiter said.