In 1922, the great Harry Greb only fought 12 times. Compared to previous years, the ones filled with near-weekly fights, Greb’s 1922 was pedestrian. The numbers didn’t reveal the truth, however: among Greb’s victims were Tommy Gibbons, Jeff Smith and Gene Tunney. There was also a Philadelphia 19-year-old who put up a surprising fight named Tommy Loughran.
Those who measured their mettle against Harry Greb in a ring multiple times might have been lucky to manage a single win. Gibbons, Battling Levinsky, Billy Miske, Soldier Bartfield, Tunney and more struggled just to keep Greb’s pace. Getting a legitimate win over the man was rare, and cause for celebration.
By October of 1923 Loughran had turned 20 and tangled with Greb twice more, failing to tab a win but reaching the final bell each time, pride intact. “I can beat Greb any time,” he told the Boston Globe.
In early October, with Greb in the midst of what Pittsburgh newspapers called “a comeback” despite his status as a freshly-minted middleweight champion, the Faneuil Athletic Association in Boston announced an upcoming card headlined by Greb and Loughran. Boston Herald writer W.A. Hamilton wrote that the decision for Greb in their most recent bout at Madison Square Garden “almost created a riot,” though the local New York Times fight report deemed any dissent unwarranted.
As for Loughran, his record in his previous 20 bouts stood at 12-6-2 — unimpressive in most eras. But he faced Mike McTigue, Tunney, Lou Bogash, Jimmy Delaney and of course Greb, three times, in those 20 outings. Loughran’s only stoppage was three years prior, when he bowed out in 1920 with a rib injury against Johnny Viggi in just his 11th professional fight.
At worst, Loughran fought nearly even-up with all-time great battlers like Greb and Tunney, and he was doing it with far less ring experience.
Greb, a veteran with 220 professional bouts, might have fought even more when accounting for fights off the books and on the street. One of the more folkloric of Greb’s street lamp benders happened against Mickey Walker after their legendary 1925 bout. Nobody’s drunken account of that night could be truly believable. The only story everyone agreed on is Greb and Walker ran into each other at a watering hole or two, and eventually a scuffle spilled onto the sidewalk before being broken up by police.
Nevertheless Greb was a relentless brawler capable of piercing the defense of nearly any fighter he came into contact with. He compiled an absurd record in only 13 years as a professional fighter.
Greb’s manager Jimmy Mason wrote to several publications that his fighter came out of the his previous bout against Jimmy Darcy “without a scratch.” But fictitious writer Bob Dunbar, a pseudonym used primarily by the Boston Herald, commented that though Greb got through the fight, if he went up much in weight against Loughran he would likely be in danger of losing his middleweight title. Greb’s weight didn’t melt off easily anymore and money the new championship earned him only facilitated more partying.
The bout was to be fought under the auspices of the Faneuil Athletic Club in Boston’s Mechanics Building. Local interest in the pairing surged as Greb hadn’t fought in “The Hub” in more than a year and it remained to be seen how the new champion would be received.
“Loughran is one of the few men in the country who makes trouble for Greb,” W.A. Hamilton said before the fight. “The Quaker has practically eliminated all other candidates for the chance to win Greb’s newly won crown and believes he will topple the title holder from his pedestal in their clash.”
Loughran would later call the gym that he trained in “a dump” and that he had no way to measure three-minute rounds. Instead, he relied on Victor Talking Machine Co. phonographs, whose records ran exactly two minutes, 50 seconds. Loughran said he would shadow box or hit his paltry training bags for the length of a record, plus an extra 10 seconds or so.
Greb trained hard, preferring to swim in addition to his normal gym work. But Greb was as likely to be racing a drinking buddy to the bottom of a whiskey glass on a given night.
Despite assurances from Loughran and his team that he would weigh in under 160 pounds, both men scaled well over the limit.
“The fight resulted in a roughhouse affair, Greb being the chief offender throughout,” wrote Hamilton for the Boston Herald. “The [middleweight] titleholder’s tactics met with universal disapproval from the start but he disregarded the hoots and booing of the crowd and stopped only when cautioned by referee Johnny Brassil, who was as busy trying to make him fight cleanly as Greb was trying to batter Loughran all over the ring.”
“[Greb] rarely knew where his punches were going and seemed to care little how they scored. He carried on a battering style of milling that lost its effectiveness in the manner he missed. A number of times he nearly leaped out of the ring, swinging at Loughran, and at close quarters he was often guilty of wrestling,” reported Hamilton.
The United Press noted that a lead right hand from Loughran seemed to set his distance and pace well, and it scored repeatedly on Greb’s jaw, earning him a slight advantage in a number of rounds, in conjunction with Loughran’s always nimble lower half.
The last two rounds saw Loughran visibly hurting Greb to the body, according to most accounts of the bout. Greb savvied his way out of trouble, using his feet to disengage as much as possible.
“Loughran carried five rounds and Greb four, while one round was even,” wrote one news wire. “Both men were strong at the finish and at no stage in the match was a knockout imminent. In the fifth round Greb was cautioned by the referee for holding with his right and pounding Loughran’s face with his left.”
Loughran came out a winner on points after 10 rounds, perhaps sacrificing the middleweight title for the win. At 168 pounds, however, Greb couldn’t point to weight loss as an excused. Instead he blamed his own inactivity. “When we meet the next time,” Greb said, “I’ll show that bird more speed than he ever heard of.”
Despite fighting one another twice more, and six times in total, Harry Greb moved on from his series against Tommy Loughran something of a living legend. Conversely, Loughran’s celebrity dissipated as years wore on. Greb’s early demise no doubt affected the ageless nature of his tale, even if his record speaks for itself.
Another victory over Greb might have served Loughran well in boxing’s Valhalla. As is, he stands a 1920s fight god and Philadelphia fight scene elder. And that’s not too bad.