Gene Tunney meets with reporters and signs autographs at the Frankfurt airport in November, 1965.

Gene Tunney meets with reporters and signs autographs at the Frankfurt airport in November, 1965. (Bob Milnes / ©Stars and Stripes)

FRANKFURT — Boxing must come under federal control, and its administrator must not be a former boxer, manager or promoter, former world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney advocated Friday.

"There is only one solution to the dilemma boxing finds itself in today — absolute Federal control," Tunney, who retired from the ring after twice successfully defending the title he took away from Jack Dempsey, said during a brief layover at Frankfurt Airport before a Europe vacation.

"But," he went on, "there has to be more to the system than having the government sponsor boxing. There has to be a strong law, one with teeth, or things would return within a short time to the status it now occupies. This could be avoided, I think, by the appointment of the right administrator.

"He must be an outstanding personality, a man with legal background, one with absolute integrity. I feel," the champ volunteered, "that this administrator cannot be a man with a boxing background. He cannot be a former manager or a promoter — or even a former boxer — and get the job done effectively. The ideal man might be one taken from the ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Tunney explained that FBI personnel are alert, diligently trained to investigate every element of every angle when on a case and also have usually developed a general knowledge of sports.

"With Federal control, we certainly would not have had the fiasco that developed in the last Clay-Liston engagement. There wouldn't have been any pussyfooting around when the Massachusetts attorney general ordered his investigation. The fight would not have been permitted to be moved out of the state. Before the fight could have been held a Federal license would have been needed and that license would be good in all states — without it, a man could fight in none.

"The way to handle people like Sonny Liston, whose psychology just cannot be understood, is not to let them fight. No one has any business appearing before the public in sports unless he is beyond reproach."

Tunney pointed a gnarled finger at television as the culprit contributing the most to the downfall of boxing from what he called "the romantic days of the Golden 20s" to its present state of near-chaos. He said that regular television killed the small club and that closed-circuit theater television is also poisonous because it deprives the general public from the opportunity of seeing boxing matches unless it pays exorbitant fees.

"When fans were treated to regular weekly boxing shows via television right in the luxury of their own homes, it sounded the death knell to club boxing," Tunney said.

Despite the fiasco tag Tunney applied to the Clay-Liston debacle, the former Marine pugilist who won the American Expeditionary Force light-heavyweight championship in World War I feels that Clay is a good fighter and that challenger Floyd Patterson doesn't belong in the ring with Clay come Nov. 22.

"I don't think that Floyd has the slimmest chance in the world of beating Cassius. Clay's too fast for him and has too much savvy. Right now, I don't think anyone currently active can beat Clay," he commented.

"The lone exception could be Ernie Terrell when he gets some more experience. He's a strong boy with a good straight left, but he's not ready right now," Tunney appraised.

Tunney was officially credited with 78 professional bouts, but he says the correct number would be well over 100 because all of the fights in his day didn't get into the books. Only once was he beaten.

He lost the light-heavyweight championship of the world to Harry Greb in a bloody 15-round decision but regained it 10 months later in another thrilling bout with Greb. Five times they staged explosive demonstrations.

"Yes, sir," Tunney said, "boxing needs men like Dempsey and Greb today. Dempsey could probably whip all of today's contenders on successive nights."

He left the impression that Tunney could, too.

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