Monday, April 8, 2013

Gene Tunney & James J Corbett Sparring Film, New York 1925

Gene Tunney and Jim Corbett Sparring
Putnam Building Rooftop
Times Square, New York City, December 1925
Grantlin Rice Sportlight Movie Series (Edit)
9mm Film Transfer  (Low Res)

The Boxers

References have been made over the years to a legendary sparring session between Heavyweight Champion to be Gene Tunney and former champ James J. Corbett, prior to Tunney’s first fight with Jack Dempsey.  A film was made of the meeting, but has not been seen for decades.  Several years ago and a film archivist discovered an abridged version of this movie on 9mm film, a small but format high quality format in the 1920s.  The Tunney-Corbett film was transferred to video for preservation.

The Meeting

According to published accounts, Jim Corbett was in Chicago for the Tunney-Risko fight of November 1925 and surprised Tunney in his dressing room after the fight.  Grantlin Rice arranged for the two to meet again in New York a month later to be part of his Sportlight movie series.  On the roof of the Putnam Building in New York’s Times Square, Tunney and Corbett sparred for the cameras, and the two staged Corbett’s demonstration classic boxing technique in slow motion.  Two very brief shots of Jack Dempsey sparring at what appears to be an informal outdoor gathering are also shown.

The Film

Historically, this is perhaps the best documented meeting between pioneers of both vintage and modern boxing styles.  Corbett is 59 years old and appears very fit, but I was most impressed with the fact that Corbett was taller than Tunney, and would have been even bigger in his prime.  Eight months after this film was made, Tunney went on to win the Heavyweight Championship from Jack Dempsey in Philadelphia.

I obtained what turned out to be a low resolution copy of this film.  Still, I made some adjustments to the exposure and image stabilization to make it as clear as possible.  I’ll be sure to post an update if a better copy becomes available.  Enjoy this rare gem of vintage boxing.


  1. During the entirety of this sparring session between Corbett and Tunney, the ground rules were that Tunney was to be entirely on the defensive and Corbett, then aged 59, could take the offensive whenever he wanted. Following the session, Gene Tunney, to his credit, stated that what Corbett displayed in the ring that day was one of the greatest ring performances that he ever saw in the ring.

  2. Hello...
    I was wondering where I could possibly get a copy of this film.
    My great grandfather John J. Kennedy was the Amateur Heavyweight Champion in 1894. Won in Madison Square Garden. He was close friends with Corbett. He then became a firemen for 18 years. When he retired, he worked the Polo Grounds as security and ticket taker. On the night of June 5th, 1925 he collapsed at the end of the evening at the Polo Grounds, while closing up and died. That night was the Tunney and Gibbons fight. So seeing Corbett sparring with Tunney would be a treat for my dad. Also to get a copy of the Tunney and Gibbons fight from that night.
    Thank you for any info you may be able to give.
    Stacey Ellis

  3. Great film for fight fans interested in the history of the sport. Ironically, Corbett comes off much better here, at 59, then he does in the actual grainy fight films of his day. He is quite fluid and moves very well at 59 and one can only imagine how much quicker he would have been at 29. On the negative side, he does seem to leave himself wide open, but perhaps that was to lure the opponent to be aggressive and give Corbett the opportunity to counter. Great film of two great champs, both a bit underrated in my book, wish there was more.