<
>

Partially blindness couldn't stop Harry Greb taming the boxing world

Harry Greb, right, was middleweight champion for two and a half years in the 1920s. NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

It was no surprise that Harry Greb and Tommy Loughran both missed weight on the morning of their Christmas Day fight in 1923.

In what was supposed to be a defence of Greb's world middleweight title at Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Greb weighed in eight pounds over the middleweight limit of 160 pounds at 10am, while Loughran was eight and half pounds too heavy.

There had been newspaper speculation in the days leading up to Christmas that Greb's world title -- won earlier in the year -- would not be on the line. Yet downgrading the fight to a 10-round light-heavyweight bout did not dampen enthusiasm for the event locally.

Greb had a reputation as a drinker and womaniser but his party lifestyle -- although most probably exaggerated -- does not explain why he missed the weight so spectacularly.

Just 15 days earlier, Greb had been involved in a gruelling 15-round battle with Gene Tunney. Despite being reigning world middleweight champion, Greb stepped up to light-heavyweight to take on Tunney at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 10, 1923.

And ahead of facing Tunney, Greb tipped the scales at 171 and a half pounds -- 11 pounds more than the middleweight limit he was supposed to meet Loughran at. It was unrealistic to expect him to drop 11 pounds in a fortnight in order to defend his title after going the distance with Tunney.

Fans jeered and threatened to riot when Tunney was awarded the decision. Contemporary newspaper reports had Greb the winner after he had been butted "four or five times" by Tunney, who suffered only one loss in his career (to Greb on points in 1922) and would reign as world heavyweight champion from 1926 to 1928.

Even if he was feeling less than fresh after his tear-up with Tunney, Greb had a lot of expectation on him to perform against 21-year-old Loughran, who had a size advantage. Beating Tunney the previous year had made Greb a celebrity in Pittsburgh and he was also now world middleweight champion.

It was the largest event to have take place at that time at the Motor Square Garden and an extra 1,000 seats were laid out ringside in anticipation.

The locals wanted Pittsburgh-born Greb to avenge a points defeat to Loughran two months previously -- and they would have been pleased with what they saw as Greb dominated. But this was no Christmas cracker.

The Philadelphia Enquirer described it as a "mediocre encounter" with a lot of holding and pulling. According to Boxing News' contemporary report, Greb gave his rival a "bad beating" and came close to stopping Loughran in the ninth round after trapping him in a corner.

At the end of the tenth and final round, Loughran was groggy and Greb had to help him back to his corner. Loughran ended the bout unable to see out of either swollen eye, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post.

Greb won the 10 round by decision for seventeenth victory of 1923 alone, but it ended a mixed year for him. He won the world middleweight title, after a career of grafting against the odds, aged 29 that August. But five months previously, Greb's wife Mildred died from tuberculosis.

Greb ruled as champion for two and a half years until a split points defeat to Tiger Flowers in February 1926. He was known for his dirty, brawling fighting style that earned him the nickname the Pittsburgh Windmill.

What made Greb's career more remarkable was not the prolific rate at which he fought -- said to be 298 fights in a 13-year professional career -- but that he did so without sight in his right eye following an injury from a foul-filled fight in 1921 which led to a retinal detachment and blindness in the right eye, which he kept a secret from the general public.

Greb was also known for a hell raising lifestyle and womanising after his wife's death, but this reputation may have been embellished by Greb himself to improve betting odds on him. His biggest passion was always fighting.

"Greb was one of the greatest fighters of all time," said Loughran.

Greb beat Loughran four times out of six meetings, with one draw. Unfortunately, no film footage of Greb's fights exist.

After losing to Flowers in a rematch for the world middleweight title in 1926, Greb -- now with a glass eye -- died on the operating table following a haemorrhage during surgery to repair nose damage sustained through his boxing career and in a car crash. He was just 32.

Loughran, the son of an Irish immigrant who married a Philadelphia-born woman, had his best years ahead of him after losing to Greb on Christmas Day, 1923. He went on to become world light-heavyweight champion after beating Mike McTiguefor in 1927 and, after a fourth defence against Jim Braddock in 1929, gave up the belt to step up to heavyweight.

Loughran was never the same force at heavyweight and lost his only title shot to Italian Primo Carnera in 1934. But as a light-heavyweight he beat future world heavyweight titleholders Braddock and Max Baer. He died in 1982, aged 79.