If you have any newspaper articles about Greb please e-mail me so we can talk about putting them into this section.


2000 - Present

In this section are rare newspaper AND INTERNET articles about Harry Greb.

Newspaper articles from other decades have there own pages. Just click on the decade you want.


1920-1922 ...1923-1925 ...1926

1927-1999 ...2000-present



May 4, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Harry Greb?

By Springs Toledo



Black clouds gather fast and break over Forbes Field in Pittsburgh where Tommy Gibbons (51-0) and Harry Greb (159-12) are fighting like hell. It's the last day of July in 1920. The crowd scatters for shelter in the electrical storm. Thunder crashes as Gibbons, standing over six feet tall with a twenty pound weight advantage, lands his feared right cross flush on the jaw of Greb in round seven. It doesn't faze the smaller man. Greb is Greb ­he's all over Gibbons from every angle, with punch stats that are off the charts. The lone reporter who had not taken cover under the ring strains to see through the downpour and calls the particulars as his peers scribble away in wet notebooks: "Greb lands a right to the face, a left to the stomach, a right to the ear, a left to the face, a right to the neck..." To Gibbons, lightning seems to strike from every angle.

Almost fifty years later, Francis B. Maloy recalled that this fight was "eerie like a scene from Dante."

Only two days earlier, Harry Greb was at Jack Dempsey's training camp in New York City where he fought his third exhibition in three days with the heavyweight champion. Dempsey, known for sending sparring partners out of the ring sideways, could not handle the man known as the "Pittsburgh Windmill" despite being twenty-five pounds heavier and four inches taller. The last day of sparring ended after only two rounds ­Greb landed a right that split Dempsey's eye wide open.

In September, Dempsey was preparing for an upcoming fight with Billy Miske. Heavyweight "Big" Bill Tate and middleweights Greb and Marty Farrell were his sparring partners. According to the New York Times, "the bout with Greb was a real one a real honest to goodness battle." Greb was a "veritable whirlwind" ­ swarming all over the champion and "forcing him around the ring". Dempsey was throwing his famous short left hooks and rights but could neither connect nor keep him off. Greb hit Dempsey "almost at will", at times leaping off the canvas to land shots upstairs.

As the year drew to a close, Greb faced "Captain" Bob Roper at Mechanics Building in Boston. Roper was a journeyman heavyweight known for hard punching and hard ways. With a befitting skull and crossbones patched onto black trunks, he was a disqualified four times in his career and once entered the ring with a live snake around his neck. Despite the presence in his corner of Jack Blackburn (whom Greb had already defeated and who went on to train Joe Louis), Roper did not land more than a half dozen shots on Greb, whose speed and activity was dizzying. The Boston Daily Globe reported that Roper had to cover his face with both hands as a "sea of gloves" came at him. It was "laughable at times" when Roper stretched his neck to avoid overhands to the head that always seemed to land anyway. This was vintage Greb. His aerial assaults from the outside were no less effective than his work inside on a much larger man.

Two years later, Greb would fight Tommy Gibbons again at Madison Square Garden. Since the loss to Greb at Forbes Field, Gibbons earned twenty-one stoppages in twenty-six victories. The winner of this bout would fight Gene Tunney for the American Light Heavyweight title as "a qualifying test" to face Dempsey. Seated amid high society were the interested parties ­Tunney and Dempsey. More than 14,000 had come out to see Gibbons, prematurely decreed as "Dempsey's next opponent". It was almost a black tie affair. Hundreds of women in evening dress raised the eyebrows of the boys from the Bowery and the Lower East Side but their cheers co-mingled as "society cast aside all aloofness".

The wrong man won. Gibbons took only three out of the fifteen rounds. The betting figure that favored him was the ratio by which he was out landed in the fight: two-to-one. "I never saw so many boxing gloves in my life," Gibbons admitted the next day, "his punches seemed to come from everywhere ­from the gallery, from under my shoes, from behind my back."

In May the handicappers at Madison Square Garden got smart and made Greb a three-to-one favorite when he entered the ring against Gene Tunney. Tunney, undefeated before this fight and never defeated afterwards, could not halt the "human hurricane" either, despite being warned by Dempsey himself about Greb's uncanny abilities. According to the New York Times, Tunney's exceptional defensive skills were overwhelmed by Greb's attack and he was "completely at sea for fifteen rounds." Greb fractured Tunney's nose in two places in the first round and soon Gene's handsome features were rearranged into a Picasso painting. Tunney's corner ran out of adrenaline chloride to stop the bleeding from his nose, mouth, and deep cuts over both eyes. Abe Attell, sitting ringside, ran off to a druggist and returned with a supply which he cuffed to Doc Bagley, Tunney's chief second. It didn't matter. Tunney reported that all he saw for most of the fight was a "red phantom". Greb "was never in one spot for more than half a second," he said in an interview years later, "all my punches were aimed and timed properly but they always wound up hitting empty air. He'd jump in and out, slamming me with a left and then whirling me around with his right or the other way around."

Tunney lost every round.

Dempsey ducked Greb.

Dempsey fought Gibbons the year after Greb whipped him, and would later twice lose to Gene Tunney ­the second time in the famous "Long Count Fight". Greb had been calling out Dempsey almost as soon as Dempsey began making waves in 1918, and stepped up the pressure after he knocked out Gunboat Smith in one round the year after Dempsey had knocked Smith out in two. By June of 1922 it got to the point where Greb's manager showed up at Dempsey's manager's office with a generous proposition. It went nowhere. Curiously, King Dempsey was more than willing to fight heavyweights that Greb had already defeated, including not only Gibbons and Tunney, but also Miske and "KO" Bill Brennan. Greb was 2-0-1 against Miske, and Brennan couldn't beat Greb to save his life ­losing all four bouts against Greb inside of one year.

Earlier in the careers, Dempsey and Greb shared several opponents. Among them was Willie Meehan who Greb beat twice though outweighed by thirty pounds. Dempsey posted two losses to Meehan within the same time frame. "The bigger they are," Tunney asserted, "the less respect Harry had for them I have seen him virtually climb opponents a foot taller and bring them down to his size." As late as August 1925, Dempsey was still ducking the 5'8 middleweight, claiming that the only "fight he wanted was with Harry Wills", who was a 6'2, 213 pound African-American Heavyweight. Dempsey never faced Wills either, though pursued by Wills for years.

At the end of Greb-Tunney fight, Tunney collapsed and had to be carried into his dressing room. Stubbornly refusing to go to the hospital, doctors on the scene stitched up Gene's face, reset his nose, and used a stomach pump to remove about two quarts of blood, brandy and orange juice, and adrenalin chloride. Greb, unmarked, didn't look like he even had a fight. He spent the night drinking ginger ale (his preferred beverage) in a speakeasy surrounded by friends.

Happy Albacker was among them. Happy had a secret, but secrets are hard to keep when you're three sheets to the wind. When the inevitable glass was raised and someone toasted Greb's victory over the undefeated Gene Tunney "though handicapped by height, weight, and reach", Albacker blurted out "-and by one eye!" Had it not been for Greb's ability to parry unexpected blows, the secret would have been out. It would have meant the end of his career.

Harry Greb's vision in his right eye had been diminishing since the summer of 1921, when Kid Norfolk thumbed him during a particularly violent mill in Pittsburgh. Bill Paxton, the author of "The Fearless Harry Greb," offers compelling evidence that Greb suffered a retinal tear in the Norfolk fight and so had only partial vision when he faced Gibbons, Tunney, and Tommy Loughren (incidentally, three of the greatest light heavyweights of all time). It is believed that Greb went completely blind in his right eye after his fifth fight with "Captain" Bob Roper. He took almost two months off afterwards (one of his longest periods of inactivity), spent a week in the hospital, and was seen with patches over both eyes. His return fight took place on New Year's Day, 1923 ­against Captain Bob Roper. He would fight sixty-seven more times, take the middleweight title, defend it six times, fight and beat terrors like Tiger Flowers and Mickey Walker, master all-time greats like Jimmy Slattery and Maxie Rosenbloom ­all while blind in one eye.

According to the Boston Daily Globe, Greb earned a few more technical knockouts in Pittsburgh one night, though unofficially. After a female companion in his car was relieved of $95 and a ring on a lonely road in Highland Park by five robbers, Greb reported the incident to the police.

When they arrived on the scene, the officers noticed blood all over the road. It was not Greb's.

Moved at the ensuing hearing by the weeping wife and children of one of the assailants, Greb offered to post bail. For those close to him, this was not a surprise. Contrary to the myth that he was a half-cocked hell-raiser, Greb was a kind man and a practicing Roman Catholic. There is nothing to suggest that he was anything less than in love with his wife Mildred throughout their courtship and marriage. When she died of tuberculosis in 1923, he was at her bedside. Harry was a faithful husband even if he was not the kind of widower who held a candle.

To his credit, Greb had no regard for color lines. Some boxing historians rightfully hesitate before testifying to the greatness of fighters like Dempsey and Tunney because they would not fight the full range of threats on the spectrum. Tunney never once faced an African American in seventy-seven professional contests. This kind of discrimination affects legacy. It has to. Greb, by contrast, avoided no man. He faced several black fighters beginning as early as 1915 against Jack Blackburn, as well as Willie Langford, Kid Norfolk, Tiger Flowers, Kid Lewis, and Allentown Joe Gans.

Greb's last fight was in 1926. It was an attempt to regain the middleweight crown he lost to Tiger Flowers. The determined ex-champion turned the clock back and fought well but lost another split decision to Flowers. Most believed that the victory was rightfully his; that he had done more than enough to take back the title. Greb himself said "well, that was one fight I won if I ever won any." But the windmill was creaking. Greb was finally slowing down.

In September, Greb had his right eye removed and replaced with a glass eye. He confided to a friend that his career was over and that he planned on opening a gym in downtown Pittsburgh. It must have been bittersweet for Greb as he sat in the audience at the Dempsey-Tunney title fight in Philadelphia later that month. He watched Tunney do what he always knew he himself could do if given the opportunity ­outbox Dempsey and become world heavyweight champion.

The end was near. After what was supposed to be a non-serious operation on his face, Harry fell into a coma. At 2:30pm on October 22, 1926, the 32-year-old Greb died of heart failure. It was shocking news.

This fighter's fighter, often seen smiling in the heat of battle and laughing when hit with a good shot, lived only two months after his final bout. Perhaps Greb was a romantic who couldn't live without the object of his passion. This much is beyond dispute: In a rougher era when boxing was just emerging from the seedy underground and men fought to live, Harry Greb lived to fight.

His legacy dwarfs what we see today. In a career that spanned from 1913 to 1926 and over 300 fights, Greb fought and beat almost a dozen Hall of Famers (including two who were previously never beaten) and champions in four divisions. Ninety years ago, he gave us a boxing milestone that you can bet your house will never be repeated:

Greb fought forty-five times in 1919.

-That's an average of one bout every eight days against an array of sluggers, boxer-punchers, and defensive specialists. That's a record of 45-0 against not only other middleweights, but light heavyweights and heavyweights ­in one calendar year!

Raise a glass of ginger ale in honor of the Pittsburgh Windmill: a remarkable middleweight who fought them all ­any time, any place; the spirit smiling behind every club fighter, contender, and champion who fights with the sudden, ruthless passion of a summer storm for the glory of it all.

Here's to you, Harry Greb.


The author wishes to both acknowledge and highly recommend Bill Paxton's The Fearless Harry Greb, Jack Cavanaugh's Tunney, Peter Benson's Battling Siki, and Andrew Gallimore's A Bloody Canvas. Thanks to the Boston Public Library Microfilm Department, an invaluable resource for locating obscure fight reports. Gregory Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com





Harry Greb, The Human Windmill..."A Perpetual Motion Machine."

By Monte D. Cox

      Harry Greb, World Middleweight Boxing Champion 1923-1926, was the ever in your face nightmare, the supreme swarming style fighter. His Cyber Boxing Zone bio notes that "Greb was called "The Human Windmill" due to the constant flurries of punches he threw as well as the fast pace he kept throughout his fights." He had unending stamina, and he kept coming and you could not stop him. He had great hand speed and an iron chin. He was a whirlwind in action from the moment the opening bell rang. He could wear down any opponent given enough rounds. He sapped the energy out of his foes and battered them mercilessly from all directions. He was a ruthless master of infighting and was not adverse to using dirty tactics. Greb stayed in shaped by fighting often averaging about 22 fights a year, and in 1919 fought 45 times. At his peak he weighed between 158 and 165 pounds at 5 ft. 8in., and he often fought men who outweighed him by as much as 40 to 80 pounds. Many consider Greb as the greatest middleweight champion ever.

      Historian Eric Jorgensen stated, "Greb may have been the greatest fighter, pound-for-pound, who ever lived. Certainly, he was among the top 2 or 3. He combined the speed of Ray Robinson, the durability of Jim Jeffries, the stamina of Henry Armstrong, and the unbridled ferocity of Stanley Ketchel with a will to win unsurpassed in the annals of sport. At his peak, he was unbeatable, defeating virtually every middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight of his generation. A great, great fighter."

      Greb's record is virtually unbelievable. How many fighters can claim to have a record like that of Harry Greb? He defeated 18 men who held, had held, or would hold world championships, and this at a time when there were only 8 divisions in boxing and one champion in each division. The 5 middleweight champions that Greb defeated were Mike O'Dowd, George Chip, Al McCoy, Mickey Walker, Tiger Flowers and Johnny Wilson from whom he won the title. He also defeated 4 middleweight title claimants Eddie McGoorty, Frank Mantell, Jeff Smith and Bryan Downey. Greb defeated 7 light heavyweight world champions, Mike McTigue, Jack Dillon, Battling Levinsky, Tommy Loughran, Jimmy Slattery and Maxie Rosenbloom and one future world heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney whom he fought five times. Count 'em! 5+4+7+1=18 champions who lost to Greb. Remarkable!

      To really understand the era one should know that because of the "No Decision" rules that prevailed at the time the champions were not always the best fighters, there were many uncrowned champions during this period. There were so many great fighters that Greb met and defeated more first tier boxers than any other champion in history. He beat Mike Gibbons, considered by many ring historians among the top 10 all time middleweights. He beat George "Ko" Brown who twice went 20 rounds with the legendary Les Darcy. He defeated master boxer Tommy Gibbons, a light heavyweight and a truly clever mobile fighter who could feint, jab, move and do it all. He won a narrow verdict over Kid Norfolk who Jack Dempsey was accused of drawing the color line against. He beat Charlie Weinert who went on to beat heavyweight slugger Luis Firpo in a No Decision match. He also defeated heavyweights like Bill "Ko" Brennan who fought Jack Dempsey for the world title. He decisively beat Brennan in every one of their meetings to the point where it can be argued that he didn't lose a single round. Greb annihilated former "white heavyweight champion" Ed Gunboat Smith knocking him out in the first round. Greb decisioned Billy Miske who a year later would fight Dempsey for the heavyweight title. Greb beat Willie Meehan who once won a 4-round decision over Dempsey. Greb also beat several of Dempsey's favorite sparring partners like Larry Williams and Chief Clay Turner. Reigning light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier avoided Greb like the plague. Tex Rickard was very eager to match Greb and Carpentier and even offered Carpentier a huge purse to meet Greb for the light heavyweight championship but he refused.

      The question of Harry Greb's greatness cannot be disputed by the unbiased observer. His record is impeccable. The argument that one cannot know how good Greb was because there are no available films of him (except a training video) hold to an untenable argument. Historians and collectors of vintage films understand Greb's greatness based on his record and the many existing films of his opposition. There are films of Mike Gibbons, Tommy Gibbons, Tommy Loughran, Jimmy Slattery, Mickey Walker, Bill Brennan and Gene Tunney, all outstanding fighters whom Greb bested. One can see how good these fighters were and know that Greb defeated them. Further there are the newspaper accounts, with some of the bigger fights featuring round by round descriptions of the action in the ring.

      Whenever great fighters of his era discussed Greb they mentioned three outstanding qualities that qualify him as the greatest swarming fighter of history. First of these was his great speed. Second of these was the relentless pace he set by the sheer volume of punches that he threw. And lastly was his impregnable chin, which is an essential ingredient to the successful swarming fighter.

      Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey said that Greb was "The fastest fighter I ever saw. Hell. Greb is faster than (lightweight champion) Benny Leonard." In 1920 Greb, who was in training for Billy Miske, sparred Dempsey a few rounds. The sparring sessions were so good that thousands of fans showed up just to watch. According to eyewitnesses Greb "slapped the crouching heavyweight champion around, and bounced away before Dempsey could do more than cock a punch." Jack Kearns, Dempsey's manager, ran Greb out of camp. There was much talk of a Dempsey-Greb match for the heavyweight championship, but it never came off. It seems Jack Kearns was unwilling to take the chance.

      Fighting Greb was like fighting a man with eight arms. "He was never in one spot for more than half a second," said Gene Tunney, "All my punches were aimed and timed properly but they always wound up hitting empty air. He'd jump in and out, slamming me with a left and whirling me around with his right or the other way around. My arms were plastered with leather and although I jabbed, hooked and crossed, it was like fighting an octopus."

      Greb would swarm over his opponents with his blazing fast hands while throwing punches from all angles. Veteran fight manager Dan Morgan said, "He threw so many punches that the breeze from his misses gave opponents pneumonia. He tossed leather from all directions in fusillades, barrages, salvo's, and volleys. Naturally being so fast and throwing so many punches he was not a knocker-outer. To shoot a real shock punch a fighter must get set, be more or less stationary for a fraction of a second. Greb was never still in the ring, so most of his knockouts were of the TKO variety."

      Greb threw so many punches, from so many angles and for so many hits that he would have drove today's "punch stat" counters crazy. One of his opponent's Pat Walsh said after their fight, "I thought somebody had opened up the ceiling and dumped a carload of boxing gloves on me."

      Harry had the proven tough chin needed to absorb the heavy punch of much larger men. In around 300 professional fights, which included dozens of bouts against heavyweights, he was stopped only twice, once in his first year of fighting, and once when he broke his forearm throwing a punch at Kid Graves.

      Greb's most famous victory is his win against Gene Tunney for the American light heavyweight title. Greb handed Tunney the only official defeat of his career in their first meeting. The May 24, 1922 NY Times reported, "Greb, a human perpetual motion machine if there ever was one received the decision of the judges Tommy Shortem and Eddie Hurley and Referee Billy McPartland." The Times reported, "Tunney tried with every ounce of strength and every trick of the trade to offset the speed and remarkable ability of his rival. But the defending champion could find no defense for the rain of blows which met him at every turn."

      Grantland Rice, one of the top sportswriters of the time wrote, "Harry handled Gene like a butcher hammering a Swiss steak. How Gene survived 15 rounds I will never know." Tunney himself said, "Greb gave me a terrible whipping. My jaw was swollen from the right temple down the cheek, along the chin and part way up the other side. The referee, the ring itself, was full of my blood. If boxing was afflicted with the commission doctors that we have now, the first fight probably would have been stopped and no one would have heard of me today."

      Greb and Tunney fought 4 more times and they were all good competitive closely contested fights and one must remember that Tunney was the naturally bigger fighter in all of these contests. Their second fight was highly controversial. Tunney won the decision in their rematch which many called the worst decision in New York history. Some sportswriters at the time declared that it called for an investigation. William Muldoon, NY State Athletic Commissioner, said in the Feb 24, 1923 NY Times "The verdict was unjust" and "(Muldoon) declares that Pittsburgh boxer (Greb) should have received decision."

      According to historian Steve Compton Gene Tunney won the the rubbermatch fair and square. The fourth bout in Cleveland was cast for Greb by 2 of 3 Cleveland papers with the third calling it a draw, and the fifth bout went to Tunney.

      One of Greb's greatest fights was his victory over welterweight and future middleweight champion Mickey Walker at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1925. Walker, himself an all time pound for pound great said in Peter Heller's In This Corner, "Harry Greb was the greatest fighter I ever fought. He was one of the greatest that ever stepped in the ring." The July 3, NY Times reported, "Greb retained his world middleweight title when he battered his way to the decisionin as savage and furious a ring encounter as either boxer has ever experienced." The Times continued, "Walker left the ring badly used up. He had a split lip, a bruised and battered nose, and a cut under his right eye which was puffed and almost closed. Greb was unmarked, although he absorbed punishing blows to the body through every round." The entire bout was fought at an extremely fast pace. Walker started off well in the early rounds but by the 6th Greb was firmly in charge. There was seesaw action in the mid to late rounds. The champion finished strongly taking the final "championship" rounds, nearly knocking Walker out in the 14th.

      What is even more amazing is the fact that Greb fought most of these great fights while blind in one eye. He suffered a detached retina after being thumbed in his 1921 fight against Kid Norfolk. For five years he fought half blind.

      When he finally lost the title to Tiger Flowers the split decision was a controversial one. The rematch was even more controversial. When Joe Humphreys announced Flowers as the winner by split decision with the judges, but not the referee, voting for him, the fans stormed the ring, littering it with bottles, hats, paper and everything they could find to throw in protest. Jim Crowley, the referee, walked over to Greb saying "Tough, Harry, a tough one to lose. It was your fight." Gene Tunney who watched the affair said, "Harry won by a substantial margin. It was an unjust decision." William Muldoon also said Greb had won, adding, "but the decision will stand. If we (The New York Athletic Commission) reversed it, the Negro people might think they were being discriminated against."

      Two months later Greb died. He was injured in an automobile accident and complained of dizziness and breathing difficulty. He would later die on the operating table as he tried to get his nose repaired so he could breathe better.

      Harry Greb was the ultimate aggressive swarming style fighter, only Henry Armstrong can compare to him in terms of the volumes of punches he threw and the killing pace that he set. Not even Armstrong can compare to Greb in terms of his speed, maneuverability and durability. Greb's perpetual motion fighting made him as dominant as any fighter who ever lived and his awesome record is virtually unmatched in the annals of boxing history.




Battling Legacies: Harry Greb vs. Sugar Ray Robinson



by Greg Smith

Pound-for-Pound debates are inherently difficult. Indeed, I rarely make pound-for-pound lists anymore because I've discovered that I change them too much. Folks can argue all day as to whether Floyd Mayweather or other fighters belong at the top of the current pound-for-pound list over Bernard Hopkins. It's littered with subjectivity, and often tells you more about the person making the list instead of hard, cold reality. It's fun to debate and compare lists, but reaching a complete and final thesis-antithesis-synthesis solution is always evasive. If you have multiple noteworthy fighters to choose from, chances are you might pick the one whose style you prefer or because of other idiosyncrasies and biases. It could be a counter puncher, a puncher, a diversified technician, even someone from your own racial or ethnic background, or a guy who simply outlasts opposition with superior will and conditioning. In this day and age of marketing and political maneuvering, it's increasingly difficult to tell how good a fighter really is. As Billy Conn once said, if you see a fighter with an undefeated record, something is wrong. After Sugar Ray Robinson faced Jake LaMotta for the sixth and final time, he said Fritzie Zivic was actually his toughest fight. Weirdly enough, Zivic lost more decisions than any champion in boxing history.

Ultimately, although far from perfect, I've become more comfortable just attempting to compare the actual accomplishments of fighters over the long haul against their best available opposition. To put it another way, a fighter's true legacy is revealed by what they accomplished during the totality of their career against other Hall of Fame material fighters. Granted, contemporary Hall of Fame induction is creating more credibility problems instead of fairness and justice to the art of pugilism, but instinctively, we have a true gut feeling regarding who actually belongs in the Hall of Fame. As some astute observers of the sport have posited, you just can't compare eras in such a way as to sift through the soot and crystallize exactly how one fighter stacks up against another head-to-head in a hypothetical ring. Eras are just different. Perhaps it's best just to take the best look possible at what a fighter accomplished during their era against the opposition that was put in front of them, and leave it at that.

In that vein, I've given a lot of thought to various fighters in the boxing history. I've looked long and hard at unsung heroes like Burley and Langford. I've looked at the accepted elite like Ali and Louis. I've looked at pioneers like Griffo and Jeffries, and matched them up with Sanchez and Foreman, respectively. In the final analysis, one accomplishment and legacy comparison really stuck out. The two fighters are indeed from different eras, but their contributions to the sport are no less than mammoth. Both are often mentioned on several historical Top 10 pound-for-pound lists, although one of them is almost always listed in the Top 3. The other is sometimes mentioned in the latter half of the list amidst some controversy.

Sugar Ray Robinson and Harry Greb epitomized true accomplishment in the sport of boxing. Most observers believe they couldn't have been more different in and out of the ring. It's somewhat close to an Apollonian versus Dionysian clash in personality, style, and character. Robinson exemplified controlled grace. Greb was rough and wild. Realistically, the analysis becomes much more complex beyond the initial glance. Both fighters possessed remarkably similar character traits, but in inverse form. Robinson was outwardly vain and stylish, but underneath the surface, he was old school tough and often ruthless. Greb was old school tough to an extreme, but also quite vain in a variety of substantive ways as well. All told, a faithful analysis is not about popularity and persona. It's about intrinsic worth and long-term value.

As I've stated for about a decade, but have admittedly waffled like a bad politician as well, Harry Greb might've been the best fighter in boxing history. It's certainly a bold and flawed statement, but considering Greb's indelible mark on the boxing landscape during his era and beyond, it's impossible to ignore completely. Greb was the hardest of the hardcore Pittsburgh fighters. When folks talk about brutal, dirty fighters, Greb is right up there with fellow Pittsburgher Fritzie Zivic. Unlike Zivic, however, Greb was far more successful in his very circuitous and never boring career. Over a 13-year career, Greb fought around 300 recorded bouts and around 2,600 recorded ROUNDS of action, but many believe the real number of bouts to be significantly more.

As stated, it was just a different era. Many of Greb's fights weren't officially judged as wins, losses, or draws, but by newspaper decisions. A close look will reveal that although Greb's career is filled with "no decision" verdicts, the writers didn't exactly have him losing as many fights as Zivic. Rather, he was almost always victorious. Today, fighters who are considered inordinately active might reach 400 rounds of activity in a career. Greb once fought that many rounds in one year. Greb also fought hoodlums in the street, and was one of several great fighters in the first few decades of the 20th century to bet on themselves to win. While only a middleweight, and beginning his career at a much lighter weight, his accomplishments put him right at the top of the list of heavy hitting contributors in the history of the sweet science.

What we also know is that Greb was the only man to beat Gene Tunney, and he defeated at least 16 men who at one time held an undisputed title. It is well known that he fought the last several years of his career blind in one eye after a particularly dirty encounter with Kid Norfolk. During 1922, according to official decisions and newspaper accounts, Greb defeated Tommy Gibbons, Gene Tunney, and Tommy Loughran in less than 120 days. All three men were naturally bigger than Greb. Gibbons and Loughran challenged for the heavyweight title, and Loughran held the world light heavyweight title. Tunney won the heavyweight title from Dempsey. Greb's infamous sparring session with Dempsey reportedly caused Kearns to never entertain the idea of allowing Greb's wish to fight Dempsey for the heavyweight title. Apparently, Dempsey just couldn't hit him, and some sources claim the session was stopped as Greb began to dominate Dempsey more. Conventional boxing history focuses on Harry Wills as the man many believe Dempsey avoided, but not stepping in against Harry Greb is probably more important considering that Greb beat both Tunney and Gibbons, men who Dempsey actually defended his title against. More revealing is the fact that Gibbons made Dempsey look awkward and bad, but Greb defeated Gibbons more convincingly just over a year before. As an aside, it's no mistake that Greb picked Tunney to beat Dempsey in 1926. Well before Greb defeated Tunney, he had beaten several legitimate heavyweight contenders while giving away 30-40 pounds in the process. He also routinely faced off against men like Battling Levinsky, Mike McTigue, and Jack Dillon a few years before the first Tunney fight. All of these men held the light heavyweight title during their respective careers.

Tunney is considered by most to be the best man Greb defeated. Tunney lost an estimated 2 quarts of blood in his first fight with Greb. By his own account, Tunney "was swollen from the right temple down the cheek, along under the chin and part way up the other side." Greb certainly fought Tunney dirty, but Tunney later claimed that Greb wasn't just a dirty spray hitter. Instead, he claimed Greb was a great fighter. Tunney acknowledged that Greb made him a better fighter, and their series functioned as an apprenticeship in preparation for Dempsey. Tunney won the four return bouts with Greb, but newspaper reports reveal that Greb made a few of those close, and perhaps should've been given the decision in at least one of them. In the end, Tunney was far from bitter about his battles with Greb. He was a pallbearer at Greb's funeral.

Well past his prime, blind in one eye, and somewhat sick, Greb came from behind and dominated the latter half of his famous fight with the great Mickey Walker to win a clear cut decision. Some accounts claim that Walker asked Greb not to knock him out in the final round. Greb didn't lose his middleweight title several times to win it back several times, either. He defended it six times from 1923 until 1926, while mixing in non-title bouts and several bouts with Tunney and Loughran in the process. He lost the middleweight title to Tiger Flowers after defending against Walker, and perhaps appropriately, was never the same. Walker, who was a superb welterweight champion, later became one of the great middleweight champions in history, and the middleweight division went into wildly dysfunctional disarray after he departed for larger quarry like Jack Sharkey and Max Schmeling. Sharkey and Schmeling were the very best heavyweights of their day. They both held the undisputed title. Sharkey was clearly getting the better of Dempsey until the Mannassa Mauler went testicle hunting. Schmeling saw something, and then proceeded to dissect and knock out Joe Louis in their first fight. As I opined during the winter this year to several people, Roy Jones must've forgot about that. In Harry Greb, it's hard to think of a fighter who accomplished more.

Ernest Hemingway once deemed Greb one of our great Americans. In the same spirit of American folklore, perhaps it is true that only the good die young. He was indeed vain and often nasty, but he was also truly great. The ultimate rugged individualist. After a car accident, Greb thought it was an appropriate time to finally fix his nose and make it look good. Greb died on the operating table during that procedure at age 32. Sadly, although some of Greb's fights were actually filmed, we don't have access to the footage. Sound bite clips of Greb don't reveal as much as the first Tunney versus Greb fight would. Real combat manifests the truth. After all, Vitali Klitschko looks worse than a lot of amateurs when he hits the bags and mitts, but most consider him to be the best heavyweight in the world right now. We'll probably never get to see what so many old-timers claim to be one of the best who ever lived.

When boxing aficionados and experts argue about the best fighters in history, it's hard to think of an instance when Sugar Ray Robinson's name has been left out of the loop. I felt lucky to be able to watch Robinson versus LaMotta VI after the De La Hoya versus Sturm/Hopkins versus Allen III card. First, I was a little annoyed when De La Hoya got top billing without ever competing in the middleweight division previously. I felt mildly vindicated when many felt he actually lost that fight to Sturm. I have a high level of respect for Oscar De La Hoya, but it just wasn't fair. Hopkins, pushed to the side promotionally again, shouldn't have faced Allen for the third time, but the alphabets make things unnecessarily complex, and dilute the purity of the sport at every turn. Robinson versus LaMotta VI was the opposite of that, and in watching that fight after the aforementioned card, my eyes opened wide as Robinson unloaded repeated virtuoso combinations on the stubborn Bronx Bull. It was further proof to me that boxing hasn't progressed as other sports have relative to the science and technique of the craft.

I don't know how Hopkins would've done against Robinson. Bouie Fisher seemed to think he wouldn't do as well as you would expect a trainer to claim. I'm still analyzing his recent comment about a hypothetical match-up between Robinson and Hopkins, and am still not completely clear of his intent. I'm not sure he articulated his thought process as he wanted us to hear it. Robinson was a truly great fighter, but in examining his true accomplishments, he lost to fighters you wouldn't expect him to falter against. Robinson is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing fighter that ever lived. At his best, whereas subtle sweet scientists like Nicolino Locche, Ezzard Charles, and Charley Burley could apply tactics and moves only the extreme trained eye could see, Robinson could do much of what they practiced, but then could switch up and apply other things they couldn't. He was sweet, and then he could be devastating and ruthless as LaMotta discovered in their last fight, and as Gene Fullmer learned when he got knocked out when Robinson was going backwards. Robinson could then turn around and lose to Randy Turpin.

As far as accomplishments go, Robinson got a heckuva start. He was undefeated as an amateur, and ran off an extremely impressive professional win streak until the loss to LaMotta. The loss signaled an end to an almost unconscionable 125 bout win streak when one combines Robinson's amateur and professional records. Many feel he was at his best as a welterweight, but most of Robinson's career recognition came when he stepped up to middleweight. Robinson's wins over the great Kid Gavilan at welterweight would tell us all we need to know about Robinson's prowess at that weight, but the footage is unavailable. In sum, he fought an amazing array of quality opposition including 18 world champions and 10 Hall of Famers. He was a five-time middleweight champion, and therein lies the essence of his reign at that weight. It was impressive, but he had to lose that title several times to win it back several times. Many criticize Monzon, Hagler, and Hopkins for fighting smaller men, but many forget that Robinson lost to a welterweight stepping up in weight. He was great to watch, but legitimate loss after legitimate loss equals several legitimate losses.

Perhaps more importantly, Robinson faced a bridge too far when he stepped up to challenge Joey Maxim for the light heavyweight title. Robinson was ahead on points, but collapsed in the heat. To be completely fair, however, Maxim was fighting in the same heat. Later, Maxim once bluntly stated that it was just as hot on his side of the ring as it was on Robinson's. A loss is a loss, and Robinson didn't keep trying like Tunney did after the loss to Greb, and like Greb did after losing to Tunney in a return. Robinson retired after the Maxim bout, and came out of retirement as a middleweight. He never challenged at light heavyweight again. At 5'11", Robinson had about three inches on Greb, and one would think he might have a good shot in an immediate rematch with Maxim without sacrificing too much conditioning. Maxim was not the best light heavyweight of his era, either. Robinson never went after Archie Moore or Harold Johnson. He also didn't attempt to rebuild and rebound by going after lesser contenders to build the foundation for a return match with Maxim. Moore made overtures, but Robinson wasn't listening. Robinson's foray into the light heavyweight division began and ended with the Maxim fight.

I always cringe a little when I criticize a fighter, or look for cracks in the armor of an especially great fighter like Sugar Ray Robinson. Boxing is a very dangerous and brutal sport, and racking up over 200 professional fights like Robinson did with almost unparalleled success is amazing. In comparing Robinson to Greb, however, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Greb actually accomplished more in his career. He beat the best middleweight of his era when he was far past his prime and blind in one eye. Mickey Walker was one of the best middleweights of all-time, and later challenged two heavyweight champions. Walker fought a draw with Sharkey, and went out on his shield against Schmeling. The heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Dempsey, avoided Greb. The Human Windmill wasn't at his best fighting with one eye, but he beat the best in the world during that time. He didn't lose to his era's version of Joey Maxim. He defeated a step up from Maxim in Tommy Loughran as far as eras go. He beat Gene Tunney, lost return bouts, and some of those were close as mentioned above. Joey Maxim once challenged for the heavyweight title, but was easily defeated by Ezzard Charles. Sugar Ray Robinson was a great fighter the world may never see again. Harry Greb was an American original who went a few steps beyond Robinson when matched head-to-head in true accomplishments.




On to the bigger divisions

Monday Jan 10, 2005 -- On to the bigger divisions

By Max Kellerman Special to ESPN.com

Last month Max defended his list of the greatest of the Millennium by talking about guys like Eder Jofre, Willie Pep and other lighter weight fighters. This week Max defends his greatest-ever picks in the welterweight through heavyweight divisions:


Harry Greb's ring record is the most spectacular in the history of boxing. Boxing people often refer to the record of a great fighter who took on great opposition by saying "it reads like a who's who of boxing in that era." The number of name fighters "The Pittsburgh Windmill" bested shames -- literally shames -- the record of any other fighter in the history of boxing. Every single middleweight and light heavyweight of note (white and black) between 1916 and 1926 were whipped at least once, and usually they were whipped multiple times. Since Greb was fighting in an era of no-decisions, most of these fights went down as "ND's," but if you look them up, the newspapers almost always had Greb winning. When the papers didn't have him winning, they had him drawing, and often that was when the opponent outweighed Greb by 20 pounds.

Much has been made of Greb's losing to Gene Tunney. Greb thoroughly beat Tunney in their first meeting, handing Tunney what turned out to be the only loss of his entire professional career. The rematch went to Tunney in a robbery. Tunney was in his prime and outweighed Greb by 15 pounds, and yet lost 9 or 10 of the 15 rounds according to all of the newspapers of the day that I have read. Subsequent Tunney-Greb fights all took place when the smaller Greb was past his prime, and according to many sources, totally blind in one eye. When they were both at their best, the smaller Greb proved clear superiority over the larger Tunney -- at the very least Greb was superior in a pound-for-pound sense.

Greb also fought and beat Jack Dempsey's opponents more often than Dempsey himself did (Willie Meehan, Bill Brennan, Battling Levinsky, Ed Smith, Gene Tunney, etc.), and Greb pursued a match with Dempsey, which he never received. When Greb was in his prime between 1918 and 1922, through approximately 150 fights against the consistently best competition anyone has ever fought, he lost twice and drew six times. He avenged all of his losses with multiple wins. The rest of the all-time middles (if forced to put them in order): 2) Sam Langford, 3) Ray Robinson, 4) Stanley Ketchel, 5) Marvin Hagler, 6) Carlos Monzon, 7) Bob Fitzsimmons, 8) Tony Zale, 9) Mickey Walker, 10) Jake LaMotta, or something like that.





Timeless, Indefinable, Incredible: Was Harry Greb the Greatest Fighter Ever?

by Mike Casey

Dec 16, 2005 - By MIKE CASEY: Some men just look like fighters. They don't have to make a fist, strike a pose, strut around the place or talk the talk. One look into their eyes, one scan of their features, and you know they've got the right stuff. Harry Greb, like the great Stanley Ketchell before him, looked like a fighter all over. The tight eyes, the harshly scraped hair and the lean body told you at a glance that Greb was a man apart even in the toughest sport of all.

Legions of great pretenders have discovered to their disappointment that you cannot buy, steal or fake what is only given to the chosen few. A mean look and a hard attitude won't protect you from a harsh dose of reality if you are not cut from the right cloth. Nor will an intimidating name. New York super-middleweight Michael Corleone has learned that harsh lesson in his eleven-year, 11-23-3 career.

There have been a great many fighters who have tried to imitate Harry Greb and inherit his impregnable armour and fighting heart. Most of them are tucked away and forgotten in boxing's vast A to Z archives with maybe ten or twelve fights on their log.

If Harry Greb had a dozen fights in a year alone, he was going slow. Nicknamed the Human Windmill because of his perpetual motion style, Harry was no less fast and furious in the rate at which he swelled his astonishing ring record. When he was all done, he had jammed 299 fights into the short space of fourteen years, having fought everybody who was somebody in a golden era of teeming talent.

For those interested in the finer details of decimal points, Greb averaged 21.5 fights a year, and only the Grim Reaper finally stopped him in 1926. Boxers of Harry's era had to fight frequently to earn any meaningful money, and winning a world championship didn't necessarily buy them a ticket to a more leisurely lifestyle. The heavyweight champion was just about the only guy who could afford to take a walk on easy street. The difference between the average annual salary of Harry Greb and Jack Dempsey was immense.

A perfect illustration of this fact is that between winning the middleweight championship from Johnny Wilson in 1923 and losing it to Tiger Flowers in 1926, Greb defended his title six times and engaged in a total of fifty-six fights.


As for the list of illustrious fighters he faced, many of them in ongoing series and most of whom he defeated, we can only shake our heads at the sheer breadth and depth of talent. Harry bounced around the weight divisions like a mischievous rubber ball, whipping the cream of his own class, thrashing top quality light-heavyweights and heavyweights and even roughing up Dempsey in their famous sparring sessions of 1921.

Greb defeated George Chip, Al McCoy, Jeff Smith, Mike McTigue, Eddie McGoorty, Tiger Flowers, Gunboat Smith, Battling Levinsky Jimmy Slattery and Maxie Rosenbloom.

He was two and one over the brilliant Tommy Gibbons, and also split a pair of decisions with Tommy's gifted brother, Mike, the legendary Minnesota ace whose marvellous defensive skills won him the nickname of the St Paul Phantom.

In four out of five meetings with that other master boxer, Tommy Loughran, Greb was the boss.

He twice bested heavyweight contender Bill Brennan and was also too good for one of the greatest light-heavyweights of all in the Hoosier Bearcat, Jack Dillon. Giant killer Jack also specialised in terrorising bigger men, but little ol' Harry was all over him in their two meetings.

In their second match at the Toledo Coliseum in Ohio in 1918, Greb administered a terrific thrashing to Dillon. The local newspaper reported that Harry pounded Jack's nose to a pulp, staggered him and overwhelmed him.*

Greb gave Gene Tunney a brutal beating in their first fight at Madison Square Garden in 1923, so much so that an infuriated Gene retired to his bed with his sore body and applied his formidable intellect to devising a game plan for his revenge.

Tunney was undoubtedly Harry's master in their wonderful five-fight rivalry, though not as comprehensively as the history books suggest. Historians and researchers have lately credited Greb with the newspaper decision in their fourth fight at Cleveland, which would make Gene the three to two winner in their series. After their final scrap, Greb reportedly visited Tunney's dressing room and good-naturedly barked, "I never want to fight you again."

Forever eager to get to the next place and the next thrill, Greb didn't hang around killing time in the early phase of his career either. In 1915, while still serving his boxing apprenticeship, he engaged in successive fights with Billy Miske and the dangerous Jack Blackburn, who would go on to achieve greater fame as the master trainer of Joe Louis.

Even the loss of sight in one eye failed to curb Greb's enthusiasm or dull his ability. Historians disagree on which fight caused the injury, but it is most commonly believed that Harry suffered a detached retina in the first of two vicious fights with Kid Norfolk. Greb kept the injured eye a secret from all but his wife and closest friends, finally consenting to its removal in a private operation in Atlantic City. A perfectly matching glass eye was substituted, attached to the eye muscles by sheep tendons.

However, a further operation later on proved too much for even Harry's great heart. Shortly after his second title match with Tiger Flowers, Greb underwent an operation to remove facial scars sustained in an automobile accident and from his multitude of tough fights. He died on the operating table on October 27, 1926.


Writers, fans and fellow opponents came to praise Harry Greb when he was alive, and they praised him when he died. Incredibly, nearly eighty years after his passing, Harry's name is still writ large on the boxing landscape.

Many of today's fighters use Greb as the ultimate reference when the talk turns to giving every last drop and fighting to the death. His name is mentioned in reverence in cult TV programmes. The International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO) recently voted him the greatest middleweight of all time. Many fight fans and experts also rate him tops in the pound-for-pound stakes.

The accolades are endless and the conclusion is crystal clear. In the era of five-minute fame, Harry Greb has become an icon for all the ages, a roguish and familiar ghost we are happy to have in our house as a permanent guest. Not because of sentiment, but because he earned the right to be there.

Perhaps the explanation for Greb's enduring and universal appeal really isn't that complex. Even when he was alive and kicking in the roaring twenties, Harry seemed timeless and oddly ethereal. He was rock 'n' roll thirty years before the term was invented, and yet he wasn't. He was too special and too indefinable to be shoe-horned into any era or hitched to any passing trend.

Greb loved to fight and he loved to live. He did both with total conviction and commitment. Once in your life, if you are lucky, you get to brush against such an individual. You can feel the electric and sense the danger, but you know to your frustration that you can never step into that special zone and be that man.

How does a guy who rarely visits a boxing gym beat some of the greatest fighters who ever came down the trail? How does he drive cars at breakneck speed without breaking his neck? How does he drink through the early hours after going fifteen brutal rounds with Mickey Walker and then wrap up the celebrations with a return fight out on the sidewalk? Greb did all of those things.

Other fighters spoke of him in awe. Gene Tunney observed, "Greb could move like a phantom and had ring cunning far beyond estimates made of him in the press."

Such was Tunney's admiration for Harry, he was a pall bearer at Greb's funeral.

Jack Dempsey described Greb as the fastest fighter he ever saw. Irish ace Jimmy McLarnin said, "If you thought I was great, you should have seen Harry Greb."


It would be interesting to know how Harry regarded such flattery. Quite possibly, he lapped it up. More probably, he wondered what all the fuss was about.

He certainly had a sense of humour and seemed to admire honesty and candour in others. During some lusty infighting in one of his two wars with Tiger Flowers, Greb suffered the rare experience of being caught off guard. As he was going through his usual repertoire of punching, thumbing and cussing, he was taken aback by Tiger's polite request not to take the Lord's name in vain. "I thought he was kidding," Harry said later, "but I'll be damned if he didn't mean it."

Greb had even more devilish fun with fellow great, Mickey Walker. Mickey, the pugnacious Toy Bulldog, was the reigning welterweight champion when he stepped up to challenge Harry for his crown on July 2, 1925, before a crowd of 50,000 at the Polo Grounds in New York. The two warriors waged one of the greatest fights ever seen at the famous venue, with Greb a commanding winner.

But their rivalry didn't end there. Greb and Walker met up later at the Guinan club, a noted New York nightclub of the time, where they drank champagne and chatted to the glamorous owner and hostess, Texas Guinan. Happy and well oiled by the time they hit the night air at around two or three in the morning, Harry and Mickey began discussing their fight for the first time.

It was then that Mickey put his foot in it, offering the opinion that he would have won the match if Greb hadn't thumbed him. Harry couldn't have that and offered to beat Walker again right where they stood. Greb couldn't wait to get his coat off, but it got stuck around his elbows as he pulled too hard and Walker belted him with a terrific uppercut. Mickey always bragged thereafter that he won their unofficial return.

The two men got lucky. The only person around at that hour was a massive Irish beat cop called Pat Casey, whom Walker described as being as big as Primo Carnera. Familiar with Greb and Walker and their idea of a good night out, Casey waived the incident and told them to get off home.

Walker enjoyed ribbing Greb but always acknowledged Harry's superiority as a fighter, placing him on the gold standard with Ketchell and Dempsey.

Mickey never forgot one incredible incident from the Polo Grounds classic. "Harry could hit you from impossible angles. Once, after he missed a right to my face, he spun all the way around so that his back faced me. I relaxed my guard and waited for him to turn around. But before I knew what was happening, his left was stuck in my mouth. I still don't know how he did it, but he hit me while his hands faced in the opposite direction." **


How I wish that I could visit a fighter's saloon bar in heaven (assuming the old gentleman upstairs permits such a facility) and find Greb, Stanley Ketchell and Carlos Monzon sitting at the same table discussing their greatest fights. They have always struck me as spiritual brothers, despite the span of years and circumstances that separated them. They were giants of men who lived and fought with a burning passion and then left us suddenly just as we were beginning to wonder if they were eternal.

Ketchell was shot to death when he was twenty-four. Greb died at thirty-two and Monzon was gone at fifty-two. It is easy to become maudlin about such things and trot out the old Marvin Gaye line about the good dying young.

But in all truth, do we really enjoy watching wild horses grow old?


In the Mike Casey All-Time Rankings on my website, in which varying points values are accorded to fighters across 22 different categories, Harry Greb places fifth in both the middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions.

The middleweight rankings are thus: 1. Sugar Ray Robinson 2. Carlos Monzon 3. Tommy Ryan 4. Marvin Hagler 5. Harry Greb 6. Mike Gibbons 7. Stanley Ketchell 8. Sam Langford 9. Marcel Cerdan 10. Mike O'Dowd.

This is some achievement on Harry's part, when one considers that he fought in the no-decision era. Exhaustive research has enabled historians to determine the winners of many of these fights according to original newspaper reports, but the outcome of many others remain a mystery. Since the results cannot be assumed, fighters of Greb's era inevitably lose a few points here and there in any results-based ranking.

There is little doubt that Harry would otherwise rank higher than he does. Was he really the greatest middleweight? Was he the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all?

What's your opinion? Who are your top middleweights and pound-for-pound masters?


MIKE CASEY is a boxing journalist and historian, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization and founder and editor of The Grand Slam Premium Boxing Service for boxing historians and fans. www.grandslampage.net


* Newspaper research by BoxRec

** Stanley Weston, Boxing and Wrestling, October 1954