Historical Markers
Tommy Loughran (1902-1982) Historical Marker
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Tommy Loughran (1902-1982)

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
17th and Ritner Sts., SW corner, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
July 7, 2006

Behind the Marker

Head and shoulders of a boxer, with his arms crossed.
Light-Heavyweight Boxing Champion Tommy Loughran, circa 1927.
They have to hit me to hurt me," Tommy Loughran once boasted, "and they can't hit me." Of course, it's not really boasting if you can back it up, and for most of his nearly twenty years in the ring, the former "Philly Phantom" did just that.

"One of a long line of light heavyweight titlists, including fellow Hall of Famers Jack O'Brien, Battling Levinsky, Harold Johnson, and Matthew Saad Muhammad, to fight out of Philadelphia, Loughran, to this day, remains ranked by The Ring Magazine, boxing's bible, among the five best fighters of all time in his division.

He was born in South Philadelphia on November 29, 1902. Like most boxers of his generation, he grew up in a blue-collar, immigrant home. His father, a street-car motorman, did not care much for the sport, nor, Loughran recalled years later, did his two older brothers. They, however, not Tommy, first earned respect in the neighborhood the hard way, in the streets, with their fists. "I wasn't a pugnacious kid," Tommy admitted.

 Left to right: Tiger Flowers, 157 1/2 pounds  (on scales), Bert Stand, Secretary of Boxing Commission; Com. Muldoon; and  Harry Greb 159 pounds;. The bout took place at Madison Square Garden.
Tiger Flowers takes the scale while middle-weight champion Harry Greb waits...
But he was a tough kid, and he wanted to box, and after dropping out of high school at sixteen, he worked briefly in Philadelphia Navy Yard, then for the neighborhood blacksmith. He finally entered the ring, as a lightweight, when he was seventeen. Working for the blacksmith by day, he kept honing his craft. With fast hands and faster feet, he became a superb boxer, winning his first forty-three bouts. He never punched with power in 175 fights, he knocked out only nine opponents but his timing and accuracy were superb, as was his defense; only three foes kayoed him.

As his frame filled, Loughran moved up to the middleweights in 1922, where in less than two months he stunned ranking contenders Harry "The Human Windmill" Greb the greatest fighter ever to hail from Pittsburgh who would win the world title the following year, and Gene Tunney, the future heavyweight champ, by holding his own in a pair of no-decision contests. This feat was made more remarkable by the completely different styles he faced: Greb was a brawler, Tunney a smooth tactician. Over the next five years, he fought several future title-holders before finally winning the crown himself in 1927 by ending the light-heavyweight reign of Mike McTigue in a dominant 15-round decision.

A crowd surrounds a boxing arena as two men fight and a referee looks on.
Gene Tunney battling Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight crown at the Sesquicentennial...
The Sweet Science could not have seemed sweeter to Philadelphians then. Just the year before, a record 120,000 filled Sesquicentennial Stadium (later known as Memorial Stadium and JFK Stadium) to watch the erudite Tunney outthink and outpunch Jack Dempsey, and win the heavyweight crown he would never relinquish. Loughran, who played an important role in Tunney's victory as a prime sparring partner, would never lose the title he was about to win either. Indeed, he ruled his division for three years, successfully defending his crown six times, including once against future heavyweight champ James J. Braddock. Then he gave up the title.

Seeking better paydays and more glory, Loughran vacated his crown in 1930 to move up to the heavyweight division. Climbing the ladder with decisions over former champions Max Baer and Jack Sharkey, he earned a crack at the title in 1934 against Primo Carnera. The Italian giant stood a head taller and outweighed the 184-pound challenger by eighty-six pounds, the largest divide in championship record. Loughran tried neutralizing the mismatch with a few unorthodox tactics he chewed garlic between rounds and greased his hair with something fetid to dissuade Carnera from clinching. Still, the size difference was too much; Loughran lost on points.
Tommy Loughran taking a swing at Primo Carnera.
Tommy Loughran taking a swing at Primo Carnera, Miami, Florida, March 1, 1934.

Loughran continued to box into 1937, amassing a record of 96 wins, 24 losses, and 9 draws, with the rest no-decisions. In 1942, he enlisted in the Marines, then after World War II, returned to Philadelphia as a playground director, before moving to New York to work on Wall Street as a sugar broker, keeping his hand in the sport as a ringside commentator and, occasionally, as a referee. He died in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 1982. The Ring Magazine's boxer of the year in 1929 and 1932, Loughran was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991 as part of its second class of enshrinees.
Joe Frazer attempting to punch Mohammad Ali
Joe Frazer taking a shot at Mohammad Ali during the "Thrilla in Manila," October...

Philadelphia boxing is well represented in the hall. Besides the five light-heavyweights, members who either grew up in or fought out of the city include 1940s lightweight champion Ike Williams, 1960s middleweight titlist Joey Giardello, 1960s heavyweight champ Sonny Liston, and, of course, Joe Frazier, who won the 1964 Olympic heavyweight gold medal, then added the heavyweight crown, which he held for five years.

In 1975, Frazier met his greatest nemesis, Muhammad Ali, for the third time they had split the first two in a contest regarded as the greatest ever. For fourteen brutal rounds in the heat of a Manila morning, Ali and Frazier went toe-to-toe before an exhausted Frazier failed to answer the bell in the 15th. After the fight, Ali was equally spent. "It was like death," he described it. "Closest thing to dyin" that I know of."

If Rocky Balboa were a real fighter instead of a movie character created by Sylvester Stallone, he would probably have a place in the hall, too; instead, he will have to settle for an Academy Award and a statue by the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins, on the other hand, just needs to be retired long enough to earn his induction. Considered one of the greatest of all middleweights, the North Philadelphian successfully defended his crown twenty times in a marvelous ten-year reign.
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