Robert Silva continues his discussion on the greatest Middleweights in boxing history. Next up is Harry Greb.
Harry Greb was one of the most electrifying fighters in the history of boxing. He had an aggressive, non-stop punching style. That style earned him the moniker “The Pittsburgh Windmill.” Greb averaged over 20 fights a year during his entire career. In 1922, he moved up to Light Heavyweight and handed future Heavyweight champion of the world Gene Tunney the only defeat of his career. Then, a year later, he won the Middleweight championship of the world, outpointing then champion Johnny Wilson over 15 rounds. That began a reign that would last three years and help make him the fourth greatest Middleweight in boxing history.
During his three-year run as 160-pound champ, Greb fought many non-title fights against both Light Heavyweights and Heavyweights. The list of fighters he faced included such luminaries as Tunney, Tommy Loughran, Kid Norfolk, and Maxie Rosenbloom. He beat Loughran and Rosenbloom, while losing to Norfolk and three times to Tunney. In a fight with Norfolk a few years before winning the title, Greb suffered a detached retina in his right eye. By the time he won the 160-pound title, Greb was completely blind in his right eye, unbeknownst to the boxing and sports world. Greb attempted to secure a title shot with then Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey, but Dempsey refused. Many at the time felt Dempsey didn’t want to take a chance against Greb because it was a no-win situation on Dempsey’s behalf. Realistically speaking, both fighters had similar styles. In my opinion, Dempsey would’ve destroyed Greb. That being said, no fighter in Middleweight history had such great success while champion beating such a high caliber of opponents above 160 pounds.
Greb successfully defended his 160-pound title four times, including the 1925 fight-of-the-year against the great Welterweight champ Mickey Walker. Both fighters’ aggressive styles made for one of the greatest Middleweight title fights in the storied division’s history. It is both criminal and ridiculous that no footage exists of this classic encounter. Greb showed his enormous heart and ability to take a punch, as Walker nailed him with one shot after another, and Greb never wavered. The last few rounds of the 15-round war saw Greb batter Walker unmercifully, almost knocking him out in the 14th. How Greb was able to win a decision against a ferocious puncher like Walker while being completely blind in one eye is unfathomable.
Greb was also unlike any other Middleweight champions up to that point in that he willingly fought Black fighters. On February 26, 1926, Greb would lose the title to the first ever Black 160-pound champion, Tiger Flowers. Many experts at ringside felt Greb was robbed, but the writing was on the wall concerning Greb’s career. The vision in his left eye was also beginning to deteriorate, and after losing the rematch to Flowers in August of that same year, Greb retired. A month later, his right eye was removed and replaced with a glass eye. Then, on October 22, 1926, while having surgery to repair damage to his nose, Greb died from a heart attack after receiving anesthesia.
Greb was only 32 when he suddenly passed. He fought 298 fights in 13 years, averaging 23 fights a year. He defeated a who’s who of fighters throughout his illustrious career, including many with just one good eye. It is why he’s the fourth greatest Middleweight in boxing history.