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Many times the world misses a hero; sometimes an athlete gets injured before his time or dies too young, an artist or scientist or future world leader has a destiny with fate, a parent or wife or husband is taken from his or her child or spouse, and a great void is left. There is an expression, “The good die young,” and many times that is true. If only they had more time what could have been accomplished. Such was the case with Tommy Tucker, a long forgotten prizefighter from days gone by.
Tommy Tucker was born in New York City on December 14, 1917. Not much is known of his early life except that he loved the sweet science and dreamed of someday becoming a world champion. At the age of 18 Tommy met James J. Johnston, who took him under his wing and signed him to a managerial contract. Johnston, himself a former boxer, matchmaker, promoter, and Hall of Fame manager, had guided the careers of world champions Mike McTigue, Pete Latzo, and Hall of Famers Harry Greb, Ted “Kid” Lewis, and Johnny Dundee, and was of the opinion that Tucker had the talent to follow in their footsteps.
Tommy had his first professional fight on November 20, 1936, as a light heavyweight, and defeated Joe Fedz at Madison Square Garden by a four round decision. It was on the undercard of Lou Ambers vs. Jimmy McLarnin (won by McLarnin). This was the final bout of McLarnin’s great Hall of Fame career. James J. Johnston wanted the exposure which would come on such a big stage…and Tucker didn’t disappoint, and was now on his way.
Tucker developed rapidly and seemed to be headed for greatness. He reeled off 20 straight wins before his first blemish…a draw with tough Syrian crowd favorite Stanley Hasrato, in a six round bout. Over the next few years Tommy fought in such places as Madison Square Garden (16 times), St. Nicholas Arena, Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and several times at the Olympic Auditorium, in Los Angeles. He fought on cards with Joe Louis, Billy Conn, Tony Canzoneri, Henry Armstrong, Holman Williams, Eddie Booker, Ken Overlin, Tony Galento, Joey Archibald, John Henry Lewis, and many other well known fighters. His biggest win was over former world middleweight champ Solly Krieger by decision, after dropping him for an eight count in round six. It appeared that Tommy was going to realize his vast potential just as World War II broke out.
After joining the Navy, Tommy was able to have a few more fights. On November 10, 1941 he defeated Johnny Colan by TKO 9 at the St. Nicholas Arena. Colan was 36-4 at the time but was unable to cope with the power and all around ability of Tucker.
Tucker had always been an active fighter but came off a period of inactivity to fight “Tampa” Tommy Gomez, in June of 1942, dropping a close ten round decision, in Jacksonville, Florida. Gomez was named to The Ring magazine’s list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time. Three months later, on September 21, 1942, Tucker turned the tables on Gomez, stopping him in round 2 of the rematch, in what turned out to be his final fight.
Tommy Gomez was also a World War II veteran and Purple Heart winner, who later sustained 16 shrapnel wounds from a bombing in Germany that put him in the hospital for several months. He was however, able to continue his career after the war and finally retired in 1950 with a record of 75-9-2, with 65 knockouts. Gomez was posthumously inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
Just a short time after the second Gomez fight, Tucker was being hailed as a hero by the Navy. To quote the AP wire report, “First Class Specialist Tommy Tucker, widely-known light heavyweight boxer, saved an ensign and two women from possible drowning in the Atlantic Ocean, Navy officers revealed. The three swimmers were swept out by a strong undertow Sunday and Tucker went to their aid after hearing shouts. He towed the two women to safety and then went to the rescue of the Navy Officer.”
Sadly, Tucker, an air cadet, died in a plane crash at the Naval Air Station in Florida, just a few months later. He was only 25 years old. His final ring record was 58-6-3, with 28 knockouts.