Tom Heeney
Biographical information
Birthname: Tom Heeney
Nationality: New Zealander
Nickname: "The Hard Rock from Down Under"
Height: 5′ 10½″ / 179cm
Reach: 72″ / 183cm
Weight class Heavyweight
Born: (1898-05-18) May 18, 1898 (age 120) Gisborne, New Zealand
Died: 1984-06-15 (Age:86)
Boxing career information
Style/Boxing Stance: Orthodox
Career record: 69 total bouts, 37 wins, 23 losses, 8 draw, 15 KO's,

Thomas Heeney (18 May 1898 – 15 June 1984), commonly known as Tommy gun Heeney, was a professional heavyweight boxer from New Zealand, best known for unsuccessfully challenging champion Gene Tunney for the heavyweight championship of the world in New York City on 26 July 1928.

Heeney was born in Gisborne, New Zealand, and worked as a plumber until he left New Zealand.[1] He was a strong swimmer and was awarded a bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand in 1918 for helping rescue two women from the sea off Waikanae Beach, Gisborne. He also retrieved a third woman who did not survive.[2]

He learnt to box from his father and his older brother Jack Heeney, who was the New Zealand amateur welterweight champion in 1914 and middleweight champion from 1919 to 1924. He became a professional boxer when he fought Bill Bartlett in Gisborne in 1920.[3] In October 1920, Heeney became the New Zealand heavyweight champion when he beat Brian McCleary of Dunedin on a technical knockout. Heeney was also a rugby union player and played for the Hawke's Bay — Poverty Bay team against the Springboks in 1921.[3] He boxed in Australia and won the Australian heavyweight champion title in 1922, and fought in England and South Africa in 1924.

Heeney went to the United States in 1926. He beat Jim Maloney, Johnny Risko and Jim Delaney[3] and eventually ranked fourth among the world's heavyweight boxers. After fighting Jack Sharkey, later a heavyweight world champion, in 1928 for the right to fight Tunney, on 26 July 1928, Heeney fought Gene Tunney at Yankee Stadium, New York City, for the world heavyweight championship title. Heeney entered the boxing ring wearing a Māori cloak that was given to him by Heni Materoa, the widow of Sir James Carroll. The referee, Ed Forbes, stopped the scheduled 15 round fight in the 11th round, and Tunney won. It was said of Heeney:

His gritty performance in this fight would have been considered by many observers to have justified his sobriquet of The Hard Rock from Down Under given by renowned writer and journalist, Damon Runyon.

A week after his defeat, Tom married Marion Dunn, an American. Heeney became an American citizen and boxed until 1934, accomplishing a fighting record of 70 professional bouts, 38 wins, 22 losses, eight draws, one no-decision, and one no-contest.

After retiring from boxing, he owned a bar in Miami, Florida. He served with the United States Navy Civil Engineer Corps in World War II, and afterward coached boxing and refereed armed forces bouts in the South Pacific. He often fished with his friend, the famous writer Ernest Hemingway. Heeney's wife, Marion, died in 1980. They had no children.[1]

Heeney was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.


  1. 1.0 1.1 McMillan, N. A. C. "Heeney, Thomas 1898–1984". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  2. Mackay, Joseph Angus. "Tom Heeney's Bid For World Crown" in Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z., 1949.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Expatriates — biographies", An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara — The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 18 September 2007
  • From Poverty Bay to Broadway: The story of Tom Heeney by Lydia Monin (2008)
  • Kiwis With Gloves On by Brian F O'Brien, published 1960, Reed.

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