This whole discussion seems premised on the idea that Dempsey was somehow cheated by Referee Barry. Based on everything I have read about the fight, Dempsey cheated himself by failing to go to a neutral corner in accord with the rules agreed to at least a week before the fight. The rule was that the referee would not start the count until the boxer scoring the knockdown went to a neutral corner. Dempsey didn't go to a neutral corner, so Barry didn't start the count until he did. Simple as that.
James Dawson of the New York Times wrote from ringside in a story datelined September 22, 1927:
RINGSIDE, SOLDIER FIELD, CHICAGO-His refusal to observe the boxing rules of the Illinois State Athletic Commission, or his ignorance of the rules, or both, cost Jack Dempsey the chance to regain the world's heavyweight championship here tonight in the ring at Soldier Field. By the same token this disregard of rules of ring warfare, or this surprising ignorance, saved the title for Gene Tunney, the fighting ex-marine, who has been king of the ring for just a year.Regarding Tunney's knockdown of Dempsey in the eighth round: Its been a while since I saw the film, but as I recall, Tunney started for a neutral corner immediately after scoring the knockdown. Barry, therefore, correctly started the count.
The bout ended with Tunney getting the decision, and the vast majority in the staggering assemblage of 150,000 people, who paid, it is estimated, $2,800,000 to see this great sport spectacle, approved the verdict. The decision was given by referee Dave Barry and Judges George Lytton, wealthy department store owner, and Commodore Sheldon Clark of the Sinclair Oil Company. It was announced as a unanimous decision. Tunney won seven of the ten rounds, losing only the third, sixth and seventh, in the last of which Dempsey made his great mistake.
In that seventh round Dempsey was being peppered and buffeted about on the end of Tunney's left jabs and hooks and sharp though light right crosses, as he had been in every preceding round, with the exception of the third. In a masterful exhibition of boxing, Tunney was evading the attack of his heavier rival and was countering cleanly, superbly, for half of the round or so. Then Dempsey, plunging in recklessly, charging bull-like, suddenly lashed a long, wicked left to the jaw with the power of old. This he followed with a right to the jaw and quickly drove another left hook to the jaw, under which Tunney toppled like a falling tree, hitting the canvas with a solid thud near Dempsey's corner, his hand reaching blindly for a helping rope which somehow or other refused to be within clutching distance.
Then Dempsey made his mistake, an error which, I believe, cost him the title. The knockdown brought the knockdown timekeeper, Paul Beeler, to his feet automatically, watch in hand, eyes glued to the ticking seconds, and he bawled "one" before he looked upon the scene in the ring. There he saw Dempsey in his own corner, directly above the prostrate, brain-numbed Tunney, his hand resting on the middle ring strand. Beeler's count stopped. Referee Barry never started one.
It is the referee's duty to see to it that a boxer scoring a knockdown goes to the corner farthest from his fallen foe and it is the duty of the knockdown timekeeper to delay the count from the watch until this rule is obeyed. The challenging exchampion stood there, arms akimbo on the top ropes of the ring in his own corner, his expression saying more plainly than words: "Get up and I'll knock you down for keeps, this time for keeps." Finally, Dempsey took cognizance of the referee's frantic motions. He was galvanized into action and sped hurriedly across the ring to a neutral corner.
But three or four, or possibly five precious seconds had elapsed before Dempsey realized at all what he should do. In that fleeting time of the watch Tunney got the advantage. No count was proceeding over him, and quickly his senses were returning. When Referee Barry started counting with Timekeeper Beeler, Tunney was in a state of mental revival where he could keep count with the tolling seconds and did, as his moving lips revealed. Slowly the count proceeded. It seemed an eternity between the downward sweep of the arm of Referee Barry and the steady pounding of the fist of Timekeeper Beeler. Tunney's senses came back to him. He got to his feet with the assistance of the ring ropes and with visible effort at the count of "nine." He was groggy, stunned, shaken.
But Dempsey was wild in this crisis, as Tunney, back pedaling for dear life, took to full flight, beating an orderly, steady retreat with only light counter moves in the face of Dempsey, aroused now for the kill. Soon Dempsey tired of his own exertions. The former champion stopped dead in his tracks in mid-ring and with a smile spreading over his scowling face motioned disgustedly, daringly, for Tunney to come on and fight.
But Tunney was playing his own game, and it was a winning game. He did not want to expose himself to that deadly Dempsey punch again, and he would not. Leo P. Flynn, Dempsey's manager, made no effort after the fight to disguise or conceal his feelings or those of Dempsey. "The watch in our corner showed fifteen seconds from the time Tunney hit the floor until he got up at the count of nine," Flynn said. "The legal count over a fallen boxer is ten seconds, not fifteen. Dempsey was jobbed."
Dempsey, however, was hoisted on his own petard. The rule compelling a boxer to go to the corner furthest removed from a fallen foe is traceable to Dempsey himself. Its adoption followed the Manassa Mauler's battle in 1923 with the giant Firpo when Dempsey stood directly above the fallen Firpo, striking the South American just as soon as his knees left the floor without waiting for Firpo to come erect from a knockdown.
If the question is whether Tunney could have beat the count IF Dempsey had gone immediately to a neutral corner, I suppose that is subject to debate. But it seems irrelevant because Tunney beat the referee's correct count fair and square.