May 13, 1914
Died: April 12, 1981
Total Bouts: 71, Won: 68, Lost: 3, Drew: 0, KOs: 54
Joseph Louis Barrow, the legendary "Brown Bomber," is
considered by many to be the finest heavyweight champion in the
history of boxing. He held the world's heavyweight title from
June 22, 1937 until June 25, 1948 and made a division-record 25
successful title defenses.
Born in Alabama, Louis
moved to Detroit as a child and began boxing at the Brewster Recreation
Center. In his first amateur bout, Louis was knocked down seven
times. But he improved rapidly. He captured the 1934 National
AAU light heavyweight crown and turned pro later that year.
Louis won his first
27 fights, 23 by knockout, beating the likes of former heavyweight
champions Primo Carnera and Max Baer and contenders Paolino Uzcudun
and Natie Brown. But in his 28th fight, Louis met defeat. He faced
another former heavyweight champ, Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium,
and was knocked out in the 12th round.
Louis rebounded from
the defeat and won seven straight bouts -- including victories
over Jack Sharkey and Bob Pastor -- to earn a shot at the heavyweight
title. Louis faced champion James J. Braddock on June 22, 1937
in Chicago's Comiskey Park. Although he was dropped early in the
bout, Louis rose from the canvas to score an eighth-round knockout.
He became the first African American to win the heavyweight title
since Jack Johnson in 1908.
Louis possessed an
excellent jab and power in both hands. His right cross was as
devastating as his left hook. His punches were so compact that
some in the media claimed a Joe Louis punch need only to travel
six inches to render an opponent unconscious.
After winning the crown,
Louis began piling up defenses. He dispatched contender after
contender with such ease that his opponents were said to make
up "The Bum of the Month Club." Along with Louis' success
came tremendous popularity. He was widely respected by Americans
of all color. He won the title a decade before Jackie Robinson
broke baseball's color barrier and later would put his career
on hold to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II. Reporter
Jimmy Cannon once wrote that, "Louis was a credit to his
race ... the human race."
While Louis generated
countless highlights, he is widely remembered most for his 1938
rematch with Schmeling. The boxing public admired Louis for risking
his crown against a man who, just two years earlier, had knocked
him out. But because Schmeling was from Germany, the bout took
on a broader meaning. The media inaccurately portrayed Schmeling
as a Nazi and painted Louis as a symbol for the rest of the free
world. The rematch, also at Yankee Stadium, was over fast as Louis
scored a devastating first-round knockout.
In another one of his
most memorable bouts, Louis took on light heavyweight champion
Billy Conn on June 18, 1941 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Conn,
a masterful boxer, was ahead on the scorecards after 12 rounds.
But miraculously, Louis scored a 13th-round knockout to save his
title. After the war, during which Conn served in the Navy, they
met again and Louis scored an eighth-round knockout.
In 1947, Louis was
dropped twice by Jersey Joe Walcott but managed to hang onto the
title by a controversial split decision. The end was nearing for
the great champion and shortly after he knocked Walcott out in
a rematch, he announced his retirement.
In 1950, at the age
of 36, Louis returned to the ring to challenge heavyweight champion
Ezzard Charles but lost a 15-round decision. He fought nine more
times over the next year, beating the likes of Lee Savold and
Jimmy Bivins but announced his permanent retirement when Rocky
Marciano knocked him out on October 26, 1951.