Black History Feature: Joe Louis might go down as best boxer
Joe Louis was swift and had a powerful right fist. He had more than pure ability behind him; he had an entire nation in his corner in many historic bouts.
Louis was born Joe Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914 in a rural farm outside of Lafayette, Alabama. He was the seventh of eight children, born to two parents that were children of sharecroppers. The family later moved to Detroit to escape harassment by the Ku Klux Klan. Joe took up boxing while he spent time at a youth recreation center.
How he came to have the last name Louis is disputed. Legend has it Joe wrote his name so big he could only fit his middle name. Another account said he used his middle name as a last name to keep his boxing career hidden from his mother, who wanted him to play the violin.
Louis got into amateur boxing at 17 years old and went on to win 50 matches, with four losses and 43 knockouts.
Louis made his professional debut on July 4, 1934 against Jack Cracken in Chicago. Louis won with a first-round knockout.
The Brown Bomber went on a tear with a 21-0 record before facing Max Baer on Sept. 24, 1935 in Yankee Stadium. In what was called the 1935 fight of the year, Louis defeated Baer with a fourth-round knockout. The first of two historic matches against Max Schmeling came one year later with a return to Yankee Stadium.
Germany’s Max Schmeling entered the ring in 1936 as a former world heavyweight champion, who won in 1930 when Jack Sharkey was disqualified for a low blow. He lost the title again in a rematch with Sharkey in 1932. Schmeling was hyped as a representative of Nazi Germany and white supremacy in Germany. After 12 rounds, Schmeling won on a knockout, giving Louis his first professional loss. Schmeling and Louis had a rematch in 1938, with Louis knocking out Schmeling in the first round.
Louis went on a seven-bout winning streak before facing world heavyweight titleholder James Braddock in Chicago. Braddock won the title in 1935 after knocking out Max Baer. Braddock downed Louis in the first round. But it was the Brown Bomber that became the first black heavyweight champion of the world after knocking out Braddock in eight rounds.
On Jan. 9, 1942, Louis fought and won a charity bout versus Buddy Baer. Louis joined the army as a private next day. He was then sent to Fort Riley for basic training in a segregated unit. He never saw combat, but worked his way up to sergeant and got his release on Oct. 1, 1945.
Louis continued to retain his world heavyweight title through 1949. He defeated Jersey Joe Walcott in 1948. On Mar. 1, 1949, Louis announced his retirement, with Ezzard Charles winning the vacated title. When the Brown Bomber decided to come out of retirement, his first fight was a no contest versus Johnny Shkor in November of 1949. Louis competed against Charles for the world heavyweight championship in 1950, but lost in the full 15 rounds by knockout.
Louis’ last bout of his career was against Rocky Marciano, who entered with a 36-0 record. Marciano won in eight rounds on a technical knockout over the favored Louis. Louis retired for good after the match. In 72 fights, Louis has 69 wins with 57 knockout wins. He held the world heavyweight title for 11 years and 10 months, which is still a record today.
After his career as a boxer ended, Louis began investing in different business. He also found work as a casino greeter in Las Vegas. Joe Louis died on April 21, 1981 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.“Joe Louis was the most significant figure and uplifting for morale of African-Americans with his championships,” Eastern Michigan University lecturer Kenyetta Jackson said.
Even former heavyweight champion George Foreman once said, “There’s never been a better boxer than Joe Louis.”Originally Published: 02/19/12 9:29pm