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Boxers of Yesteryear - Joe Louis

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Joe Louis “The Brown Bomber” is considered to be one of the most powerful and fastest punching heavyweight boxers in ring history. He had great hand speed, a powerful jab, deadly accuracy in his punches and his right cross, thrown short and straight, was sheer dynamite.

Louis is widely regarded as the first African American to achieve the status of a nationwide hero within the United States, and was also a focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment leading up to and during World War II.

Louis was world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949. He successfully defended his title 25 times (21 by knockout) before retiring in 1949. His service in the U.S. Army during World War II no doubt prevented him from defending his title many more times. He made a post-retirement comeback in 1950.

Joseph Louis Barrow, born on May 13, 1914, was the seventh of eight children of Munroe Barrow and Lily Reese. His father was an Alabama sharecropper and died when Joe was four (records dispute his death in a mental institution). His mother took in washing to support her family. Joe was close to his large family, particularly to his mother, from whom he inherited a deep religious sentiment. His mother married Patrick Brooks, with children of his own, when Joe was seven, and the family moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1926.

The Depression hit the Louis family hard, but as an alternative to gang activity, Joe began to spend time at a local youth recreation center at 637 Brewster Street in Detroit.Legend has it that he tried to hide his pugilistic ambitions from his mother by carrying his boxing gloves inside his violin case.


Louis's amateur debut was probably in early 1932. In 1933, Louis won the Detroit-area Golden Gloves Novice Division championship for the light heavyweight classification against Joe Biskey, later losing in the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions. The next year, competing in the Golden Gloves' Open Division, he won the light heavyweight classification, this time also winning the Chicago Tournament of Champions. Although a hand injury forced Louis to miss the New York / Chicago Champions' cross-town bout for the ultimate Golden Gloves championship in 1934, he followed up his Chicago performance by winning the National AAU tournament in St. Louis, Missouri in April of that year. By the end of his amateur career, Louis's record was 50 wins against 4 losses, with 43 knockouts.

Louis's impressive amateur performances attracted the interest of professional promoters. Rather than sign with an established promoter, Louis agreed to be represented by a black Detroit-area bookmaker named John Roxborough. As Louis explained it in his autobiography, Roxborough convinced Louis that white managers would have no real interest in seeing a black boxer work his way up to title contention.


His professional debut came on July 4, 1934 against Jack Kracken in the Bacon Casino on Chicago's south side. Louis earned $59 for knocking out Kracken in the first round. Louis won all 12 professional fights that year, 10 by way of knockout.

Although Louis' management was finding him bouts against legitimate heavyweight contenders, no path to the title was forthcoming. Although boxing was not officially segregated, white Americans had become wary of the prospect of another black champion in the wake of Jack Johnson's highly unpopular "reign of terror" atop the heavyweight division, and an informal barrier existed that kept African American and black  boxers out of title contention.( Biographer Gerald Astor stated that "Joe Louis' early boxing career was stalked by the spectre of Jack Johnson.")

A change in management was inevitable. In 1935, boxing promoter Mike Jacobs sought out Louis' handlers. After Louis' narrow defeat of Natie Brown on March 29, 1935,


Jacobs and the Louis team met at the Frog Club, a colored nightclub, and negotiated a three-year exclusive boxing promotion deal. The contract, however, did not keep Roxborough and Black from attempting to cash in as Louis' managers; when Louis turned 21 on May 13, 1935, Roxborough and Black each signed Louis to an onerous long-term contract that collectively dedicated half of Louis' future income to the pair.

Louis fought 13 times in 1935. The bout that helped put him in the media spotlight occurred on June 25, when Louis knocked out a former world heavyweight champion, the 6'6", 265-pound Primo Carnera, in six rounds. Foreshadowing the Louis-Schmeling rivalry to come, the Carnera bout featured a political dimension. Louis' defeat of Carnera, who symbolized Benito Mussolini's regime in the popular eye, was seen as a victory for the international community, particularly among African Americans, who were sympathetic to Ethiopia during its occupation by Italy.

By this time, Louis was ranked as the No. 1 contender in the heavyweight division and had won the Associated Press' "Athlete of the Year" award for 1935.[39] What was considered to be a final tune-up bout before an eventual title shot was scheduled for June 1936 against former world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling.


Schmeling prepared intently for the bout. Schmeling had thoroughly studied Louis's style, and believed he had found a weakness. By exploiting Louis's habit of dropping his left hand low after a jab, Schmeling handed Louis his first professional loss by knocking him out in Round 12 at Yankee Stadium on June 19, 1936.

After defeating Louis, Schmeling expected a title shot against James J. Braddock, who had unexpectedly defeated Max Baer for the heavyweight title the previous June. Madison Square Garden (MSG) had a contract with Braddock for the title defense and also sought a Braddock-Schmeling title bout. But Jacobs and Braddock's manager Joe Gould had been planning a Braddock-Louis matchup for months.[49] Schmeling's victory gave Gould tremendous leverage, however; if he were to offer Schmeling the title chance instead of Louis, there was a very real possibility that Nazi authorities would never allow Louis a shot at the title.


The stage was set for Louis's title shot. On the night of the fight, June 22, 1937, Braddock was able to knock Louis down in Round 1, but afterward could accomplish little. After inflicting constant punishment, Louis defeated the "Cinderella Man" by knockout in Round 8. Louis's ascent to the world heavyweight title was complete.

Louis's victory was a seminal moment in African American history. Thousands of African Americans stayed up all night across the country in celebration.

Noted author and member of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes described Louis's effect in these terms: “Each time Joe Louis won a fight in those depression years, even before he became champion, thousands of colored Americans on relief or W.P.A., and poor, would throng out into the streets all across the land to march and cheer and yell and cry because of Joe's one-man triumphs. No one else in the United States has ever had such an effect on Negro emotions – or on mine. I marched and cheered and yelled and cried, too”.

Despite now being heavyweight champion, Louis was haunted by the earlier defeat to Schmeling. Shortly after winning the title, he was quoted as saying, "I don't want to be called champ until I whip Max Schmeling.



Louis vs. Schmeling II -- The rematch between Louis and Schmeling is one of the most famous boxing matches of all time, and is remembered as one of the major sports events of the 20th century.[43] Following his defeat of Louis in 1936, Schmeling became a national hero in Germany. Schmeling's victory over an African American was touted by Nazi officials as proof of their doctrine of Aryan superiority. When the rematch was scheduled, Louis retreated to his boxing camp in New Jersey and trained incessantly for the fight. A few weeks before the bout, Louis visited the White House, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt told him, "Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany."[43] Louis later admitted: "I knew I had to get Schmeling good. I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending on me."




On the night of June 22, 1938, Louis and Schmeling met for the second time in the boxing ring. The fight was held in Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 70,043. It was broadcast by radio to millions of listeners throughout the world, with radio announcers reporting on the fight in English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Before the bout, Schmeling weighed in at 193 pounds; Louis weighed in at 198¾ pounds - NBC radio announcer Clem McCarthy delivered the blow-by-blow account of the fight, which lasted just two minutes and four seconds. But it was a historic milestone — one that an estimated 70 million people listened to on their radios.

The fight lasted two minutes and four seconds. fter only a few seconds of feinting, Louis unleashed a tireless barrage on Schmeling. Referee Arthur Donovan stopped action for the first time just over one minute and a half into the fight after Louis connected on five left hooks and a body blow to Schmeling's lower left which had him audibly crying in pain. After sending Louis briefly to his corner, Donovan quickly resumed action, after which Louis went on the attack again, immediately felling the German with a right hook to the face. Schmeling went down this time, arising on the count of three. Louis then resumed his barrage, this time focusing on Schmeling's head. After connecting on three clean shots to Schmeling's jaw, the German fell to the canvas again, arising at the count of two. With few defenses left at this point, Louis connected at will, sending Schmeling to the canvas for the third time in short order, this time near the ring's center. On the third knockdown, Schmeling's trainer threw in the towel and referee Arthur Donovan stopped the fight. In Germany the Radio Broadcast was actually cut short before the end of the fight.



The 1938 boxing rematch between American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling is believed to have had the largest audience in history for a single radio broadcast.

In later life, both men became firm friends. Schmeling became chairman of Coca Cola and helped Louis in his later years when the ex-champion experienced financial difficulties. At Joe's funeral in 1981, Schmeling sent over a large amount of money to which the ex-champion's widow commented that Schmeling was indeed a true friend.

In the 29 months from January 1939 through May 1941, Louis defended his title thirteen times, a frequency unmatched by any heavyweight champion since the end of the bare-knuckle era. The pace of his title defenses, combined with his convincing wins, earned Louis' opponents from this era the collective nickname "Bum of the Month Club". Despite its derogatory nickname, most of the group were top-ten heavyweights. Of the twelve fighters Louis faced during this period, five were rated by The Ring as top-ten heavyweights in the year they fought Louis: Galento (overall #2 heavyweight in 1939), Bob Pastor (#3, 1939), Godoy (#3, 1940), Simon (#6, 1941), and Baer (#8, 1941); four others (Musto, Dorazio, Burman, and Johnny Paycheck) were ranked in the top ten in a different year.

Louis fought a charity bout for the Navy Relief Society against his former opponent Buddy Baer on January 9, 1942, which generated $47,000 for the fund. The next day, he volunteered to enlist as a private in the United States Army at Camp Upton, Long Island. Newsreel cameras recorded his induction, including a staged scene in which a soldier-clerk asked, "What's your occupation?" and Louis replied in a nervous rush, "Fighting and let us at them Japs."


Another military charity bout on March 27, 1942, (against another former opponent, Abe Simon) netted $36,146.] Before the fight, Louis had spoken at a Relief Fund dinner, saying of the war effort: "We'll win, 'cause we're on God's side." The media widely reported the comment, instigating a surge of popularity for Louis. Slowly, the press would begin to eliminate its stereotypical racial references when covering Louis, and instead treat him as an unqualified sports hero. Despite the public relations boon, Louis's charitable fights would prove financially costly. Although Louis saw none of the roughly $90,000 raised by these and other charitable fights, the IRS would later credit these amounts as taxable income paid to Louis. After the war, the IRS would pursue the issue.

Louis's celebrity power was not, however, merely directed toward African Americans. In a famous wartime recruitment slogan, Louis echoed his prior comments of 1942: "We'll win, because we're on God's side." The publicity of the campaign made Louis widely popular stateside, even outside the world of sports. Never before had white Americans embraced an African American as their representative to the world.

Louis was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant, and was awarded the Legion of Merit medal for "incalculable contribution to the general morale.” Receipt of the honor qualified Louis for immediate release from military service on October 1, 1945.


On June 19, 1946, a disappointing 40,000 saw the rematch at Yankee Stadium, against Billy Conn in which Louis was not seriously tested. Conn, whose skills had deteriorated during the long layoff, largely avoided contact until being dispatched by knockout in the eighth round.

On December 5, 1947, Louis met Jersey Joe Walcott, a 33-year-old veteran with a 44-11-2 record. Walcott entered the fight as a 10-to-1 underdog. Nevertheless, Walcott knocked down Louis twice in the first four rounds. Most observers in Madison Square Garden felt Walcott dominated the 15-round fight; when Louis was declared the winner in a split decision, the crowd booed.

The rematch against Walcott was held on June 25, 1948, about 42,000 people came to Yankee Stadium to see the aging champion, who weighed 213½, the heaviest of his career to date. Walcott knocked down Louis in the third round, but Louis survived to knock out Walcott in the eleventh.

Louis would not defend his title again before announcing his retirement from boxing on March 1, 1949.

Problems with the IRS force Louis to return: A match with Ezzard Charles – who had acquired the vacant heavyweight title in June 1949 by outpointing Walcott – was set for September 27, 1950. By then, Louis was 36 years old, and had been away from competitive boxing for two years. Weighing in at 218, Louis was still strong, but his reflexes were gone. Charles repeatedly beat him to the

punch. By the end of the fight, Louis was cut above both eyes, one of which was shut tight by swelling. He knew he had lost even before Charles was declared the winner.


After facing several club-level opponents, the International Boxing Club guaranteed Louis $300,000 to face undefeated heavyweight contender Rocky Marciano on October 26, 1951. Despite his being a 6-to-5 favorite, few boxing insiders believed Louis had a chance. Marciano himself was reluctant to participate in the bout, but was understanding of Louis's position: "This is the last guy on earth I want to fight." It was feared, particularly among those who had witnessed Marciano's punching power first hand, that Louis's unwillingness to quit would result in serious injury. Fighting back tears, Ferdie Pacheco said in the SportsCentury documentary about his bout with Marciano, "He [Louis] wasn't just going to lose. He was going to take a vicious, savage beating. Before the eyes of the nation, Joe Louis, an American hero if ever there was one, was going to get beaten up." Louis was dropped in the eighth round by a Marciano left, and knocked out of the ring less than thirty seconds later.

For income, Louis even became a professional wrestler in the 1950s and 60s, and again as late as 1972.

Personal -- Louis had two children by wife Marva Trotter (daughter Jacqueline in 1943 and son Joseph Louis Barrow, Jr. in 1947) and adopted three others. They divorced in March 1945 only to remarry a year later, but were again divorced in February 1949. Marva moved on to acting and modeling career. On Christmas Day 1955, Louis married Rose Morgan, a successful Harlem businesswoman; their marriage was annulled in 1958.  Louis's final marriage – to Martha Jefferson, a lawyer from Los Angeles, on St. Patrick's Day 1959 – lasted until his death. They had a child and also named him Joe, Jr. The younger Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. lives in New York city and is involved in boxing.

Unfortunately, drugs took a toll on the once indomitable (not able to be beaten) champion in his final years. In 1969, he was hospitalized after collapsing on a New York City street. While the incident was at first credited to "physical breakdown," Louis later admitted to cocaine use and fears of a plot against his life. The following year, Louis spent five months in the hospital suffering from paranoid delusions (irrational anxiety and fear toward others). Strokes and heart ailments caused his condition to worsen. He had surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm (abnormal widening of a blood vessel) in 1977 and was thereafter confined to a wheelchair.


Despite failing health, Louis still found time to attend major boxing events. On April 12, 1981, he sat ringside at the Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick heavyweight championship bout at Caesar's Palace. Hours after the fight, Louis went into cardiac arrest and died at the age of sixty-six.

Louis died of a heart attack in Desert Springs Hospital on April 12, 1981, just hours after his last public appearance viewing the Larry Holmes-Trevor Berbick heavyweight championship. Ronald Reagan waived the eligibility rules for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, and Louis was buried there with full military honors on April 21, 1981.

" Following Louis' death, US President Ronald Reagan said, "Joe Louis was more than a sports legend -- his career was an indictment of racial bigotry and a source of pride and inspiration to millions of white and black people around the world."

In 1994, the bronzed boxing glove that Louis used to defeat Max Schmeling was donated to the city of Detroit by the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Dubbed "The Glove That Floored Nazi Germany," it was enshrined in a plexiglass case at the city's Cobo Center, a monument to Louis's enduring legacy.

altRecord - Joe held the Heavyweight Championship longer than any other Champion; Louis scored 43 knockdowns in his first 22 Professional bouts; Only Jack Kranz and Hans Birkie were not floored; He fought as an amateur light-heavyweight (175-lb class); His amateur record reportedly was 50-4 with 43 knockouts

Nat Fleischer ranked Louis as the #6 All-Time Heavyweight; Charley Rose ranked him as the #4 All-Time Heavyweight; Herb Goldman ranked him as the #6 All-Time Heavyweight; Louis was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Joe Louis  

  • Louis uttered two of boxing's most famous observations: "He can run, but he can't hide" and "Everyone has a plan until they've been hit.
  • Louis made 25 defenses of his heavyweight title from 1937 to 1948, and was a world champion for 11 years and 10 months. Both are still records in the heavyweight division.
  • His most remarkable record is that he knocked out 23 opponents in 27 title fights, including 5 world champions.
  • Golf, In 1952, Louis was invited to play in the San Diego Open on a sponsor's exemption, becoming the first African American to play a PGA Tour event.
  • An indoor sports venue is named after him in Detroit, the Joe Louis Arena.
  • Molefi Kete Asante listed Joe Louis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
  • On August 26, 1982, Louis was posthumously approved for the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to civilians by the U.S. legislative branch.
  • A memorial to Louis was dedicated in Detroit (at Jefferson Avenue & Woodward) on October 16, 1986. The sculpture, commissioned by Time, Inc. and executed by Robert Graham, is a 24-foot-long (7.3 m) arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot-high (7.3 m) pyramidal framework. It represents the power of his punch both inside and outside the ring.
  • On February 27, 2010, an 8-foot (2.4 m) bronze statue of Louis was unveiled in his Alabama hometown. The statue sits on a base of red granite outside the Chambers County Courthouse.