Joe Louis

From Academic Kids

Joe Louis
Career Snapshot
Born May 14, 1914
Died April 12, 1981
Total Fights 71
Won 68
Lost 3
Drew 0
Knockouts 54
Titles Won Heavyweight

Joseph Louis Barrow (1914-1981), better known in the boxing world as Joe Louis and nicknamed The Brown Bomber, was a native of Lexington, Alabama who became World Heavyweight Champion.


Early life and career

The son of a cotton picker and a homemaker, Louis became interested in boxing after the Barrows moved to Detroit in 1924. He went on to win Michigan's Golden Gloves title, after which he turned professional in 1934. Louis made his debut on July 4 of that year, knocking out Jack Kracken in the first round at Chicago that night. He won 12 fights that year, all in Chicago, 10 by knockout. Among his opponents in 1934 was Art Sykes, a top contender.


In 1935, he boxed 13 more times, and started touring the United States and Canada. He won each of his fights, and he began to face better opposition, beating former world Heavyweight champions Primo Carnera and Max Baer, and former Carnera world title challenger Paolino Uzcudun. His last four bouts that year were exhibitions in Canada, as one fight versus Isodoro Castagana, supposed to take place December 29 at Havana, Cuba, was suspended.

He began 1936 knocking out Charlie Retzlaff in the first round. In his next fight, however, he was matched with former world Heavyweight champion Max Schmeling, who was thought to be fading when he upset Louis by a knockout in 12 at New York. The German had studied Louis and found a gap in his coverage, which enabled him to hit Louis hard in the early rounds, which led to a KO in round 12. Louis and his supporters were devastated.

Schmeling now deserved a fight for the title, but was denied a chance to challenge the world champion.

That year Louis had four more bouts, winning all of them, and three exhibitions. Among the boxers he defeated were former Heavyweight champ Jack Sharkey and Eddie Simms, who turned to the referee and asked the referee to take a walk on the roof with him after Louis hit him with a punch, the referee stopping the fight right away.

1937 came by, and after a ten round decision win over Bob Pastor, Louis was matched with world champion James J. Braddock in Chicago for the World Heavyweight title. Louis was dropped in round one, but he got up and became the world champion by knocking Braddock out in round eight. He said after the fight, however, that he would not feel like a world champion until he beat one man: Schmeling. Louis retained the title three times, outpointing the capable Welshman Tommy Farr and knocking out Nathan Mann in three and Harry Thomas in five.

The rematch with Schmeling finally took place, on June 22, 1938. This time the fight was hype on both sides of the Atlantic, and many fans around the world saw this fight as a symbol: Louis representing the American interests and Schmeling, who was wrongly seen as a Nazi, fighting for Germany and white supremacy.

The fight itself ended quickly. With his superior speed, Louis retained his title by a knockout in the first round, avenging his only loss up until that time and achieving something not too many African-Americans of the era imagined anyone could do: becoming a national hero both for the white and the black population. Louis was black, so when he won the title, he had become an example to his fellow black Americans. But by beating a German boxer, Louis won over whites too, something very hard to do during the 1930s and 1940s in the United States.

During World War II

Missing image
Joe Louis sews on the stripes of a technical sergeant--to which he has been promoted

In between serving in the United States Army during the Second World War, Louis kept on defending his title, totalling 25 defenses from '37 to 1949. He was a world champion for 11 years and 10 months, after which he left his crown vacant. He set records for any division in number of defenses and longetivity as world champion non stop, and both records still stand. Apart from Schmeling, Farr, Mann and Thomas, other notable title defenses during that period were:

  • his fight versus world Light Heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis, knocked out in the first.
  • his fight with Two Ton Tony Galento, who upset the boxing world by knocking Louis down in round one, but Louis got up and knocked Galento out in the fourth.
  • his two fights with Chilean Arturo Godoy, who almost did something no other boxer from Chile has ever done and no Hispanic had done before: Become world Heavyweight champion in their first bout, which Louis won by a close decision, and when Louis won the rematch by a knockout in the eight round, a riot broke loose at the Madison Square Garden.
  • his two fights with world Light Heavyweight champion Billy Conn, who was leading Louis on all scorecards when he tried to knock him out in round thirteen and instead it was Louis who ended up knocking him out in that round, and in the rematch, Louis won by a knockout in the eighth round.
  • his two fights versus future world Heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, who would drop Louis in round four of their first bout and lose a close decision, then get knocked out by Louis in the rematch in 11 rounds.
Missing image
WWII poster featuring Louis

Louis joined the Army from 1942 to 1945 and spent that whole period travelling around Europe visiting with the fighting troops and boxing in exhibitions. During this time, he became a national spokesman for the Army, inviting young men to join in and help their country in the war. He even acted in a couple of movies, produced by the Army to entice men to go to the war. After he came back to keep defending his title in 1946, Louis looked somewhat slower in his fights, and his best years seemed to have gone. He still managed to fend off every challenger until he retired for the first time, after the second Walcott bout. On March 1, 1949 Louis announced his retirement from boxing.


In 1950, burdened by I.R.S. debt, he announced a comeback and was promptly given a chance to recover his title, but he lost a 15 round unanimous decision to world champion Ezzard Charles, who had won the title after Louis left it vacant. He kept boxing, and in his next fight he beat fringe contender Cesar Brion by a decision in 10. Seven more wins followed, including a rematch with Brion and a decision over fellow hall of famer Jimmy Bivins. In 1951, however, he would box what would be his final fight: In front of a national television audience, Louis lost by a knockout in eight rounds to the future world Heavyweight Champion, Rocky Marciano. Louis did not embarrass himself that night, but it was obvious his best years had gone by. He retired with a record of 68 wins and 3 losses, with 54 wins by a knockout.

Louis became a professional wrestler in 1956 but quit in 1957 due to injuries suffered during a match.

Louis faced a drug problem, a fact not too many people knew about but which was made public by a boxing book published by Ring Magazine, just as in Sugar Ray Robinson's case. But later on in life, he was able to kick his drug habit.

Retirement and later life

A few years after his retirement, a movie about his life, The Joe Louis Story, was filmed in Hollywood. Louis remained a popular celebrity until his twilight years, when he began suffering various illnesses (Pugilistic Parkinson's syndrome) and ran out of money. It was in the late 1960s that Louis also became addicted to cocaine. He began suffering from paranoia and delusions. His wife was forced to have him committed to a Denver mental hospital in 1970. Louis was eventually able to overcome his addiction. In his later years, he got a job welcoming tourists to the Caesar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas, where many world boxing champions and legends from other walks of life, including old rival Max Schmeling, would visit him. In fact, they became close personal friends over the years, and the compassionate Schmeling would often send him money. They remained friends until his death, when Schmeling paid for the funeral and was one of the pallbearers. Louis also became close friends with Billy Conn. After Louis's death, Conn wrote an article in Reader's Digest magazine called "Unforgettable Joe Louis". He recalled their classic fight and how close he came to defeating Louis. He ended the article with the words, "I was proud to have fought him and prouder still to have been his friend". Max Schmeling was especially heartbroken by Louis's death until his own in 2005. Someone once asked Max on his 90th birthday if he had any regrets. "I only have one" he replied "I regret Joe isn't still alive and we were still friends".

Joe Louis died of a heart attack in 1981. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Louis' life prompted a writer to say once that: Joe Louis is a hero to his race, the human race.

He has a sports complex named after him in Detroit, the Joe Louis Arena, where the Detroit Red Wings play their NHL games. There is also a large statue of his fist in Detroit as a memorial to the power of his punch both inside and outside the ring. On March 25, 2004, two men, Brett Cashman and John T. White, pleaded guilty on charges of defacing the Joe Louis monument. They had allegedly covered it with white paint on February 23 of that year.

Louis was named by Ring Magazine's as boxing's number one puncher in history in 2003. He was also named as the magazine's fighter of the year on four occasions, bettered only by Muhammad Ali's five awards.

Louis is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame, and will always remain there as one of the best.

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 arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot high pyramidal framework.

Preceded by:
James J. Braddock
Heavyweight boxing champion
Succeeded by:
Ezzard Charles

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