When Joe Louis Boxed Nazi Favorite Max Schmeling

When Joe Louis Boxed Nazi Favorite Max Schmeling


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Joe Louis wanted redemption, to remain the heavyweight boxing champion of the world and to avenge his sole defeat. Max Schmeling wanted repetition, the chance to regain the title he had lost and to defeat the younger man, just as he had beaten him two years earlier. As the bell rang and they walked to the center of a 20-foot square boxing ring in the middle of New York’s Yankee Stadium, all each man wanted was to have his hand raised in sporting victory.

But for the more than 70,000 in attendance, and the millions listening to radio broadcasts around the world, there was so much more at stake. The year was 1938, and as storm clouds gathered over Europe, African American Louis and Germany’s Schmeling were unintentional combatants in a preliminary proxy skirmish.

Schmeling was born in Klein Luckow, Germany, in 1905; Louis in Lafayette, Alabama nine years later. Schmeling made his debut as a professional boxer in 1925 and began fighting in the United States—then the undisputed global epicenter of the sport—in 1928. In 1930, he won the heavyweight championship against Jack Sharkey, before losing it to the same man two years later.

By 1936, he had seven losses to go with his 48 wins, and at 31 was considered old for a heavyweight boxer. He seemed the perfect foil for unbeaten up-and-coming, hard-hitting American phenom Louis.

The 1936 Match: 12 Rounds, Then a Knock-Out

But Schmeling had studied Louis and had noticed flaws in the American’s technique—particularly the way, after throwing his left hand, he briefly dropped it low, leaving his chin exposed to Schmeling’s powerful right hand. Schmeling exploited that mistake mercilessly, beating Louis for 12 rounds until finally knocking him out and handing him his first defeat.

It would prove to be the high point of Schmeling’s career. Although he had been a popular figure in the New York fight community, by the time he and Louis fought again two years later, he and the country he represented were viewed through a much darker lens. It was becoming impossible to ignore the growing threat posed by Nazi Germany to those within and beyond its borders.

Schmeling Never Joined the Nazis, But Also Didn't Reject Them

While Schmeling did not support the Nazis and never joined the party, he “enjoyed a comfortable relationship” with them. He gave the Nazi salute in the ring after beating American Steve Hamas in Munich. He went hunting with Nazi military leader Herman Göring and attended the annual rallies in Nuremburg.

Following his win over Louis, he watched films of the fight with Adolf Hitler, who insisted they be shown across Germany. Joseph Goebbels publicly praised him. Hitler’s soon-to-be-wife Eva Braun privately confessed in her journal her obsession with him. (Conversely, Schmeling resisted pressure to split with his Jewish-American manager, and sheltered two young Jewish boys during Kristallnacht.)

After James Braddock (known as the “Cinderella Man”) claimed the heavyweight championship in 1935, he refused to give Schmeling a shot at his crown. Instead, he defended against Louis in 1937, who knocked him out in the eighth round to become heavyweight champion of the world. But Louis insisted that his victory was incomplete.

“I ain’t no champion ‘till I beat Schmeling,” he declared.

And so, on June 22, 1938, the two men squared off again.

Louis vs. Schmeling: Match Two

The American sporting public eagerly devoured news of the fight’s build up, seeing it as an opportunity for an American sporting hero to stick a thumb in the eye of Hitler’s Aryan dreams. The irony, of course, was that, while African Americans understandably revered Louis as a hero, much of white America draped its support in racist disdain. Margaret Garrahan of the Birmingham News, for example, opined that Louis was a “tan-skinned throw-back to the creature of primitive swamps who gloried in battles and blood.”

Writing in 2007, boxing historian Thomas Hauser noted that, “It was the first time that many white Americans openly rooted for a black man against a white opponent. It was also the first time that many people heard a black man referred to simply as ‘the American.’” Louis himself pierced the hypocrisy of the situation more prosaically: “White Americans—even while some of them still were lynching black people in the South—were depending on me to K.O. Germany.”

The fight itself was dramatic but brief. Louis poured everything into his preparation, while Schmeling stated publicly that he could see no way the American could correct his previous mistakes. The German was wrong. Louis tore into Schmeling from the opening bell, dropping him three times and knocking him out in the very first round. The fight had lasted just two minutes and four seconds.

“Now I feel like the champ,” said Louis, who would go on to make a total of 25 consecutive title defenses, a record that still stands. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional prizefighters who ever lived.

“Looking back, I'm almost happy I lost that fight,” Schmeling said in 1975. “Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory. I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal.”

Louis and Schmeling met again when World War II had ended and became friends, bonded in perpetuity by the intensity of their rivalry. Louis died in April 1981 at the age of just 66. Schmeling was among his pallbearers.


American Experience

Corbis

Joe Louis was the 10-to-1 favorite over the German boxer Max Schmeling before their first bout on June 19, 1936. Each man was fighting for a shot at the world heavyweight boxing championship.

Expectations
The two fighters appeared to be on different trajectories. Louis's career had been a meteoric rise to the top. Just two more fights and he would be world heavyweight champion. Schmeling had been at the top, winning and losing the title controversially. In 1930, Jack Sharkey had hit Schmeling below the belt and was disqualified, giving the German the title. Schmeling fought Sharkey again in 1932, and most boxing authorities were surprised when Sharkey won on decision.

Knockouts vs. Decisions
Physically, Louis and Schmeling were a close match, but they entered the ring with different strategies. They were within a half inch in height. They both had a 76-inch arm reach. Louis, at age 22, was a natural talent, strong and quick with an amazing ability to take a punch. Schmeling would turn 31 that year he still had a powerful right fist but had a more cautious approach in the ring. Most of Louis's wins came on knockouts. Schmeling often won on decisions, learning about his opponents in the first rounds and then wearing them down.

Schmeling's Homework
Schmeling prepared well for the 1936 fight, both psychologically -- trying to dispel the "Joe Louis myth" that had defeated other boxers before they stepped into the ring -- and strategically -- studying hours of film of Louis's boxing style. Schmeling watched the films backwards and forwards, literally. Watching Louis so carefully helped Schmeling to recognize a pattern in Louis's punches and thus gave him a split second of anticipation. He also noticed that for the tiniest moment between lefts, Louis often dropped his guard. Schmeling came to believe that, if he could stand close enough, taking the punishment from Louis's fists, he would occasionally have a chance to deliver his right, the best weapon in Schmeling's arsenal. "Louis's one weakness matched perfectly my greatest strength, the one with which I had made my career," the German would later write. "Louis and I were, so to say, 'made for each other.'"

Louis's Overconfidence
Louis, meanwhile, went to Hollywood to play a boxer in a movie, Spirit of Youth. Still a newlywed, he spent time with his wife, and with other women. "Other girls were coming around like flies," Louis recalled. "One time Chappie [Blackburn, his trainer] actually took a stick and threatened them. I found them anyway." Louis lacked focus: he overate and undertrained. He took time off to golf. His managers worried that he was losing too much weight.

Knockout
Like Louis, fight fans assumed Schmeling would be another easy mark. Only 45,000 showed up at Yankee Stadium. The fight went as Schmeling planned. When he saw his opening in the second round, he struck hard. Louis managed to stay in the ring for ten more rounds before the first knockout of his career.

Devastating Blow
For Louis, it was much more than a defeat on the canvas. The young boxer had become a symbol of enormous pride among African Americans, since he had taken on whites at their own game and triumphed. Louis's loss was a devastating blow to the black community. The black press lambasted Louis for letting them down.

Superior Race
Schmeling returned to Germany a national hero. Although the boxer did not join or support the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels found a willing public relations tool in Schmeling. Goebbels manufactured quotes for the fighter, who pronounced himself a member of a superior race.

Heavyweight Title
Despite the win, Schmeling was unable to arrange a title fight with James J. Braddock, the American who wore the heavyweight crown. Adolf Hitler's increasingly threatening regime made the possibility of losing the championship to Germany unpalatable to American fans, so Schmeling's attempts to fight were blocked. The matchup — and title — went to Louis in 1937.

Rematch
Although Braddock would not fight Schmeling, Louis needed to beat the German to make his title definitive. The Louis-Schmeling rematch, on June 22, 1938, again at Yankee Stadium, took place before a sellout crowd of 70,000.

Fighting for Their Nations
The two boxers' second meeting carried heavy political significance. Schmeling represented a government that he did not support, but Louis was comfortable taking on the mantle of the American people. "Here I was, a black man," he would recall. "I had the burden of representing all America. They tell me I was responsible for a lot of change in race relations in America. White Americans -- even while some of them still were lynching black people in the South — were depending on me to K.O. Germany."

Quick Bout
The second fight went quickly. Louis pummeled Schmeling in the first round and knocked him out. The German went down so quickly that the president of the New York Boxing Commission visited him in the hospital to determine whether he had faked his injuries and thrown the fight. This clearly wasn't the case. Americans celebrated Louis's victory with wild abandon. And for Joe Louis, it was a personal and racial redemption. Schmeling returned to Germany, where he disappeared from public life.

Decisive Moments for Both Men
The two Louis-Schmeling fights were the highest and lowest points of both boxers' careers. Schmeling, disappointed with the way he won his earlier championship match against Sharkey, could celebrate his upset victory over Louis without reservation. Louis had never been knocked down in a professional fight, never mind knocked out, and his loss was a painful learning experience and motivator for future fights. In the second match, Schmeling sustained terrible injuries and the Louis fight was his last appearance on the world boxing stage. Louis, for his part, felt his title win over Braddock was hollow without beating Schmeling the victory over Schmeling was when he truly considered himself world champion.


The Amazing Story of the Jew who Defeated Hitler’s Favorite Boxer

Heavyweight fights have the power to stop the world. From last year&rsquos epic, Fight of the Year showstopper between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko, through the epics of the Nineties as Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson locked horns, even further back to the days of the Greatest, Muhammad Ali and his tussles with Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston and Ken Norton and into the annals of history, there are few sporting events that can bring the world together and define a sporting era like a big fight in boxing&rsquos showpiece division.

One of the reasons why boxing, and particularly heavyweight boxing, can surpass almost any other sport in the public consciousness is that it is unique individual and symbolic value. Two men, locked one on one in the ring in a battle of both body and mind, has a potential to hold the weight of narrative in a way that is difficult to compare in sports or indeed, in wider culture.

Take the greatest sportsman of all time, Muhammad Ali. When Ali fought Ernie Terrell, a fighter who refused to call him by his new name and insisted on calling him Cassius Clay, he beat him to a pulp shouting &ldquoStand Up White America!. When Ali refused to go to Vietnam &ndash &ldquoI ain&rsquot got no quarrel with those Vietcong&hellipno Vietcong ever called me nigger&rdquo &ndash he bore on his back the struggles of his entire community. When Ali conquered all and called himself the Greatest, he was doing it to point out to the establishment that his skills in the ring had made him victorious outside of it.

Bearing that in mind, it is not lightly that we say that the most symbolic, most politically charged boxing fight of all time did not feature the Louisville Lip. It predated his birth by 9 years, taking place at Yankee Stadium in New York City on June 8, 1933. The combatants were the world heavyweight champion, the German Max Schmeling, and the contender, Jewish American Max Baer.

Max Schmeling, the German heavyweight. BoxRec.

Max Schmeling was known to be Hitler&rsquos favourite and was regularly used by the Nazi propaganda machine as a paragon of German supremacy, the proof that the Aryan race was able to conquer all. Schmeling himself was not a Nazi &ndash his promoter was Jewish &ndash but he was a godsend to Goebbels&rsquo agenda. Schmeling was from the small northeastern town of Klein Lucknow and raised in Hamburg. He fought his way up through the ranks of fighters in Germany, turning pro in 1924 and becoming national champ in 1926. He began to fight in the States in 1928 and by 1930, had won a world title, albeit after a low blow had seen the previous champion, Jake Sharkey, disqualified. Now a champion, Schmeling was feted back in Germany and raised up as the best example of the master race.

Max Baer, the Jewish challenger. Jewish Book Council.

In the other corner was Max Baer. Baer himself was not actually Jewish and he was raised in a non-observant household &ndash his mother was of Scots-Irish ancestry &ndash but his father had Jewish descent and he wore the Star of David on his shorts. He turned professional in 1930 and almost quit very soon afterwards, having accidentally killed an opponent in the ring. Baer was distraught and considered giving up, but decided to continue. He was charged with manslaughter for the incident and acquitted, but was suspended in his native California. He switched trainers, taking on the legendary former champ Jack Dempsey, and began to get fights on the East Coast.


Contents

Born in rural Chambers County, Alabama—in a ramshackle dwelling on Bell Chapel Road, located about 1 mile (2 kilometres) off state route 50 and roughly 6 miles (10 kilometres) from LaFayette—Louis was the seventh of eight children of Munroe Barrow and Lillie (Reese) Barrow. [6] [7] He weighed 11 pounds (5 kg) at birth. [6] Both of his parents were children of former slaves, alternating between sharecropping and rental farming. [8] Munroe was predominantly African American, with some white ancestry, while Lillie was half Cherokee. [8]

Louis suffered from a speech impediment and spoke very little until about the age of six. [9] Munroe Barrow was committed to a mental institution in 1916 and, as a result, Joe knew very little of his biological father. [10] Around 1920, Louis's mother married Pat Brooks, a local construction contractor, having received word that Munroe Barrow had died while institutionalized (in reality, Munroe Barrow lived until 1938, unaware of his son's fame). [11]

In 1926, shaken by a gang of white men in the Ku Klux Klan, Louis's family moved to Detroit, Michigan, forming part of the post-World War I Great Migration. [12] [13] Joe's brother worked for Ford Motor Company (where Joe would himself work for a time at the River Rouge Plant) [14] and the family settled into a home at 2700 Catherine (now Madison) Street in Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood. [15] [16]

Louis attended Bronson Vocational School for a time to learn cabinet-making. [14] [16]

The Great Depression hit the Barrow 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. His mother attempted to get him interested in playing the violin. [17] A classic story is that he tried to hide his pugilistic ambitions from his mother by carrying his boxing gloves inside his violin case.

Louis made his debut in early 1932 at the age of 17. Legend has it that before the fight, the barely literate Louis wrote his name so large that there was no room for his last name, and thus became known as "Joe Louis" for the remainder of his boxing career. More likely, Louis simply omitted his last name to keep his boxing a secret from his mother. After this debut—a loss to future Olympian Johnny Miler—Louis compiled numerous amateur victories, eventually winning the club championship of his Brewster Street recreation center, the home of many aspiring Golden Gloves fighters. [16]

In 1933, Louis won the Detroit-area Golden Gloves Novice Division championship against Joe Biskey for the light heavyweight classification. [16] He later lost 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 against Max Bauer. [16] [18] However, a hand injury forced Louis to miss the New York/Chicago Champions' cross-town bout for the ultimate Golden Gloves championship. In April 1934, he followed up his Chicago performance by winning the light heavyweight United States Amateur Champion National AAU tournament in St. Louis, Missouri. [16] [18]

By the end of his amateur career, Louis's record was 50–4, with 43 knockouts. [19] [16] [nb 2]

Joe Louis had only three losses in his 69 professional fights. He tallied 52 knockouts and held the championship from 1937 to 1949, the longest span of any heavyweight titleholder. After returning from retirement, Louis failed to regain the championship in 1950, and his career ended after he was knocked out by Rocky Marciano in 1951. [20]

Early years Edit

Louis's amateur performances attracted the interest of professional promoters, and he was soon represented by a black Detroit-area bookmaker named John Roxborough. As Louis explained in his autobiography, Roxborough convinced the young fighter that white managers would have no real interest in seeing a black boxer work his way up to title contention:

[Roxborough] told me about the fate of most black fighters, ones with white managers, who wound up burned-out and broke before they reached their prime. The white managers were not interested in the men they were handling but in the money they could make from them. They didn't take the proper time to see that their fighters had a proper training, that they lived comfortably, or ate well, or had some pocket change. Mr. Roxborough was talking about Black Power before it became popular. [16] [21]

Roxborough knew a Chicago area boxing promoter named Julian Black who already had a stable of mediocre boxers against which Louis could hone his craft, this time in the heavyweight division. After becoming part of the management team, Black hired fellow Chicago native Jack "Chappy" Blackburn as Louis's trainer. Louis' initial professional fights were all in the Chicago area, his professional debut coming on July 4, 1934, against Jack Kracken in the Bacon Casino on Chicago's south side. [16] Louis earned $59 for knocking out Kracken in the first round. $59.00 in 1934 is equivalent to $1,148.60 in 2020 dollars. [16] Louis won all 12 of his professional fights that year, 10 by knockout. [16]

In September 1934, while promoting a Detroit-area "coming home" bout for Louis against Canadian Alex Borchuk, Roxborough was pressured by members of the Michigan State Boxing Commission to have Louis sign with white management. Roxborough refused and continued advancing Louis's career with bouts against heavyweight contenders Art Sykes and Stanley Poreda.

When training for a fight against Lee Ramage, Louis noticed a young female secretary for the black newspaper at the gym. After Ramage was defeated, the secretary, Marva Trotter, was invited to the celebration party at Chicago's Grand Hotel. Trotter later became Louis's first wife in 1935. [16]

During this time, Louis also met Truman Gibson, the man who would become his personal lawyer. [16] As a young associate at a law firm hired by Julian Black, Gibson was charged with personally entertaining Louis during the pendency of business deals.

Title contention Edit

Although Louis' management was finding him bouts against legitimate heavyweight contenders, no path to the title was forthcoming. While professional boxing was not officially segregated, many white Americans had become wary of the prospect of another black champion in the wake of Jack Johnson's highly unpopular (among whites) "reign" atop the heavyweight division. [22] During an era of severe anti-black repression, Jack Johnson's unrepentant masculinity and marriage to a white woman engendered an enormous backlash that greatly limited opportunities of black fighters in the heavyweight division. Black boxers were denied championship bouts, and there were few heavyweight black contenders at the time, though there were African Americans who fought for titles in other weight divisions, and a few notable black champions, such as Tiger Flowers. Louis and his handlers would counter the legacy of Johnson by emphasizing the Brown Bomber's modesty and sportsmanship. [22] [23] Biographer Gerald Astor stated that "Joe Louis' early boxing career was stalked by the specter of Jack Johnson". [22] [24]

If Louis were to rise to national prominence among such cultural attitudes, a change in management would be necessary. 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 black nightclub, and negotiated a three-year exclusive boxing promotion deal. [25] The contract, however, did not keep Roxborough and Black from attempting to cash in as Louis's 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. [21]

Black and Roxborough continued to carefully and deliberately shape Louis's media image. Mindful of the tremendous public backlash Johnson had suffered for his unapologetic attitude and flamboyant lifestyle, they drafted "Seven Commandments" for Louis's personal conduct. These included:

  • Never have his picture taken with a white woman
  • Never gloat over a fallen opponent
  • Never engage in fixed fights
  • Live and fight clean [26][27]

As a result, Louis was generally portrayed in the white media as a modest, clean-living person, which facilitated his burgeoning celebrity status. [28]

With the backing of major promotion, Louis fought thirteen times in 1935. The bout that helped put him in the media spotlight occurred on June 25, when Louis knocked out 6'6", 265-pound former world heavyweight champion Primo Carnera in six rounds. Foreshadowing the Louis–Schmeling rivalry to come, the Carnera bout featured a political dimension. Louis's victory over 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, which was attempting to maintain its independence by fending off an invasion by fascist Italy. [29] [30] [31] America's white press began promoting Louis's image in the context of the era's racism nicknames they created included the "Mahogany Mauler", "Chocolate Chopper", "Coffee-Colored KO King", "Safari Sandman", and one that stuck: "The Brown Bomber". [31] [32]

Helping the white press to overcome its reluctance to feature a black contender was the fact that in the mid-1930s boxing desperately needed a marketable hero. Since the retirement of Jack Dempsey in 1929, the sport had devolved into a sordid mixture of poor athletes, gambling, fixed fights, thrown matches, and control of the sport by organized crime. [22] New York Times Columnist Edward Van Ness wrote, "Louis . is a boon to boxing. Just as Dempsey led the sport out of the doldrums . so is Louis leading the boxing game out of a slump." [22] Likewise, biographer Bill Libby asserted that "The sports world was hungry for a great champion when Louis arrived in New York in 1935." [22] [33]

While the mainstream press was beginning to embrace Louis, many still opposed the prospect of another black heavyweight champion. In September 1935, on the eve of Louis's fight with former titleholder Max Baer, Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich wrote about some Americans' hopes for the white contender, "They say Baer will surpass himself in the knowledge that he is the lone white hope for the defense of Nordic superiority in the prize ring." [22] However, the hopes of white supremacists would soon be dashed.

Although Baer had been knocked down only once before in his professional career (by Frankie Campbell), Louis dominated the former champion, knocking him out in the fourth round. Unknowingly, Baer suffered from a unique disadvantage in the fight: earlier that evening, Louis had married Marva Trotter at a friend's apartment and was eager to end the fight in order to consummate the relationship. [34] Later that year, Louis also knocked out Paolino Uzcudun, who had never been knocked down before.

Louis vs. Schmeling I Edit

By this time, Louis was ranked as the No. 1 contender in the heavyweight division [35] and had won the Associated Press' "Athlete of the Year" award for 1935. [31] What was considered to be a final tune-up bout before an eventual title shot was scheduled for June 1936 against Max Schmeling. Although a former world heavyweight champion, Schmeling, who had been knocked out by the same Max Baer Louis had handily beaten, was not considered a threat to Louis, then with a professional record of 27–0. [36] Schmeling had won his title on a technicality when Jack Sharkey was disqualified after giving Schmeling a low blow in 1930. Schmeling was also 30 years old at the time of the Louis bout and allegedly past his prime. [36] Louis' training retreat was located at Lakewood, New Jersey, where he was first able to practice the game of golf, which would later become a lifelong passion. [37] Noted entertainer Ed Sullivan had initially sparked Louis' interest in the sport by giving an instructional book to Joe's wife Marva. [4] Louis spent significant time on the golf course rather than training for the match. [21] [38]

Conversely, Schmeling prepared intently for the bout. He had thoroughly studied Louis's style and believed he had found a weakness. [39] 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. [40] The event would lead to the historic rematch of the two, in one of the world's most famous sporting events.

World championship Edit

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. [41]

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. [41] Gould's demands were therefore onerous: Jacobs would have to pay 10% of all future boxing promotion profits (including any future profits from Louis's future bouts) for ten years. [42] Braddock and Gould would eventually receive more than $150,000 from this arrangement. [42] Well before the actual fight, Jacobs and Gould publicly announced that their fighters would fight for the heavyweight title on June 22, 1937. [42] Figuring that the New York State Athletic Commission would not sanction the fight in deference to MSG and Schmeling, Jacobs scheduled the fight for Chicago. [42]

Each of the parties involved worked to facilitate the controversial Braddock–Louis matchup. Louis did his part by knocking out former champion Jack Sharkey on August 18, 1936. Meanwhile, Gould trumped up anti-Nazi sentiment against Schmeling, [43] and Jacobs defended a lawsuit by MSG to halt the Braddock–Louis fight. A federal court in Newark, New Jersey, eventually ruled that Braddock's contractual obligation to stage his title defense at MSG was unenforceable for lack of mutual consideration. [43]

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 one, but afterward could accomplish little. After inflicting constant punishment, Louis defeated Braddock in round eight, knocking him out cold with a strong right hand that busted James' teeth through his gum shield and lip and sent him to the ground for a few minutes. It was the first and only time that Braddock was knocked out (the one other stoppage of Braddock's career was a TKO due to a cut). Louis's ascent to the world heavyweight championship 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. [2] 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 black 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. [44]

Initial title defenses Edit

Despite his championship, 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." [36] Louis's manager Mike Jacobs attempted to arrange a rematch in 1937, but negotiations broke down when Schmeling demanded 30% of the gate. [45] When Schmeling instead attempted to arrange for a fight against British Empire champion Tommy Farr, known as the "Tonypandy Terror",—ostensibly for a world championship to rival the claims of American boxing authorities—Jacobs outmaneuvered him, offering Farr a guaranteed $60,000 to fight Louis instead. The offer was too lucrative for Farr to turn down. [46]

On August 30, 1937, after a postponement of four days due to rain, Louis and Farr finally touched gloves at New York's Yankee Stadium before a crowd of approximately 32,000. [47] Louis fought one of the hardest battles of his life. The bout was closely contested and went the entire 15 rounds, with Louis being unable to knock Farr down. Referee Arthur Donovan was even seen shaking Farr's hand after the bout, in apparent congratulation. [48] Nevertheless, after the score was announced, Louis had won a controversial unanimous decision. [48] [49] Time described the scene thus: "After collecting the judges' votes, referee Arthur Donovan announced that Louis had won the fight on points. The crowd of 50,000 . amazed that Farr had not been knocked out or even knocked down, booed the decision."

It seems the crowd believed that referee Arthur Donovan, Sr. had raised Farr's glove in victory. Seven years later, in his published account of the fight, Donovan spoke of the "mistake" that may have led to this confusion. He wrote:

As Tommy walked back to his corner after shaking Louis' hand, I followed him and seized his glove. "Tommy, a wonderful perform—" I began . Then I dropped his hand like a red-hot coal! He had started to raise his arm. He thought I had given him the fight and the world championship! I literally ran away, shaking my head and shouting. "No! No! No!" realising how I had raised his hopes for a few seconds only to dash them to the ground . That's the last time my emotions will get the better of me in a prize fight! There was much booing at the announced result, but, as I say it, it was all emotional. I gave Tommy two rounds and one even—and both his winning rounds were close. [50]

Speaking over the radio after the fight, Louis admitted that he had been hurt twice. [51]

In preparation for the inevitable rematch with Schmeling, Louis tuned up with bouts against Nathan Mann and Harry Thomas.

Louis vs. Schmeling II Edit

The rematch between Louis and Schmeling would become one of the most famous boxing matches of all time and is remembered as one of the major sports events of the 20th century. [36] Following his defeat of Louis in 1936, Schmeling had become 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." [36] 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." [52]

When Schmeling arrived in New York City in June 1938 for the rematch, he was accompanied by a Nazi party publicist who issued statements that a black man could not defeat Schmeling and that when Schmeling won, his prize money would be used to build tanks in Germany. Schmeling's hotel was picketed by anti-Nazi protesters in the days before the fight. [36]

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 (including 58% of radio-equipped U.S. households [53] ), 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. [36]

The fight lasted two minutes and four seconds. [54] Louis battered Schmeling with a series of swift attacks, forcing him against the ropes and giving him a paralyzing body blow (Schmeling afterward claimed it was an illegal kidney punch). Schmeling was knocked down three times and only managed to throw two punches in the entire bout. On the third knockdown, Schmeling's trainer threw in the towel and referee Arthur Donovan stopped the fight. [36]

Well-established as one of the most significant boxing matches in history, [55] [56] [57] the fight has been widely regarded as among the most important or historic sports events of all time. [58] [59] [60] [57] [61] It was the first time that many white Americans openly cheered for a black man against a white opponent. [62]

"Bum of the Month Club" Edit

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". [26] Notables of this lambasted pantheon include:

  • world light heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis who, attempting to move up a weight class, was knocked out in the first round by Louis on January 25, 1939. [63]
  • "Two Ton" Tony Galento, who was able to knock Louis to the canvas with a left hook in the third round of their bout on June 28, 1939, before letting his guard down and being knocked out in the fourth. [63]
  • Chilean Arturo Godoy, whom Louis fought twice in 1940, on February 9 and June 20. Louis won the first bout by a split-decision, and the rematch by a knockout in the eighth round. [63] , putative New England heavyweight champion, whose fight against Louis is probably best known for being the first heavyweight title bout held in Boston, Massachusetts, (at the Boston Garden on December 16, 1940). The popular local challenger dodged his way around Louis before being unable to respond to the sixth-round bell. [63] , who pressed Louis for nearly five rounds at Madison Square Garden on January 31, 1941, before succumbing to a series of body blows. [63]
  • Gus Dorazio, of whom Louis remarked, "At least he tried", after being leveled by a short right hand in the second round at Philadelphia's Convention Hall on February 17. [63] , who endured thirteen rounds of punishment before 18,908 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit on March 21 before referee Sam Hennessy declared a TKO.
  • Tony Musto, who, at 5'7½" and 198 pounds, was known as "Baby Tank". Despite a unique crouching style, Musto was slowly worn down over eight and a half rounds in St. Louis on April 8, and the fight was called a TKO because of a severe cut over Musto's eye. [63][64] (brother of former champion Max), who was leading the May 23, 1941, bout in Washington, D.C., until an eventual barrage by Louis, capped by a hit at the sixth round bell. Referee Arthur Donovan disqualified Baer before the beginning of the seventh round as a result of stalling by Baer's manager. [63]

Despite its derogatory nickname, most of the group were top-ten heavyweights. Of the 12 fighters Louis faced during this period, five were rated by The Ring as top-10 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 Paychek) were ranked in the top 10 in a different year. [65]

Billy Conn fight Edit

Louis' string of lightly regarded competition ended with his bout against Billy Conn, the light heavyweight champion and a highly regarded contender. The fighters met on June 18, 1941, in front of a crowd of 54,487 fans at the Polo Grounds in New York City. [66] The fight turned out to be what is commonly considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxing fights of all time. [ citation needed ]

Conn would not gain weight for the challenge against Louis, saying instead that he would rely on a "hit and run" strategy. This prompted Louis' famous response: "He can run, but he can't hide." [14] [67]

However, Louis had clearly underestimated Conn's threat. In his autobiography, Joe Louis said:

I made a mistake going into that fight. I knew Conn was kinda small and I didn't want them to say in the papers that I beat up on some little guy so the day before the fight I did a little roadwork to break a sweat and drank as little water as possible so I could weigh in under 200 pounds. Chappie was as mad as hell. But Conn was a clever fighter, he was like a mosquito, he'd sting and move. [66]

Conn had the better of the fight through 12 rounds, although Louis was able to stun Conn with a left hook in the fifth, cutting his eye and nose. By the eighth round, Louis began suffering from dehydration. By the twelfth round, Louis was exhausted, with Conn ahead on two of three boxing scorecards. But against the advice of his corner, Conn continued to closely engage Louis in the later stages of the fight. Louis made the most of the opportunity, knocking Conn out with two seconds left in the thirteenth round. [66]

The contest created an instant rivalry that Louis's career had lacked since the Schmeling era, and a rematch with Conn was planned for late 1942. The rematch had to be abruptly canceled, however, after Conn broke his hand in a much-publicized fight with his father-in-law, Major League ballplayer Jimmy "Greenfield" Smith. [68] By the time Conn was ready for the rematch, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place.

Louis fought a charity bout for the Navy Relief Society against his former opponent Buddy Baer on January 9, 1942, which raised $47,000 for the fund. [14] The next day, he volunteered to enlist as a private in the United States Army at Camp Upton, Long Island. [69] [70] Newsreel cameras recorded his induction, including a staged scene in which a soldier-clerk asked, "What's your occupation?", to which Louis replied, "Fighting and let us at them Japs." [71]

Another military charity bout on March 27, 1942, (against another former opponent, Abe Simon) netted $36,146. [14] 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." [22] The media widely reported the comment, instigating a surge of popularity for Louis. Slowly, the press began to eliminate its stereotypical racial references when covering Louis and instead treated him as a sports hero. [22] Despite the public relations boon, Louis's charitable fights proved financially costly. Although he saw none of the roughly $90,000 raised by these and other charitable fights, the IRS later credited these amounts as taxable income paid to Louis. [72] After the war, the IRS pursued the issue.

For basic training, Louis was assigned to a segregated cavalry unit based in Fort Riley, Kansas. The assignment was at the suggestion of his friend and lawyer Truman Gibson, who knew of Louis's love for horsemanship. [69] Gibson had previously become a civilian advisor to the War Department, in charge of investigating claims of harassment against black soldiers. Accordingly, Louis used this personal connection to help the cause of various black soldiers with whom he came into contact. In one noted episode, Louis contacted Gibson in order to facilitate the Officer Candidate School (OCS) applications of a group of black recruits at Fort Riley, which had been inexplicably delayed for several months. [73] [74] Among the OCS applications Louis facilitated was that of a young UCLA athletic legend Jackie Robinson, later to break the baseball color barrier. [73] [75] The episode spawned a personal friendship between the two men. [76]

Realizing Louis's potential for raising esprit de corps among the troops, the Army placed him in its Special Services Division rather than sending him into combat. [70] Louis went on a celebrity tour with other notables, including fellow boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. [71] He traveled more than 35,000 km (22,000 mi) and staged 96 boxing exhibitions before two million soldiers. [14] In England during 1944, he was reported to have signed as a player for Liverpool Football Club as a publicity stunt. [77]

In addition to his travels, Louis was the focus of a media recruitment campaign encouraging African-American men to enlist in the Armed Services, despite the military's racial segregation. When he was asked about his decision to enter the racially segregated U.S. Army, he said: "Lots of things wrong with America, but Hitler ain't going to fix them." In 1943, Louis made an appearance in the wartime Hollywood musical This Is the Army, directed by Michael Curtiz. He appeared as himself in a musical number, "The Well-Dressed Man in Harlem," which emphasized the importance of African-American soldiers and promoted their enlistment.

Louis's celebrity power was not, however, merely directed toward African Americans. In a famous wartime recruitment slogan, he 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. [2] Never before had white Americans embraced a black man as their representative to the world. [2]

Although Louis never saw combat, his military service saw challenges of its own. During his travels, he often experienced blatant racism. On one occasion, a military policeman (MP) ordered Louis and Ray Robinson to move their seats to a bench in the rear of an Alabama Army camp bus depot. "We ain't moving", said Louis. The MP tried to arrest them, but Louis forcefully argued the pair out of the situation. [78] In another incident, he allegedly had to resort to exerting his influence, even bribery to persuade a commanding officer to drop charges against now Lt. Jackie Robinson, who had also resisted being told to move his seat on a southern bus, resulting in his punching a captain who had called Robinson a "nigger". [74]

Louis was eventually promoted to the rank of technical sergeant on April 9, 1945. On September 23 of the same year, he was awarded the Legion of Merit (a military decoration rarely awarded to enlisted soldiers) for "incalculable contribution to the general morale". [70] [79] Receipt of the honor qualified him for immediate release from military service on October 1, 1945. [14] [80]

Louis emerged from his wartime service significantly in debt. In addition to his looming tax bill—which had not been finally determined at the time, but was estimated at greater than $100,000 [71] —Jacobs claimed that Louis owed him $250,000. [81]

Despite the financial pressure on Louis to resume boxing, his long-awaited rematch against Billy Conn had to be postponed to the summer of 1946, when weather conditions could accommodate a large outdoor audience. On June 19, a disappointing 40,000 saw the rematch at Yankee Stadium, [71] 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. Although the attendance did not meet expectations, the fight was still the most profitable of Louis's career to date. His share of the purse was $600,000, of which Louis' managers got $140,000, his ex-wife $66,000 and the U.S. state of New York $30,000. [71]

After trouble finding another suitable opponent, 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. [71]

Louis was under no illusion about the state of his boxing skills, yet he was too embarrassed to quit after the Walcott fight. Determined to win and retire with his title intact, Louis signed on for a rematch. On June 25, 1948, about 42,000 people came to Yankee Stadium to see the aging champion, who weighed 213½ pounds, the heaviest of his career to date. Walcott knocked Louis down in the third round, but Louis survived to knock out Walcott in the eleventh. [71]

Louis would not defend his title again before announcing his retirement from boxing on March 1, 1949. [82] In his bouts with Conn and Walcott, it had become apparent that Louis was no longer the fighter he had once been. As he had done earlier in his career, however, Louis would continue to appear in numerous exhibition matches worldwide. [14] [82] In August 1949 Cab Calloway rendered homage to the “king of the ring” with his song Ol’ Joe Louis. [83]

Post-retirement comeback Edit

At the time of Louis's initial retirement, the IRS was still completing its investigation of his prior tax returns, which had always been handled by Mike Jacobs's personal accountant. [84] In May 1950, the IRS finished a full audit of Louis's past returns and announced that, with interest and penalties, he owed the government more than $500,000. [71] Louis had no choice but to return to the ring.

After asking Gibson to take over his personal finances and switching his management from Jacobs and Roxborough to Marshall Miles, [54] [85] the Louis camp negotiated a deal with the IRS under which Louis would come out of retirement, with all Louis's net proceeds going to the IRS. 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 pounds, Louis was still strong, but his reflexes were gone and 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. [54] He knew he had lost even before Charles was declared the winner. The result was not the only disappointing aspect of the fight for Louis only 22,357 spectators paid to witness the event at Yankee Stadium, and his share of the purse was a mere $100,458. [54] Louis had to continue fighting.

After facing several club-level opponents and scoring an early knockout victory over EBU champion Lee Savold (also defeating top contender Jimmy Bivins by unanimous decision), the International Boxing Club guaranteed Louis $300,000 to face undefeated heavyweight contender Rocky Marciano on October 26, 1951. [71] Despite his being a 6-to-5 favorite, few boxing insiders believed Louis had a chance. [86] 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." [87] 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 Louis' 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." [88] Louis was dropped in the eighth round by a Marciano left and knocked through the ropes and out of the ring less than thirty seconds later.

In the dressing room after the fight, Louis's Army touring companion, Sugar Ray Robinson, wept. Marciano also attempted to console Louis, saying, "I'm sorry, Joe." [71] "What's the use of crying?" Louis said. "The better man won. I guess everything happens for the best." [71]

After facing Marciano, with the prospect of another significant payday all but gone, Louis retired for good from professional boxing. He would, as before, continue to tour on the exhibition circuit, with his last contest taking place on December 16, 1951, in Taipei, Taiwan, against Corporal Buford J. deCordova. [14] [82]

Despite Louis's lucrative purses over the years, most of the proceeds went to his handlers. Of the over $4.6 million earned during his boxing career, Louis himself received only about $800,000. [14] Louis was nevertheless extremely generous to his family, paying for homes, cars and education for his parents and siblings, [89] often with money fronted by Jacobs. [90] He invested in a number of businesses, all of which eventually failed, [89] including the Joe Louis Restaurant, the Joe Louis Insurance Company, a softball team called the Brown Bombers, the Joe Louis Milk Company, Joe Louis pomade (hair product), Joe Louis Punch (a drink), the Louis-Rower P.R. firm, a horse farm and the Rhumboogie Café in Chicago. [91] He gave liberally to the government as well, paying back the city of Detroit for any welfare money his family had received. [89]

A combination of this largesse and government intervention eventually put Louis in severe financial straits. His entrusting of his finances to former manager Mike Jacobs haunted him. After the $500,000 IRS tax bill was assessed, with interest accumulating every year, the need for cash precipitated Louis's post-retirement comeback. [71] [92] Even though his comeback earned him significant purses, the incremental tax rate in place at the time (90%) meant that these boxing proceeds did not even keep pace with interest on Louis's tax debt. As a result, by the end of the 1950s, he owed over $1 million in taxes and interest. [92] In 1953, when Louis's mother died, the IRS appropriated the $667 she had willed to Louis. [71] To bring in money, Louis engaged in numerous activities outside the ring. He appeared on various quiz shows, [92] and an old Army friend, Ash Resnick, gave Louis a job greeting tourists to the Caesars Palace hotel in Las Vegas, where Resnick was an executive. [92] For income, Louis even became a professional wrestler. He made his professional wrestling debut on March 16, 1956 in Washington, D.C. at the Uline Arena, defeating Cowboy Rocky Lee. After defeating Lee in a few matches, Louis discovered he had a heart ailment and retired from wrestling competition. However, he continued as a wrestling referee until 1972. [71] [93]

Louis remained a popular celebrity in his twilight years. His friends included former rival Max Schmeling, who provided Louis with financial assistance during his retirement [94] —and mobster Frank Lucas, who, disgusted with the government's treatment of Louis, once paid off a $50,000 tax lien held against him. [95] These payments, along with an eventual agreement in the early 1960s by the IRS to limit its collections to an amount based on Louis's current income, [71] allowed Louis to live comfortably toward the end of his life. [89]

After the Louis-Schmeling fight, Jack Dempsey expressed the opinion that he was glad he never had to face Joe Louis in the ring. When Louis fell on hard financial times, Dempsey served as honorary chairman of a fund to assist Louis. [96]

One of Louis's other passions was the game of golf, in which he also played a historic role. He was a long-time devotee of the sport since being introduced to the game before the first Schmeling fight in 1936. In 1952, Louis was invited to play as an amateur in the San Diego Open on a sponsor's exemption, becoming the first African American to play a PGA Tour event. [4] [5] Initially, the PGA of America was reluctant to allow Louis to enter the event, having a bylaw at the time limiting PGA membership to Caucasians. [3] Louis's celebrity status eventually pushed the PGA toward removing the bylaw, although the "Caucasian only" clause in the PGA of America's constitution was not amended until November 1961. [97] [98] The change, however, paved the way for the first generation of African-American professional golfers such as Calvin Peete. [3] Louis himself financially supported the careers of several other early black professional golfers, such as Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, James Black, Clyde Martin and Charlie Sifford. [4] He was also instrumental in founding The First Tee, a charity helping underprivileged children become acquainted with the game of golf. [3] His son, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., currently oversees the organization. [4]

In 2009, the PGA of America granted posthumous membership to Ted Rhodes, John Shippen and Bill Spiller, who were denied the opportunity to become PGA members during their professional careers. The PGA also has granted posthumous honorary membership to Louis. [99]

“I did the best I could with what I had.”

Louis had two children by wife Marva Trotter (daughter Jacqueline in 1943 and son Joseph Louis Barrow Jr. in 1947). They divorced in March 1945 only to remarry a year later, but were again divorced in February 1949. [71] [101] Marva moved on to an acting and modeling career. [79] [102] On Christmas Day 1955, Louis married Rose Morgan, a successful Harlem businesswoman their marriage was annulled in 1958. [101] Louis's final marriage—to Martha Jefferson, a lawyer from Los Angeles, on St. Patrick's Day 1959—lasted until his death. They had four children: another son named Joseph Louis Barrow Jr, John Louis Barrow, Joyce Louis Barrow, and Janet Louis Barrow. The younger Joe Louis Barrow Jr. lives in New York City and is involved in boxing. [89] [101] Though married four times, Louis discreetly enjoyed the company of other women like Lena Horne and Edna Mae Harris.

In 1940, Louis endorsed and campaigned for Republican Wendell Willkie for president. Louis said:

This country has been good to me. It gave me everything I have. I have never come out for any candidate before but I think Wendell L. Willkie will give us a square deal. So I am for Willkie because I think he will help my people, and I figure my people should be for him, too. [103]

Drugs took a toll on Louis in his later years. In 1969, he was hospitalized after collapsing on a New York City street. While the incident was at first credited to "physical breakdown," [101] underlying problems would soon surface. In 1970, he spent five months at the Colorado Psychiatric Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Denver, hospitalized by his wife, Martha, and his son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr., for paranoia. [101] In a 1971 book, Brown Bomber, by Barney Nagler, Louis disclosed the truth about these incidents, stating that his collapse in 1969 had been caused by cocaine, and that his subsequent hospitalization had been prompted by his fear of a plot to destroy him. [101] Strokes and heart ailments caused Louis's condition to deteriorate further later in the decade. He had surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm in 1977 and thereafter used a POV/scooter for a mobility aid. [14] [104]

Louis died of cardiac arrest in Desert Springs Hospital near Las Vegas 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. [105] His funeral was paid for in part by former competitor and friend, Max Schmeling, [106] who also acted as a pallbearer.

Louis appeared in six full-length films and two shorts, including a starring role in the 1938 race film Spirit of Youth, in which he played a boxer with many similarities to himself.

He was a guest on the television show You Bet Your Life in 1955.

In 1943, he was featured in the full-length movie This is the Army, which starred Ronald Reagan, with appearances by Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" and Irving Berlin, and which was directed by Michael Curtiz.

In 1953, Robert Gordon directed a movie about Louis's life, The Joe Louis Story. Filmed in Hollywood, it starred Golden Gloves fighter and Louis lookalike Coley Wallace in the title role. [107] The film suffered from low budget and production values, sluggishly intercutting clips from Louis’ actual bouts with indifferent audio synch.

Louis reigned as the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949, during which he participated in 26 championship fights, defeated 21 fighters, [108] [109] made 25 defenses and was a world champion for 11 years and 10 months. The latter two are still records in the heavyweight division, the former in any division. [110] Louis has won the most world heavyweight title fights in history, at 26. [111] [112] [113] His most remarkable record is that he knocked out 23 opponents in 27 title fights, including five world champions. [114] In addition to his accomplishments inside the ring, 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." [14] [115]

Louis was named fighter of the year four times by The Ring magazine in 1936, 1938, 1939, and 1941. His fights with Max Baer, Max Schmeling, Tommy Farr, Bob Pastor and Billy Conn were named fight of the year by that same magazine. Louis won the Sugar Ray Robinson Award in 1941. In 2005, Louis was ranked as the best heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization, [116] and was ranked number one on The Ring magazine's list of the "100 greatest punchers of all time". [117] [118] [119]

Louis is also remembered in sports outside of boxing. A former indoor sports venue was named after him in Detroit, the Joe Louis Arena, where the Detroit Red Wings played their NHL games from 1979 to 2017. [120] In 1936, Vince Leah, then a writer for the Winnipeg Tribune used Joe Louis's nickname to refer to the Winnipeg Football Club after a game. From that point, the team became known popularly as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. [121]

His recognition also transcends the sporting world. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Joe Louis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans. [122] 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. [123] Congress stated that he "did so much to bolster the spirit of the American people during one of the most crucial times in American history and which have endured throughout the years as a symbol of strength for the nation". [124] Following Louis' death, 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." [125]

A memorial to Louis was dedicated in Detroit (at Jefferson Avenue and 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. [126]

In an interview with Arsenio Hall in the late 1980s, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stated that his two biggest influences in boxing were Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis. [127]

On February 27, 2010, an 8-foot (2.4 m) bronze statue of Louis was unveiled in his Alabama hometown. The statue, by sculptor Casey Downing, Jr., sits on a base of red granite outside the Chambers County Courthouse. [128]

In 1993, he became the first boxer to be honored on a postage stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service. [129]

Various other facilities have been named after Joe Louis. In 1984, the four streets surrounding Madison Square Garden were named Joe Louis Plaza in his honor. The former Pipe O' Peace Golf Course in Riverdale, Illinois (a Chicago suburb), was in 1986 renamed "Joe Louis The Champ Golf Course". [130] American Legion Post 375 in Detroit is also named after Joe Louis. Completed in 1979 at a cost of $4 million, Joe Louis Arena, nicknamed The Joe, was a hockey arena located in downtown Detroit. It was the home of the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League from 1979 until 2017. The planned demolition of the Arena prompted the City of Detroit in 2017 to rename the Inner Circle Greenway as the Joe Louis Greenway. When completed, this 39-mile (63 km) biking and walking trail will pass through the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Dearborn. [131]

In one of the most widely quoted tributes to Louis, New York Post sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, when responding to another person's characterization of Louis as "a credit to his race", stated, "Yes, Joe Louis is a credit to his race—the human race." [132]

Joe Louis trained at the site of the Pompton Lakes (NJ) Elks Club. When he won one of his fights, he donated the first ambulance to the Pompton Lakes First Aid Squad.

  • In his heyday, Louis was the subject of many musical tributes, including a number of blues songs. [133]
  • Louis is played by actor Bari K. Willerford in the film American Gangster.
  • In 2009, the Brooklyn band Yeasayer debuted the single "Ambling Alp" from their forthcoming album Odd Blood, which imagines what advice Joe Louis's father might have given him prior to becoming a prizefighter. The song makes reference to Louis' boxing career and his famous rivalry with Schmeling in the first person, with the lyrics such as "Oh, Max Schmeling was a formidable foe / The Ambling Alp was too, at least that's what I'm told / But if you learn one thing, you've learned it well / In June, you must give fascists hell." [134][135]
  • An opera based on his life, Shadowboxer, premiered on April 17, 2010. [136]
  • The aforementioned sculpture of Louis's fist (see Legacy above) was one of several Detroit landmarks depicted in "Imported from Detroit", a two-minute commercial for the Chrysler 200 featuring Eminem that aired during Super Bowl XLV in 2011.
  • Louis is the inspiration behind Jesse Jagz's eponymous song from the album Jagz Nation Vol. 2: Royal Niger Company (2014). [137]
  • The first track from John Squire's 2002 debut LP Time Changes Everything is titled "Joe Louis", and the lyrics include references to his boxing and army career.
  • A picture of Joe Louis fighting Max Schmeling is seen in one of the final scenes of the movie Inside Man.
Professional record summary
69 fights 66 wins 3 losses
By knockout 52 2
By decision 13 1
By disqualification 1 0
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round, time Date Location Notes
69 Loss 66–3 Rocky Marciano TKO 8 (10) Oct 26, 1951 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
68 Win 66–2 Jimmy Bivins UD 10 Aug 15, 1951 Memorial Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
67 Win 65–2 Cesar Brion UD 10 Aug 1, 1951 Cow Palace, Daly City, California, U.S.
66 Win 64–2 Lee Savold KO 6 (15), 2:29 Jun 15, 1951 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
65 Win 63–2 Omelio Agramonte UD 10 May 2, 1951 Olympia, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
64 Win 62–2 Andy Walker TKO 10 (10), 1:49 Feb 23, 1951 Cow Palace, Daly City, California, U.S.
63 Win 61–2 Omelio Agramonte UD 10 Feb 7, 1951 Miami Stadium, Miami, Florida, U.S.
62 Win 60–2 Freddie Beshore TKO 4 (10), 2:48 Jan 3, 1951 Olympia, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
61 Win 59–2 Cesar Brion UD 10 Nov 29, 1950 Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
60 Loss 58–2 Ezzard Charles UD 15 Sep 27, 1950 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. For NBA, vacant NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
59 Win 58–1 Jersey Joe Walcott KO 11 (15) Jun 25, 1948 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
58 Win 57–1 Jersey Joe Walcott SD 15 Dec 5, 1947 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
57 Win 56–1 Tami Mauriello KO 1 (15), 2:09 Sep 18, 1946 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
56 Win 55–1 Billy Conn KO 8 (15), 2:19 Jun 19, 1946 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
55 Win 54–1 Johnny Davis TKO 1 (4), 0:53 Nov 14, 1944 Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, New York, U.S. Retained NYSAC and The Ring heavyweight titles
54 Win 53–1 Abe Simon TKO 6 (15), 0:16 Mar 27, 1942 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
53 Win 52–1 Buddy Baer KO 1 (15), 2:56 Jan 9, 1942 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
52 Win 51–1 Lou Nova TKO 6 (15), 2:59 Sep 29, 1941 Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
51 Win 50–1 Billy Conn KO 13 (15), 2:58 Jun 18, 1941 Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
50 Win 49–1 Buddy Baer DQ 7 (15), 3:00 May 23, 1941 Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C., U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
Baer disqualified after his manager refused to leave the ring
49 Win 48–1 Tony Musto TKO 9 (15), 1:36 Apr 8, 1941 St. Louis Arena, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
48 Win 47–1 Abe Simon TKO 13 (20), 1:20 Mar 21, 1941 Olympia, Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
47 Win 46–1 Gus Dorazio KO 2 (15), 1:30 Feb 17, 1941 Convention Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
46 Win 45–1 Red Burman KO 5 (15), 2:49 Jan 31, 1941 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
45 Win 44–1 Al McCoy RTD 5 (15), 3:00 Dec 16, 1940 Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
44 Win 43–1 Arturo Godoy TKO 8 (15), 1:24 Jun 20, 1940 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
43 Win 42–1 Johnny Paychek TKO 2 (15), 0:41 Mar 29, 1940 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
42 Win 41–1 Arturo Godoy SD 15 Feb 9, 1940 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
41 Win 40–1 Bob Pastor KO 11 (20), 0:38 Sep 20, 1939 Briggs Stadium, Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
40 Win 39–1 Tony Galento TKO 4 (15), 2:29 Jun 28, 1939 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
39 Win 38–1 Jack Roper KO 1 (10), 2:20 Apr 17, 1939 Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, California, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
38 Win 37–1 John Henry Lewis KO 1 (15), 2:29 Jan 25, 1939 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
37 Win 36–1 Max Schmeling KO 1 (15), 2:04 Jun 22, 1938 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
36 Win 35–1 Harry Thomas KO 5 (15), 2:50 Apr 4, 1938 Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Retained NBA and The Ring heavyweight titles [138] [139]
35 Win 34–1 Nathan Mann KO 3 (15), 1:36 Feb 23, 1938 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
34 Win 33–1 Tommy Farr UD 15 Aug 30, 1937 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NYSAC and The Ring heavyweight titles
33 Win 32–1 James J. Braddock KO 8 (15) Jun 22, 1937 Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Won NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring heavyweight titles
32 Win 31–1 Natie Brown KO 4 (10), 0:52 Feb 17, 1937 Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
31 Win 30–1 Bob Pastor UD 10 Jan 29, 1937 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
30 Win 29–1 Steve Ketchel KO 2 (4), 0:31 Jan 11, 1937 Broadway Auditorium, Buffalo, New York, U.S.
29 Win 28–1 Eddie Simms TKO 1 (10), 0:26 Dec 14, 1936 Public Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
28 Win 27–1 Jorge Brescia KO 3 (10), 2:12 Oct 9, 1936 Hippodrome Theatre, New York City, New York, U.S.
27 Win 26–1 Al Ettore KO 5 (15), 1:28 Sep 22, 1936 Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
26 Win 25–1 Jack Sharkey KO 3 (10), 1:02 Aug 18, 1936 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.
25 Loss 24–1 Max Schmeling KO 12 (15), 2:29 Jun 19, 1936 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.
24 Win 24–0 Charley Retzlaff KO 1 (15), 1:25 Jan 17, 1936 Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
23 Win 23–0 Paulino Uzcudun TKO 4 (15), 2:32 Dec 13, 1935 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
22 Win 22–0 Max Baer KO 4 (15), 3:09 Sep 24, 1935 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.
21 Win 21–0 King Levinsky TKO 1 (10), 2:21 Aug 7, 1935 Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
20 Win 20–0 Primo Carnera TKO 6 (15), 2:32 Jun 25, 1935 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.
19 Win 19–0 Biff Bennett KO 1 (6), 1:15 Apr 22, 1935 Memorial Hall, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.
18 Win 18–0 Roy Lazer KO 3 (10), 2:28 Apr 12, 1935 Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
17 Win 17–0 Natie Brown UD 10 Mar 29, 1935 Olympia, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
16 Win 16–0 Don "Red" Barry TKO 3 (10), 1:30 Mar 8, 1935 New Dreamland Auditorium, San Francisco, California, U.S.
15 Win 15–0 Lee Ramage TKO 2 (10), 2:11 Feb 21, 1935 Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
14 Win 14–0 Hans Birkie TKO 10 (10), 1:47 Jan 11, 1935 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
13 Win 13–0 Patsy Perroni PTS 10 Jan 4, 1935 Olympia, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
12 Win 12–0 Lee Ramage TKO 8 (10), 2:51 Dec 14, 1934 Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
11 Win 11–0 Charley Massera KO 3 (10), 2:41 Nov 30, 1934 Coliseum, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
10 Win 10–0 Stanley Poreda KO 1 (10), 2:40 Nov 14, 1934 Arcadia Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
9 Win 9–0 Jack O'Dowd KO 2 (10) Oct 31, 1934 Arcadia Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
8 Win 8–0 Art Sykes KO 8 (10) Oct 24, 1934 Arcadia Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
7 Win 7–0 Adolph Wiater PTS 10 Sep 26, 1934 Arcadia Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
6 Win 6–0 Al Delaney TKO 4 (10) Sep 11, 1934 Naval Armory, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
5 Win 5–0 Buck Everett KO 2 (8) Aug 27, 1934 Marigold Gardens Outdoor Arena, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
4 Win 4–0 Jack Kranz UD 8 Aug 13, 1934 Marigold Gardens Outdoor Arena, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
3 Win 3–0 Larry Udell TKO 2 (8) Jul 30, 1934 Marigold Gardens Outdoor Arena, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
2 Win 2–0 Willie Davies TKO 3 (6) Jul 12, 1934 Bacon's Arena, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
1 Win 1–0 Jack Kracken KO 1 (6) Jul 7, 1934 Bacon's Arena, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
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  1. ^ According to BoxRec and IBHOF, Louis' fight against Johnny Davis in 1944, viewed by many as an exhibition fight, was for the NYSAC heavyweight title, which would lift Louis' title defenses to 26, overall title fight wins to 27, beaten opponents to 22 and title fights to 28.
  2. ^ BoxRec lists Louis' amateur record as being 53 wins in 56 bouts various sources disagree as to his amateur record.
  • Astor, Gerald (1974). ". And a Credit to His Race": The Hard Life and Times of Joseph Louis Barrow, a.k.a. Joe Louis. New York: Saturday Review Press. ISBN978-0-8415-0347-2 .
  • Bak, Richard (1998). Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope. New York: Perseus Publishing. ISBN978-0-306-80879-1 .
  • Drake, Robert, "Joe Louis, the Southern Press, and the 'Fight of the Century,'" Sport History Review, 43 (May 2012), 1–17.
  • Erenberg, Lewis A. (2005). The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis v. Schmeling. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN978-0-19-517774-9 .
  • Gibson, Truman K. Steve Huntley (2005). Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America. Chicago: Northwestern University Press. ISBN978-0-8101-2292-5 .
  • Libby, Bill (1980). Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. ISBN978-0-688-41968-4 .
  • Louis, Joe (1978). My Life. Brighton: Angus & Robertson. ISBN978-0-207-95834-2 .
  • Louis, Joe Barbara Munder (1988). Joe Louis: 50 Years an American Hero. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN978-0-07-003955-1 .
  • Margolick, David (2005). Beyond Glory: Joe Louis Vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN978-0-375-72619-4 .
  • Mead, Chris (1985). Champion – Joe Louis, Black Hero in White America. New York: Scribner. ISBN978-0-684-18462-3 .
  • Myler, Patrick (2005). Ring of Hate: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling: The Fight of the Century. New York: Arcade Publishing. ISBN978-1-55970-789-3 .
  • Nagler, Barney (1972). Brown Bomber . New York: World. ISBN978-0-529-04522-5 .
  • Roberts, James B. Alexander B. Skutt (2006). The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book (4th ed.). Ithaca: McBooks Press. ISBN978-1-59013-121-3 .
  • Schaap, Jeremy (2005). Cinderella Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN978-0-618-55117-0 .
  • Vitale, Rugio (1991). Joe Louis: Boxing Champion. Los Angeles: Holloway House Publishing Company. ISBN978-0-87067-570-6 .

This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Joe Louis", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.


Joe Louis: 11 Things About The Heavyweight That Most People Forgot!

1. Joe Louis had a tough childhood but gravitated to boxing when he shifted to Detroit:

Joe Louis was born Joseph Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914 in a shack outside of Lafayette, Alabama.

Joseph Louis Barrow was the seventh of eight children and a grandson of slaves. His parents made a modest living as his father, Mun Barrow, was a sharecropper. On the other hand, his mother, Lillie Barrow, was a laundress.

Joseph Louis Barrow’s early life was shaped by financial struggles. The future boxer and his siblings slept three and four to a bed, and when Joe Louis was just 2 years old, his father was committed to an asylum.

Shy and quiet, Joseph Louis Barrow’s development was stymied by limited education, and the future boxer eventually developed a stammer.

Not long after Lillie Barrow (his mother) got remarried to a widower Patrick Brooks, Louis, and his siblings migrated north to Detroit with her new spouse. Here, the world heavyweight champion attended the Bronson Trade School, where he trained as a cabinet maker. It was also in Detroit that Joe Louis discovered boxing after he began hanging out with a local gang. Joseph Louis Barrow’s mother Lillie sought to keep her son out of trouble by having him take violin lessons. However, Joseph Louis Barrow had also been introduced to boxing by a friend he began using the violin money to train at Brewster Recreation Center.

As a child, Joe was soon forced to take on odd jobs after his step dad Patrick Brooks lost his job with the Ford Motor Company.

2. Joe Louis amateur career saw him change his name to not get recognized:

Boxing under the name “Joe Louis,” ( his real name is Joseph Louis Barrow ) reportedly so his mother wouldn’t find out, Louis began his amateur career in late 1932.

At 6”2, Joe Louis cut an intimidating figure in the ring.

He began boxing in the amateur circuit in 1932 and while not an immediate success — he was floored several times by 1932 Olympian Johnny Miler in his debut — the Detroit native soon proved he could hit harder than anybody else.

His all-around skills and hard-hitting punches soon earned him a reputation as a fighter, and he won Detroit’s Golden Gloves light-heavyweight title in the open class, 2 years later, in 1934 and the national Amateur Athletic Union championship.

He wrapped up his amateur career with 50 wins in 54 matches, 43 of them by knockout, clearly he was ready for the pros.

3. Joe Louis’s professional boxing career took him to new heights:

In 1937, Joe Louis beat James J. Braddock to take home the title of being the first black heavyweight champion in twenty-two years and an inspiration to African Americans during the Great Depression. This was a horrific time when black men and women were often “the last hired, the first fired.” (The fight became the subject of the 2005 film Cinderella Man). From 1939-1941, he defended his title 13 times, leading critics to call his opponents members of the “bum of the month club.”

Did you know? From 1934 to 1951, the world heavyweight champion fought 71 matches and won 68 of them, 54 by knockout.

By the end of 1935, Joseph Louis Barrow who went by Joe Louis had defeated former heavyweight champions Primo Carnera, a symbolic victory over Benito Mussolini’s Italy, and Max Baer. But on June 19, 1936, he faced off with German boxer Max Schmeling, who knocked Louis out in the 12th round. Louis had experienced his first professional defeat, but he was determined to get a rematch.

4. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling:

On June 22, 1938, Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, whom Adolf Hitler saw as an exemplary representative of the Aryan race, battled in front of 70,043 fans in a dramatic rematch at Yankee Stadium. The American defeated Schmeling in two minutes and four seconds, knocking him out in the first round. The press seized on the victory as symbolic of the win of democracy over fascism. Most interestingly, these two would go on to become good friends and during Joe Louis’s funeral, his funeral was paid for in part by Max Schmeling, who also acted as a pallbearer.

5. Joe Louis and the Military:

As World War II raged on, Joe Louis donated almost $100,000 worth of his earnings to Army and Navy relief societies. In 1942, he joined the Army. During his service, the boxer was part of over 96 boxing exhibitions and went in the ring for over two million members of the military.

After an eleven-year and eight-month streak as heavyweight champion—the longest run in history at the time—Joe Louis said goodbye to boxing on March 1, 1949. His retirement would be short-lived.

6. He played professional golf:

One of Louis’s other gifts was the game of golf, in which he also was a part of a historic role.

Joe Louis was a long-time devotee of the sport of golf since being introduced to the game before the first Schmeling fight in 1936.

In 1952, the American pro boxer was invited to play as an amateur in the San Diego Open on a sponsor’s exemption, making himself the first African American to play a PGA Tour event.

At first, the PGA of America was reluctant to permit Louis to enter the event, having a bylaw at the time restricting PGA membership to Caucasians.

Louis’s celebrity status eventually pushed the PGA toward removing the bylaw, although the “Caucasian only” clause in the PGA of America’s constitution was not amended until November 1961.

The new alteration, however, carved out the way for the first generation of African-American professional golfers such as Calvin Peete.

Joe Louis himself financially supported the careers of several other early black professional golfers, such as Bill Spiller, James Black, Ted Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, Clyde Martin, and Charlie Sifford.

The Detroit native was also instrumental in founding The First Tee, a charity helping underprivileged children become acquainted with the game of golf.

The world heavyweight champion’s son, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., currently oversees the organization.

In 2009, the PGA of America granted posthumous membership to Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, and John Shippen who were not given the opportunity to become PGA members during their professional careers. The PGA also has allowed posthumous honorary membership to the world heavyweight champion.

7. Joe Louis comes out of retirement:

With the IRS on his tail after him for not paying taxes, the then 37-year-old Joe Louis decided to get out of retirement in 1951. The Detroit native was successful in his fight against Freddie Beshore on January 3, 1951, prompting excitement about a major comeback.

The world heavyweight champion would go on to meet his match when he faced off against 27-year-old Rocky Marciano, “the Brockton Blockbuster.” On October 26, 1951, the two entered the match in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

“The Brockton Blockbuster” who stood at 5’10” and weighed just 185 pounds, was one of the smallest champions in heavyweight division history, but he had the power of youthful strength on his side. Sports columnist Red Smith wrote the following of the match:

“Rocky hit Joe with a left hook and knocked him down. Then Rocky hit him another hook and knocked him out. A right to the neck followed that knocked him out of the ring. And out of the fight business. The last wasn’t necessary, but it was neat. It wrapped the package neat and tidy.”

This saw the legendary Joe Louis retiring from boxing for good after the match. The passing of a special bill by congress forgave the rest of the boxer’s tax bills. When Louis finally chose to retire, he had a record of 68 wins to 3 losses (including boxing bouts with Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles, the only man to go 15 rounds with Louis and win) with 54 Knockouts.

8. He had several failed marriages:

Louis had two kids by wife Marva Trotter (daughter Jacqueline in 1943 and son Joseph Louis Barrow Jr. in 1947). Marva and Joe divorced in March 1945 only to remarry a year later, but the pair were once again divorced in February 1949.

His ex-wife Marva later moved on to a Hollywood acting and modeling career.

On Christmas Day 1955, Louis tied the knot to Rose Morgan, a successful Harlem businesswoman however, this second 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. Joe and Martha had four children: another son named Joseph Louis Barrow Jr, John Louis Barrow, Joyce Louis Barrow, and Janet Louis Barrow. The second Joe Louis Barrow Jr. resides in New York City and has followed in his father’s footsteps in boxing.

Though married four times, Louis secretly enjoyed the company of other mistresses like Lena Horne and Edna Mae Harris.

9. Joe Louis struggled financially in his later years:

The boxer’s health festered steadily and for a while, the former champ ended up working as a greeter at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas because of an array of unwise financial decisions.

Joe Louis battled with cocaine addiction and in 1970, was committed to psychiatric care.

Despite Louis’s lucrative career moves over the years, most of the proceeds ended up going to his handlers. Of the over $4.6 million he banked during his boxing career, Louis himself received only about $800,000 in hand.

Louis was nevertheless extremely generous to his family, paying for homes, cars and education for his parents and siblings, and then he would invest in a number of businesses, all of which eventually failed, including the Joe Louis Restaurant, Joe Louis Punch (a drink), a softball team called the Brown Bombers, the Joe Louis Insurance Company, the Joe Louis Milk Company, Joe Louis pomade (hair product), the Louis-Rower P.R. firm, a horse farm and the Rhumboogie Café in Chicago.

The boxer also gave liberally to the government as well, paying back the city of Detroit for any welfare money his family had received – this was extremely unheard of.

A combination of this largesse and government intervention eventually chained Louis in severe financial straits.

His entrusting of his finances to his ex-manager Mike Jacobs haunted him.

After the $500,000 IRS tax bill was assessed, with interest accumulating per year, the need for cash precipitated Louis’s post-retirement comeback.

Even though the world heavyweight champion’s comeback earned him significant money the incremental tax rate in place at the time (90%) meant that these boxing proceeds did not even keep up with interest on Louis’s tax debt. As a result, by the end of the 1950s, he owed the country over $1 million in taxes and interest.

In 1953, when Louis’s mother Lillie Barrow died, the IRS appropriated the $667 she had willed to Joe Louis.

To bring in money, Joe Louis was entangled in numerous activities outside the ring. He made a guest appearance on various quiz shows, and an old Army buddy, Ash Resnick, who gave Louis a job welcoming foregin tourists to the Caesars Palace hotel in Las Vegas, where Resnick was an executive. For earning money, the world heavyweight champion even became a professional wrestler. This shift saw him make his professional wrestling debut on March 16, 1956 in Washington, D.C. at the Uline Arena, defeating Cowboy Rocky Lee. After defeating Lee in a few matches, Louis found out the sobering fact that he had a heart ailment and retired from wrestling competition. However, the boxer continued to work as a wrestling referee and retired in 1972.

Joe Louis remained a popular celebrity in his twilight years. The legendary boxer’s friends circle included former rival Max Schmeling, who provided Louis with financial assistance during his retirement—and mobster Frank Lucas, who, disgusted with the government’s treatment of Louis, once paid off a $50,000 tax lien held against the boxer.

These payments, in addition to an eventual agreement in the early 1960s by the IRS to limit its collections to an amount based on Louis’s current income, granted Joe Louis the opportunity to live comfortably toward the end of his life.

After the Louis-Schmeling fight, Jack Dempsey expressed the opinion that he was glad he never had to face Joe Louis in the ring. When Louis fell on hard financial times, Dempsey served as honorary chairman of a fund to assist Louis.

10. He almost died from taking drugs:

Drugs took a toll on the once world heavyweight champion in his later years. In 1969, the boxer was hospitalized after collapsing on a New York City street. While the incident was at first concluded to be a result of”physical breakdown,” underlying problems would soon surface and break world wide news!

In 1970, the boxer spent five months at the Colorado Psychiatric Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Denver, in a hospital (although surrounded by his loved ones like his wife, Martha, and his son, Joe Louis Barrow Jr.), for paranoia.

In a 1971 book, Brown Bomber, by Barney Nagler, Louis publically revealed the truth about these incidents, stating that his collapse in 1969 had been a result of cocaine usage, and that his subsequent hospitalization had been prompted by his fear of a plot to destroy him, which obviously resulted in paranoia.

Strokes and heart ailments continued to cause Louis’s condition to fester further later in the decade. He had surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm in 1977 and thereafter used a POV/scooter for mobility aid.

11. He died of cardiac arrest in 1981:

A 1977 heart surgery left him in a wheelchair.

Joe Louis died on April 12, 1981, from cardiac arrest, in Desert Springs Hospital near Las Vegas on April 12, 1981, just hours after his last public appearance viewing the Larry Holmes–Trevor Berbick Heavyweight Championship.

He was 66 years old at the time of his death.

He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on April 21, 1981 with full military honors thanks to an exception granted by President Ronald Reagan who waived the eligibility rules just for the beloved boxer.

Did you know? His funeral expenses were paid for in part by former competitor and boxer friend, Max Schmeling,who also acted as a pallbearer.

These days, the legedary Brown Bomber is remembered as a larger-than-life figure in not just black history, but in American history as one of the best path breakers of his era.


The Amazing Story of the Jew who Defeated Hitler’s Favorite Boxer

Action from the famous fight in New York. Science and Violence.

Once a bout between Schmeling and Baer had been announced, tickets began to fly off the shelves. Schmeling, despite being a favourite of Hitler&rsquos, was denounced in Der Stürmer, the Nazi newspaper, for deigning to compete against a Jewish opponent. The turn in German politics that saw Hitler come to power had drastically shifted the public perception of Schmeling in the United States &ndash where he had previously been quite popular &ndash and the choice to fight Baer, who despite his troubles remained popular, made him into a pariah. Schmeling was not a Nazi and resented being associated with the anti-semitic policies of his home country&rsquos government, but the chance to sell tickets on the back of his government&rsquos love for him was too large. Boxing has always been a sport in which the mantra of &ldquoif the money&rsquos there, it&rsquoll happen&rdquo has always rung true, and this would be another example of that. It was a Nazi-backed, but not actually Nazi, German fighter taking on a Jewish American, but not actually Jewish, opponent. Despite the hardships of the Depression, 60,000 people bought tickets and filled out Yankee Stadium to watch the bout.

Once the bell went, the crowd would not be disappointed. Baer strode forwards and swung for Schmeling, as was his characteristic style, while Schmeling, the consummate counter-puncher, did his best to avoid the larger man and throw back himself. Baer was too strong, however, and as the fight wore on, he began to dominate. In the tenth round, he connected with a huge right cross that stunned Schmeling, following it up with a succession of blows to which the German seemed to have no answer. Eventually, Baer lined up a clean shot and put Schmeling on his backside. When Schmeling arose, he attempted to fight on and landed an illegal punch to the back of Baer&rsquos head, causing the referee to judge that he was unable to control himself due to the punishment that he had taken. The fight was over, Baer had won by technical knockout.

Max Baer and Max Schmeling go at it at Yankee Stadium. BoxRec.

The reaction to the fight was overwhelming. It was named Fight of the Year for 1933 and Baer was feted around America. he gained himself an even larger reputation as a power fighter and was awarded a shot at the heavyweight title, which he would win, defeating Italian Primo Carnera a year later in Long Island. Schmeling would lose again in the States before returning to Germany and winning three fights in a row. He came back to Yankee Stadium and knocked out Joe Louis, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, in 1936. Schmeling should have been awarded another shot at the title, then held by Jim Braddock, but the boxing authorities feared that, should the German win, he would take the belt to Germany and the Nazis would then refuse to allow Louis, a black fighter, a chance to win it. The two Louis fights, as well as that between Schmeling and Max Baer, with all the political implications that they held, were a major part of the historical inspirations for Rocky IV and the contest between Rocky Balboa and Soviet puglist Ivan Drago.


On this Day in 1938, Joe Louis and Max Schmeling Went to War

After the first fight, Schmeling was generally well-received by Americans but on the eve of the rematch a lot had changed around the world and the anti-Semitic ideologies being broadcast from Hitler and his Third Reich were making many nervous and although it&rsquos not what he wanted, Schmeling had become a symbol of Nazi Germany.

The &lsquoBlack Uhlan of the Rhine,&rsquo as he was nicknamed, was forced into an impossible position and was forced to walk the line between Hitler&rsquos pride and maintaining the relationship he&rsquod built with the American public. Although he claimed his support for Adolf after the first fight, he wasn&rsquot a member of the Nazi party and had never agreed with their claims of racial superiority.

Schmeling&rsquos manager, a Jewish-American named Joe Jacobs caused tension between himself and the Third Reich but Schmeling would always stick by him, despite Hitler&rsquos distaste.

When the bell finally rang for the rematch, Joe Louis blitzed Schmeling in just 2 minutes and 4 seconds, making amends on his defeat in devastating fashion. &ldquoNow - I feels like the champ&rdquo claimed the victor after the bout.

While Louis solidified his status as a bona fide American hero, the story of Schmeling was quite different. He returned to his homeland to find his fame had plummeted and he was quickly disowned by the Nazi Party and Hitler, who were embarrassed that their Aryan symbol had been dispatched so brutally - not that Schmeling was particularly upset about being disassociated with the regime.

&ldquoLooking back, I'm almost happy I lost that fight. Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory. I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal. After the war I might have been considered a war criminal&rdquo he would later say.


Max Schmeling vs. Joe Louis (June 1936)

Joe Louis had a perfect track record when he met Max Schmeling for a very publicised boxing match. The German Boxer was quite new to the scene, and was not expected to put a halt to the reign of the champion.

What Louis did not know was that Schmeling had studied the way he boxes, hos moves and his overall boxing persona. This resulted in Schmeling taking down Louis in the 4th round, yet the match continued until the 12th round and of course Schmelling turned out t be victorious after all.

If you had placed a bet today with a new bookmaker, you would have been rich by now.


Careers of Louis and Schmeling

As time went on, Joe Louis had an astounding 34 fight win streak after losing to Schmeling in 1936. He beat Braddock to win the heavyweight title and defended it 26 times, including the second Schmeling fight. He eventually lost his title to Ezzard Charles. He went on to win eight more fights before losing to Rocky Marciano and retiring with a 66-3 record.

Joe Louis was visibly different after such a long career. But he was also broke and needed to make money. The heavyweight champion took up professional wrestling to pay the bills and minimize brain damage.

Schmeling was forced to join the military shortly after losing to Louis in 1938. He fought Adolf Heuser in 1939 and went to the army until 1947. He went 3-2 in his return and decided to hang the gloves up as well. After his retirement in 1948, he had a record of 57-10.

Schmeling and Louis kindled a friendship after their second fight. Louis, unfortunately, ended up broke. Schmeling was a pallbearer at his funeral and reportedly sent Louis and his family money to help out with the funeral.

Joe Louis and Max Schmeling was a storyteller’s dream. With a perfect setup to a fight and a narrative including Nazis, the two showed that despite all the odds, good people can prevail.


Watch the video: Max Schmeling - A Legendary German Boxer as Hero of the Big Screen.


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