Ali or Louis – Who was The Greatest, Final Part 3

ali02.03.07 - By Bob Webb: The great Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali were widely different men and fighters to such an extent that it is no surprise that their careers also were so completely different. In fact I can only draw one good comparison – their respective late career losses to Rocky Marciano and to Larry Holmes. Apart from that it’s not easy to draw specific parallels. That won’t stop me trying.

Where Joe Louis was a slightly shorter and lighter man than Ali, those attributes helped somewhat to define his style. His punches, as I’ve described, notoriously rarely traveled more than the requisite inches to make a foot of them. His style was compact and economical. Ali on the other hand was taller and heavier with a longer reach and fought almost exclusively on the outside. In fact his inside work was notable by its absence, as were his body punches. He got most power into his long punches and was not effective on the ropes where, incidentally, he chose to fight many of his later contests.

Both men had incredible jabs but again of widely differing types, Joe’s short and hard, Muhammad’s long and whip-like. Their crosses bore the same respective hall-marks of each.

So, in a mythical, fantasy match-up, their styles would, almost undoubtedly, have made the fight. But then, so would their other attributes: Joe’s lack of chin and Ali’s supremely sound one.

Speed wise, there’s no contest and I believe that the Louis of the Conn fight would have been embarrassed and bemused by Ali and stopped on cuts. I also believe that Ali’s right-hand leads could catch Joe very much napping too. But if Joe could measure Ali’s offence and slip his jab and crosses then Ali would have fallen prey to Joe’s swift and short counters. And Joe undoubtedly packed KO power with either hand.

Mentally speaking, it would be nice to imagine that Ali would get under Joe’s skin before the fight was even signed but I have a high regard for Joe’s cool determination to make Ali pay for his wind-ups in the ring, much as Joe Frazier did. I do believe, however, that Ali’s ring generalship was superior to Joe’s and he would better adapt to the Louis phenomenon than the reverse.

I do, though, believe that the prime Louis was a better fighter than the Ali of the nineteen-seventies and could have come off better had the two met then. But would Joe have beaten Frazier and Foreman? Would Joe have possibly lived with the fastest Heavyweight in history in Ali’s physical prime?

I guess that the difference in the two fighters was that Louis was the complete fighter, doing most things exceptionally well, whereas Ali was brilliant at some things, such as his jab, his reflexive defence, his right crosses and his gamesmanship, and utterly crap when you look at his lack of body punching and in-fighting. And when he’d lost his leg speed and reflexes, he came to rely more and more on in his incredible chin and heart and his mind games rather than an extra layer of skill.

Ali proved the old adage that as the physique fades, the experience kicks in to negate its effect and to create new strategies. Conversely, I’m not sure that Joe Louis showed that sort of adaptability. He simply grew old and less capable.

What one cannot ignore is that Muhammad Ali was part of several still world-famous fights and defeated some incredible opposition against the odds and perceived wisdom of the contemporaneous experts. Against that is Joe’s pair of fights with Max Schmeling (the second assuming global proportions for other reasons as much as fistic) and his close call with Billy Conn. Other than that, Joe’s career is not littered with great names as Ali’s is. Joe’s long Championship reign rather nullifies that argument, as much as it does for Larry Holmes. They beat every contender out there, also as Ali did.

So, assuming by now, that there’s been no knockout, it has to go to the judges. I would like to repeat that my conclusion is not based on who would win in their respective primes but on their overall record and achievements. Otherwise, Joe would have to fight Ken Norton for the title. Nope, this is down to serious analysis, folks, and I hope the result was worth it.

I have to come down on the side of Ali based on hand and leg speed, jab, right cross and chin against the Louis’s punch power and jab, and on their respective opposition. But it’s a damn’ close call.

Article posted on 03.03.2007

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