70 years ago today, legendary heavyweight king Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber” was edging towards what he hoped would be a happy, content and thoroughly satisfactory retirement from boxing. Louis was no ego-driven talent, forever in search of ‘one more win.’ Instead, his world title defended well over twenty times, Joe wished to call it a career and spend his time playing golf.
But, as history tells us, this is not how things transpired.
In his 24th title defence, Louis met the seriously crafty Jersey Joe Walcott in December of 1947 (70 long years ago this very day) at Madison Square Garden, N.Y – and Louis looked awful, awful, awful. Being knocked down twice – in the 1st and 4th rounds – the heavyweight king had to settle for a highly controversial split decision win. Quite simply, Walcott’s unique style gave Louis absolute fits. The reading of the verdict was met with much booing and Joe was suitably embarrassed; to the extent that the hero to millions wanted to leave the ring before the verdict he was sure would go against him was announced.
A rematch was soon set.
Taking on Walcott for a second time, Louis, now aged 34, pulled out one last great performance. Extremely unhappy with how bad he’d looked against Walcott in fight number one, “The Brown Bomber” saw his pride restored when he stopped the cute fighter, who had been such a nuisance the year before, in round number 11. It wasn’t exactly easy the second time around – Joe was even down briefly in the 3rd round – but this time Louis managed to get rid of Walcott. Louis had made the 25th and final defence of his heavyweight crown in doing so (this incredible record still to be broken all these years later).
Announcing his retirement from the sport on March the 1st the following year, one of the finest careers in all of boxing had ended. Or so it was thought. Forced back into the ring in an attempt to clear the debts he had somehow ran up with the IRS, a 36-year-old Louis made a comeback in September of 1950. This was no ego-fuelled return – Joe had no choice. Treat in a most disgraceful manner by a government that had somehow forgotten Joe’s generosity during the second world war – when Louis gave vast sums of his own money to the war effort – Joe was hounded and forced to try and pay off his massive debts.
With boxing being his only way to earn anywhere near enough money, Louis cut short his retirement.
Losing widely on points to new ruler Ezzard Charles in September of 1950, Louis was a virtual shell of his former greatness. But this decision loss did not end the comeback. Amazingly putting together an eight fight win streak against pretty decent opposition, Joe then found himself in the ring with the rampaging new kid on the block – Rocky Marciano. KO’d for only the second time in his long career, Joe finally hung up his gloves for good after succumbing to “The Rock” in the 8th round. It was a tragically sad sporting occasion. Even Rocky was in tears afterwards.
Having won the world title way back in June of 1937, it was amazing that Louis was still fighting in the 1950s. As we know, however, it wasn’t down to choice. Retiring for good in October of 1951, Joe’s final record was a truly special 69-3(55). In his prime years he was only ever beaten once.
Had he been around today, chances are high Joe would have walked away having only lost once; this loss, to Max Schmeling, being clinically and brutally avenged.