Great as he was, heavyweight legend Joe Louis had more than enough trouble with Jersey Joe Walcott; the man born Arnold Cream perhaps the slickest, trickiest heavyweight in history.
Okay, Louis was closing in on retirement at the time of his two tussles with Walcott (or so he hoped, Joe instead to meet a disgraceful tax bill, this handed to him by the unconscionable IRS), but the reigning heavyweight king was still too good for just about anyone. Everyone apart from Jersey Joe.
In his 24th title defense, Louis met the seriously crafty Walcott, this in December of 1947, the venue the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York. Louis, aged 33, looked awful. Jersey Joe was actually the older man by a few months, yet his reflexes, his timing, and his speed were greater than those of Louis.
Being knocked down twice – in the 1st and 4th rounds – the heavyweight ruler knew straight away he was in for a tough night. And a long night. Louis, the thunderous and deadly accurate puncher, simply could not nail the constantly moving, from side to side, up and down, in and out, Walcott.
In the end, after a fight everyone had Walcott winning, Louis had to settle for a highly controversial split decision win. The crowd was outraged.
Quite simply, Walcott’s unique style had given Louis absolute fits. Indeed, the reading of the verdict was met with much booing, and Louis was so embarrassed he opted to leave the ring 3 even before the official verdict was readout. Joe knew. He knew he’d been beaten, bested, outthought, and out-fought. Instead, to the huge disappointment of Walcott and to the complete shock of the large crowd, Louis was still the champion of the world, this by way of a split decision, one of the most controversial in heavyweight history to this day.
Louis, his pride, stung, had nothing on his mind other than a rematch with Walcott. Six months later, it came, and when it did, that old saying of how a great fighter has one last great fight left in him was proven to be correct. In facing Walcott for a second time, Louis, now aged 34, pulled out one last special 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 defense of his heavyweight crown in doing so.
Who knows how the action would have developed had these two men met when both were in their prime. Again, Louis was the older man of the two, and he had been champion for a very long time, his eye on the exit door, but Walcott was no spring chicken.
In fact, Walcott was something of an unusual case in that he got better and better with age. As cerebral as Archie Moore, Walcott had a style all of his own. Even the fighters that managed to beat him never fully figured him out.
Jersey Joe would, of course, go on to finally win the crown, at the fourth attempt, by beating another great in Ezzard Charles. Walcott would then box his most famous fight, a losing war with Rocky Marciano.
It was against the beloved Joe Louis, though, that Joe Walcott showed the world his full bag of boxing tricks.