31.08.05 – By James Sadler: The very name ‘Joe Louis’ used to bring me a feel of curiousity and excitement, for I was interested in boxing and had heard this man’s name many a time. The first time I heard it was on a computer game, and one of the fighters was Joe Louis. It said “he was arguably the greatest heavyweight champion of all time.” Surely he couldn’t be… In those young and naive days, there was only one great heavyweight – Muhammad Ali. Since seeing that simple sentence, I was instilled with this feeling of curiousity and needed to find out more. I began my research at just eleven years of age, and here are my findings.
It was 1914, and so entered a new era of boxing and America. Joseph Louis Barrow was born, parented by mother Lily Barrow and father, Munroe Barrow. Nobody just yet knew how special this young boy was, and if it wasn’t for Joe’s friend Thurston McKinney persuading him to throw away his violin, the boxing world might have never been what it is today.
Joe Louis was perhaps the greatest heavyweight champion there has ever been. He made a record twenty five defenses of the title, and reigned for an almost inconceivable eleven years and eight months. He compiled an outstanding record of sixty eight wins, three losses and no draws, with fifty four wins by way of knockout. All three of Joe’s losses were to fellow hall of famers, and in his time Joe defeated six men who were each at one time or another, the heavyweight champion of the world. In rematches, Joe was undefeated, standing at ten wins and no losses, nine of those being knockouts. The statistics of Joe’s record are extremely impressive when one delves deep and realises a lot of negatives happened during his ill-advised comeback.
If Joe never came back after retiring in 1949, he would have had an even more amazing record of sixty wins, one loss and fifty one knockouts.
Joe Louis displayed an offensive arsenal so devastating and so crushing, that just the name of the man sent shivers down his opponent’s spine. Ask King Levinsky, who at one point in the first round, turned to the referee and begged him to stop the fight.
Combining blinding handspeed, bone crunching power, unerring accuracy, debilitating body blows and fabulous combinations, Joe Louis’ highlight reel is just one spectacular knockout after another. He was truly the greatest puncher of all time, and is so recognized by the majority of the world’s boxing historians. Nobody had quite a complete arsenal as Joe Louis – if you were two name the five top specific punchers, for example the best left hooker or the best jabber, Joe Louis would appear in all of the lists.
It is that punishing power that brings people to the fight game, having that knowledge that a fight could end in one devastating punch, and Joe Louis had dynamite jam-packed into his fists like nobody else. There are plenty of examples of this power in some of his one punch knockouts – Lee Ramage, knocked out cold in one left hook. Art Sykes was knocked out for thirty minutes with a single straight right. Hell, Paolino Uzcudun’s teeth were driven straight through his mouthpiece with a single right hand punch! Uzcudun later got up from his bench in the dressing room, only to collapse over in a heap.
On his best night, Joe Louis could do whatever he wanted with you. He could peck you bloody from the outside, wearing you down until you were ripe for picking, or he could come out with all guns blazing and finish you early, ala Schmeling and Buddy Baer. Once an opponent was hurt, there was no getting away – Joe was a great finisher. Once he had that look in his eye, you might as well have run out of that ring. What made Joe so lethal was his accuracy and the way he was so economic; he would land with those dynamite punches every time, and he wouldn’t show you where they were coming from – after all, it’s the punch you don’t see that hurts.
And there was no getting away from him on the inside. Unlike with Ali or Tyson, you couldn’t crowd Joe to neutralize his power. No, Louis had some of the best inside skills anybody has ever seen. His uppercuts were slicing, his hooks crunching – even if it did take him a little while to figure you out, in the end it was going to be lights out.
Joe Louis inflicted some of the worst damage on his opponents I have ever seen; Braddock, Carnera, Galento, Godoy, Schmeling… All went away with terrible injuries. Schmeling spent several weeks in hospital in an attempt to recover from his horrible first round beating at the hands of Louis. The vertebrae was broken in his back, and had been driven into his kidney.
It wasn’t just on the offense that Joe was marvelous; he was a supreme counter puncher, and his defensive abilities were excellent. Joe would parry punches, and counter with jabs, feint, block shots, duck, and he was a master at slipping. Many people tell me “but Joe Louis carried his left hand low! He was open to a right hand.” This is somewhat true, but what dome people don’t realise is that this was often a trap. As Joe’s style was primarily based around counter punching, he often led his opponents onto him in order to counter with his own crisp punches.
Many people claim Joe Louis had ‘bad’ competition. This is not true. Just because a fighter isn’t recognised today, or didn’t give the champion a tough time, it doesn’t mean they are bad fighters. Perhaps the reason why Joe’s opponents are often perceived as weak is because he dominated them so convincingly. I’ll do a little analysis, and then you can judge for yourself:
Lee Ramage – Good, solid up and coming prospect. Louis KO8 then Louis KO2.
Primo Carnera – Ex heavyweight champion of the world and not nearly as bad as people make out. Even if he was unskilled, his size alone could give people problems. Louis TKO6.
King Levinsky – Good, solid fighter who was on a winning streak until he met Joe. Louis KO1.
Max Baer – Had just lost his title to Jim Braddock and was eager to get it back. Still a dangerous fighter, had a right hand that had already killed two men. Louis KO4.
Charley Retzlaff – Another solid fighter with a record of 55-7-1. Louis KO1.
Paolino Uzcudun – Yet another solid fighter, had fought the likes of Schmeling, Baer, Carnera and Laughran. Destroyed by a Louis right hand. Louis TKO4.
Max Schmeling – Ex heavyweight champion of the world, a cagey, clever counter puncher with a hard right hand. An underprepared and overconfident Louis was knocked out in twelve rounds after receiving a terrible beating, only to avenge the fight two years later. He knocked Schmeling out in what would be one of the most brutal fights ever. Schmeling KO12, Louis TKO1.
Jack Sharkey – An ageing but still good fighter, ex heavyweight champion of the world. Louis beautifully knocked him out in the third. Louis KO3.
Al Ettore – Decent fighter who was on a bit of a winning streak until he faced Joe. Louis KO5.
Bob Pastor – A good fighter who was again on a bit of a winning streak, took Louis the distance in their first fight. Joe knocked him out in the rematch. Louis W10, Louis KO11.
Jim Braddock – A former journeyman, now the world heavyweight champion, Braddock was a tough customer. He had a lot of heart and decent boxing skills. Louis inflicted severe damage on his opponent and knocked him out. Louis KO8.
Tommy Farr – Decent British fighter, took the Louis the distance. Think of Farr as Ali’s Henry Cooper, but with a better chin. Louis W15.
John Henry Lewis – Very good fighter who had knocked out the likes of Elmer Ray and Tiger Jack Fox, and he was on a winning streak by the time he fought Joe. Louis KO1.
Tony Galento – Though not a great fighter, Galento could take a lot of punishment and had a left hook like a mule’s kick. He caught the angry Louis by surprise in the third, but in the next round took a severe beating. Louis TKO4.
Arturo Godoy – Godoy was like the 30s equivalent of George Chuvalo. A crouching, swarming fighter with a very good chin and an awkward style. He took Louis the distance, losing a close decision in their first fight, only to be battered from pillar to post in the rematch. Louis W15, Louis TKO8.
Abe Simon – A big man at 6ft 4in and 255lbs, Simon was a tough cookie to crack. He had a knockout win over Joe Walcott and a decent record of 36-7. Louis knocked him down four times en route to a knockout. Joe took him out in six rounds in the return. Louis KO13, Louis KO6.
Lou Nova – Solid fighter with a record of 26-2-4 who had beaten the likes of Max Baer and Tommy Farr. Louis easily knocked him out. Louis KO6.
Buddy Baer – The bigger brother of Max Baer, Buddy stood at almost 6 ft 7 in and weighed 250 lbs – and he could punch, hard, and he possessed a gaudy record of 49-6. He knocked Louis through the ropes in the first round, but Joe came back and immediately took control of the fight, flooring Buddy three times in the sixth round. When Baer’s corner wouldn’t leave the ring, he was disqualified. In the rematch Louis pulverised Baer again, this time in the first round. A short right hand spun Baer 360º. Louis WDQ6, Louis KO1.
Billy Conn – One of the greatest light heavyweights ever, Conn was also beating up the best heavyweights of the time. He didn’t carry too much power, but was fast and slick, and put combinations together beautifully. Louis entered this fight underweight and dehydrated in an attempt to get below 200lbs (so the media wouldn’t say he was picking on the smaller man), but this left him drained and weak. Louis kept calm, took his time and eventually took control of the situation, knocking Conn out with a measured combination in the thirteenth. In the rematch Conn was knocked out in eight. Louis KO13, Louis KO8.
Tami Mauriello – With a record of 69-7-1, Mauriello was no pushover. He had a good punch which had stopped the likes of Bruce Woodcock (previously undefeated) and Lou Nova. After surprising Louis early, Joe turned up the heat and demolished Mauriello. Louis KO1.
Jersey Joe Walcott – Jersey Joe was a great technicia, a hard and unpredictable puncher who was a future world champion. Walcott, in arguably his best performance, took Louis the distance in a highly controverisal loss. The rematch was far more decisive, with Louis knocking Walcott out in the eleventh with a flurry of lefts and rights. Louis W15, Louis KO11.
Unlike a lot of today’s fighters, or should I say entertainers, Joe was never arrogant or cocky, and never gloated over a fallen opponent. He was respectful and good to his country – he represented America in the Second World War by defeating Max Schmeling. He also served his time in the army, and donated two of his purses to the Army and Navy relief funds. Whether you talk about him in a head-to-head sense, or just being a great champion, in my opinion Joe Louis should be number one on every list.