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Old 05-10-2006, 08:28 AM #1
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Default Joe Louis Not Great !!!

I didn't write this.

JOE LOUIS
WHERE DOES HE BELONG IN THE PANTHEON OF GREAT HEAVYWEIGHTS?
NOT AMONG THE BEST IF ONE IS OBJECTIVE ABOUT IT

Ezzard Charles, one of the few fighters Joe Louis faced with a good record (58-5-1), beat Louis badly. Charles won their only match on rounds by wide margins. How wide? 10-5, 13-2, and 12-3. According to The New York Times, “Charles pounded Joe Louis into a bleeding helpless hulk.” The Brown Bomber’s “face battered out of shape under the pummeling…, his left eye closed, his right eye sporting a lump, his nose bleeding, his lips cut and bruised,” Ezzard “hammered Louis as he pleased, punched Joe around the ring as if he were an inanimate punching bag, outboxed, outfought, outmaneuvered” the former champion. Charles did everything but knock out Louis, and he was close to doing that in the 14th round. Louis was not even considered competitive by the experts at ring side so one-side was the beating he took from Charles.

Louis stood nearly 6’2” and weighed 218 lbs for the fight, whereas Charles stood 6’0” and only weighed 184 lbs. Why was Charles so light for a heavyweight title fight? Because two years earlier, Charles was fighting as a light heavyweight. Only a few years before that, he was a middleweight. He had nine fights at heavyweight, and 184 lbs was the most he had ever weighed for a boxing match. You may be thinking “wasn’t Michael Spinks a light heavyweight before he faced Larry Holmes?” Yes. But Spinks was 6’3”, weighed 200 lbs, and was the undefeated light heavyweight champion of the world. He had in fact never lost a score card in a fight. Holmes was 6’3” and weighed 221 lbs – only three more pounds than Louis – and he was the same age as Louis. There was 34 lbs difference between Charles and Louis. And Larry lost to Spinks by a narrow margin, with scores of 142-145 (twice) and 142-143. Louis was practically shut out on two of the cards in his fight with Charles.

There is more to the story. While Spinks showed himself to be a durable fighter (he had never been knocked off his feet), Charles had a dented chin. He had been knocked down eight times by Lloyd Marshall (39-6-2) before the referee finally called a halt to the contest, awarding the fight to Marshall. Both Charles and Marshall weighed below the light heavyweight limit for that fight. And in a previous fight, Charles lost to Jimmy Bivins (31-5) after being floored seven times. Both Charles and Bivins were also under the light heavyweight limit. Charles would be floored in three more fights on the way to the heavyweight title. That comes to 18 knockdowns! Louis is reckoned by most to be one of the all-time greatest punchers and held to be one of the most deadly accurate punchers of all heavyweights. Yet he could not put away his much smaller rival. It wasn’t that he couldn’t hit Charles. Charles did not leave the ring unmarked. It’s that Louis had no answer to a boxer of Charles’ caliber. He couldn’t do what Marshall and Bivins had done: put Charles on his backside.

To get more perspective on the age issue, consider that at 36 years of age, Larry Holmes stopped David Bey (233 lbs, 14-0), and defeated Carl Williams (215 lbs, 16-0), in back-to-back fights. And just shy of his 38th birthday, Lennox Lewis stopped 6’7” 248 lbs Vitali Klitshko (32-1). It was Lewis’ third fight since turning 36. His two previous opponents? Hasim Rahman (236 lbs, 35-2) and Mike Tyson (234 lbs, 49-3). He won both of those fights by knockout. How could these champions perform so well at advanced ages (Holmes continued to win fights into his 50s and arguably won his rematch with Spinks) against legitimate heavyweight contenders, yet Louis was nearly shut out by a talented light heavyweight?

And there is even more to the story. For as talented as Charles was, he had not faced much real heavyweight competition. Indeed, he had faced only journeymen and light heavyweights in defense of his NBA heavyweight title. Consider his opposition: Freddie Beshore (184 lbs, 28-7-1), Pat Valentino (188 lbs, 45-10-4), Gus Lesnevich (182 lbs, 59-13-5), and Jersey Joe Walcott (195 lbs, 44-13-2). The fight that put him in line for the NBA title was a points win over another light heavyweight, Joey Maxim (184 lbs, 63-15-4). So, in truth, the full sized all-time great heavyweight Joe Louis couldn’t whip a light heavyweight with a dented chin and with very little heavyweight experience. And Charles never proved himself to be anything close to a great heavyweight or really even a very good one. Following his victory over Louis, Charles posted a poor record at heavyweight of 28 wins and 20 losses, 6 of those losses inside the distance, and most of his conquerors were journeymen and trailhorses. Strange, then, that Charles didn’t just whip Louis but completely outclassed him.

Of course people will write the loss off as an old, out-of-shape Louis losing to the fine light heavyweight (some will even claim the greatest light heavyweight ever, but this is hyperbole given the existence of light heavyweights Michael Spinks and Bob Foster). But an examination of Louis’ career reveals few significant wins, several close calls, many controversial wins, and a devastating knockout loss. In other words, the loss to Charles was not unexpected provided one had objectively studied Louis’ record. Indeed, the only conclusion one can come to in such an examination is that the Brown Bomber is vastly overrated and doesn’t warrant inclusion in an all-time top 10 list.


JOURNEYMEN AND TRAILHORSES

Even though Jersey Joe Walcott (6’0”, 194 lbs) faced Louis the first time with a very poor record (44-11-2 – he had won only three-quarters of his fights against mediocre competition), he put quite a scare into the Louis camp. He floored Louis twice and by most accounts outpointed him. However, the popular Louis was awarded a split decision. On the 10-point must system, which was to be used in the event of a draw, Walcott was judged the winner. On rounds, the dissenting judge gave the fight to Walcott 6-2-7. The match was so controversial that hearings were held. The dispute revolved around the card of Frank Forbes, who gave more points to Walcott, but wrote on the back of his card that Louis was the winner. In the end the State Athletic Commission denied Walcott the reversal he was seeking. Instead, they gave him a rematch. Louis, The New York Times reporter wrote, “is in a position where he finds it necessary to redeem himself, a novel role for the paralyzing puncher who waded through twenty-three pretenders to his title before running into the stumbling block presented by the 34-year-old ring-worn Walcott.” What’s that? Twenty-three “pretenders”? A “34-year-old ring-worn Walcott”? Louis hid from the press and the public following the fight, the NYTimes said, because he was “aware of the sorry spectacle he made of himself.” The paper described his performance as a “floundering, stumbling, futile picture.” Louis had “wallowed” though the fight. Not exactly the language one expects when talking about an all-time great heavyweight champion.

In the rematch, Walcott again floored Louis and was winning on two of the cards (5-4 and 6-3), but he got cute and Louis knocked him out in the 11th. Walcott claimed that the referee sabotaged his strategy by telling him to fight, which was not, evidently, in Walcott’s game plan. It is quite likely that had it not been for Walcott’s uncharacteristic aggressiveness he would have sailed to an easy victory. On the other hand, knocking out Walcott was not that difficult of a feat. He had been knocked out three times before facing Louis. Tiger Jack Fox, a light heavyweight, knocked Walcott out with a single shot in the eighth round. In his third loss inside the distance, Abe Simon (24-5) knocked out Walcott in the sixth round. And Walcott was, after all, a now 35-year-old ring-worn fighter. What is more, Walcott dropped decisions to fighters he had no business losing to. One fighter who whipped him had a record of 8-12. Another conqueror had a record of 19-20-4. And these losses were not early in Walcott’s career. Walcott lost to light heavyweight Joey Maxim (40-12-1) and lost to Charles twice (by large margins of 77-73, 78-72, 78-72 and 80-70, 84-66, 83-67). He also lost to Rex Layne, a crude slugger, by wide margins (6-2, 6-3, and 6-3). All this was before he became champion of the world (by defeating guess who? Ezzard Charles).

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Old 05-10-2006, 08:30 AM #2
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Given that Louis outweighed Walcott nearly 15 lbs in both fights and stood nearly 2” taller, and given Walcott record, it is surprising that Louis did so poorly in both fights. Consider that Louis was 33-years-old in the first fight with Walcott and 34 years old in the rematch—Walcott was older than Louis and had suffered severe beatings in his career! At 33 years of age, Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier (215 lbs, 32-2), Joe Bugner (230 lbs, 51-6-1), Ron Lyle (219 lbs, 30-2-1), and Chuck Wepner (225 lbs, 30-9-2). Three of these fights were finished inside the distance. At 34, Ali would beat Ken Norton (217 lbs, 37-3), Richard Dunn (206 lbs, 33-9), Jimmy Young (209 lbs, 17-4-2), and Jean-Pierre Coopman (206 lbs, 24-3). Two of these fights were finished inside the distance. The Norton fight was close; but, then, Ali wasn’t floored twice and beat up. And at 33 and 34 years of age, Larry Holmes defeated Marvis Frazier (200 lbs, 10-0), Scott Frank (211 lbs, 21-0-1), Tim Witherspoon (219 lbs, 15-0), Lucien Rodriguez (209 lbs, 35-7-1), and Randall “Tex” Cobb (234 lbs, 21-2), and Gerry Cooney (225 lbs, 25-0). The Witherspoon fight was a close one; but, then, Holmes wasn’t floored twice and beat up. So whereas Louis had only two contests at these ages, both unimpressive performances, Holmes and Ali were fighting champions, defending their titles against legitimate contenders. Yet many people place Louis ahead of Ali, the latter a three-time heavyweight champion who defended his title 19 times. And many more polls place Louis ahead of Holmes, the latter a fighter who was undefeated in his first 48 fights and had defended his claim and championship a combined 21 times.

Walcott has been reckoned to be a great heavyweight. But this reputation was earned on the basis of his two defeats to an overrated champion. The myth of Louis had been constructed such that his failure to blow away Walcott made Jersey Joe look like superman. As we will see, Louis’ reputation is indeed mythic, and this construction is in fact just one of numerous reconstructions, as Louis’ penchant for disappointing fans and experts – expressed loudly in boos, jeers, and bad reviews – had to be continually glossed over in order to manufacture an enduring myth of greatness. Indeed, Louis only appears to us in history as a legend because of the manner in which his legacy has been constructed by certain sportswriters who see their job as manufacturing fables for whom they must believe are the ignorant masses rather than accurately reporting history. So within days of Louis-Walcott I the press began spinning the robbery. ‘If Walcott could win moving backwards,’ the propagandists reasoned, ‘then Bob Pastor should have been awarded a decision over Louis in their first fight.’ Which, of course, begs the question: Should Pastor have been awarded a decision over Louis in their first fight?

Before moving on, I must pause and summarize what we have thus far learned: Louis lost two of the three fights discussed so far! He was completely dominated by Ezzard Charles (a natural light heavyweight) and was floored twice and outpointed by Jersey Joe Walcott (a journeyman) and given a gift decision. And he was floored and outpointed in the rematch with Walcott before Walcott got careless. Yet Louis is placed ahead of fighters like Holmes? Liston? Foreman? Frazier? On what basis? His 25 title defenses? As we will see, that cannot be the reason.

What about the other journeymen Louis faced as champion? Tony Musto, who stood 5’7” and weighed 200 lbs (get that picture in your mind – and I assure you, he was no James Toney), was defeated in 9 rounds. The referee stopped the fight with Musto still on his feet. This was definitely not one of those 23 opponents the champion waded through. One wonders why it took that long. Musto’s record when he stepped into the ring was 28-10-1 (he would finish his career with a record of 36-30-4 – barely breaking .500!), and had lost 8 of his last 14 fights leading up to his match with Louis. He had never defeated a notable opponent. He was durable, though, having not been knocked out until he faced Louis. Louis claims he injured his hand or he would have knocked Tony out. That’s debatable. In fact, Musto gave the Bomber fits, fighting so well at times that the audience went into frenzy. According to The New York Times, “the gallant Musto, turning the tables on his tormentor, flashed an offensive of his own in the fifth and sixth rounds, and handled the champion with so much ease as to cause the crowd to cheer him tumultuously.” Although Musto would go on to lose to nearly every notable heavyweight, I should note here that he did manage to defeat Lee Savold, a fighter that some have regarded as a top contender (of course, out of the need to build up the legend of another overrated heavyweight named Rocky Marciano).

Gus Dorazio entered the ring with a record of 37-9-1, numbers only marginally better than Musto’s. But he would turn out to be much worse of a fighter that Musto. Gus held a win over Bob Pastor (more on him later), but lost to inconsistent light heavyweight Billy Conn (47-10-1) via stoppage. He also lost to journeyman Arturo Godoy (50-10-7). All told, Dorazio had been stopped three times before facing Louis. On the basis of these defeats, Gus earned a shot at the world championship. Why was Gus Dorazio allowed to fight for the title? I suppose if one can justify giving Musto a title shot, then Dorazio’s chance logically follows. In fact, it was even worse than that. As The New York Times put it, Dorazio “was also one of the most harmless challengers Louis, or any other heavyweight champion of recent years, for that matter, has ever faced.” Why isn’t Louis criticized for making such fights? Why is the large number of title defenses in the record book not problematized in such a manner as to raise concerns about Louis’ practice of holding up blatantly unqualified journeymen as legitimate contenders for the crown? It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about the quality of opposition. And we will see many more faces like Dorazio’s.

Arturo Godoy (50-8-7) gave Louis fits the first time they met. Indeed, Godoy demonstrated how easy it was to tie Louis up in knots. The fight went the distance, and although Louis won a split decision, he did so in ugly fashion. The fans booed him and treated Godoy as a hero. Louis quickly invented an excuse for doing so poorly: he was coasting because he was trying to save his hands for upcoming fights. A sober voice, The New York Times, reported that Louis “was anything but impressive.” Louis had been exposed, according to the reporter: “Everything happened to Louis, everything to make him look embarrassed, if not altogether ridiculous.” The rematch, held four months later, saw Godoy stopped in the 8th round. Godoy went on to post a record of 85-21-12. He did manage to defeat “Two Ton” Tony Galento and Jack Roper (more on these Louis opponents later). But Godoy was scarcely more than a journeyman, never facing an opponent of much historical significance, with the exception, of course, of Joe Louis.

At 6’0” and 200 lbs, Harry Thomas was a full sized heavyweight. He was, however, not a legitimate contender. His record was 32-10-2 at the time he faced Louis. He earned his shot by losing 2 of the previous four fights, one inside the distance. He would fight just four more times after Louis, losing 3 of these. He finished with a journeyman’s record of 33-14-2. There’s not much more one can say about Thomas. He was the typical Louis opponent. The fight was a mere blip in the press. Another bum, ho hum.

Tommy Farr, with a record of 66-20-13 at the time, was a journeyman, but he was one of the better journeymen Louis faced. What was shocking about the Farr fight was not that Louis faced a journeyman in the first defense of his championship (since this would become his practice), but that Farr went 15 rounds with the Brown Bomber. Since Farr had been stopped three times before, the audience was surprised when Louis never had the fighter from Wales in any danger. Moreover, Farr had fought much of his career as a light heavyweight (yet another practice Louis engaged in, namely, fighting guys who were a lot smaller than he was). And to add insult to injury, Farr came damn close to winning.

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Old 05-10-2006, 08:33 AM #3
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According to The New York Times, Farr “befuddled Louis” and attacked Louis “savagely, furiously, contemptuously at times in a glorious offensive.” He went the distance “not by strategy, nor by disorganized retreat, but by fighting every inch of the way, a style of fighting, too, that made Louis look bad.” Louis “was harassed and menaced at every turn, even when he had Farr jarred.” “The champion found a man with a granite jaw, an iron will and great courage, one who regarded him not as a superman but merely as another fighter and acted accordingly. Face to face with such a foeman, Louis disappointed.” Louis won, the paper noted, “but it was a hollow victory.” The crowd shifted loyalties as the fight progressed. By the end, they were squarely in Farr’s corner. “The crowd’s jeers…rang in Louis’s ears as he fumbled around the ring in the typical post-battle confusion after the decision was announced” (booing audiences was a common theme in Louis’ fights – fans saw through the hype). “And for Farr there was a deafening roar of acclaim that was altogether warranted as a testimonial to the fighting spirit of a man who had hurdled all obstacles as he shattered a myth.” Farr even found time late in the fight to mock Louis, so easy was it to confuse the Brown Bomber. Farr “became imbued with a desire to ridicule Louis…. In the fourteenth the rugged Welshman was sticking his chin out incitingly for the Louis punch. Joe could do nothing about it. Before the fifteenth and final round started Farr added the final cutting touch. He was out of his corner, off his little stool, ten seconds before the bell rang as if to dare Louis to his worst or his best. Through that fifteenth session Farr was the fighting man to the last second.”

Farr likely got his shot based on his win over former champion Max Baer. But given how crude Baer was, that victory should not have surprised anybody with their eyes open (as we will see, a journeyman of the caliber of James Braddock easily outpointed Baer). However he got his shot, the Welsh journeyman, as would every other fighters with a bit of skill, exposed Louis as an ordinary fighter. And the question remains: Did Louis do enough to win? Before the NBA moved to recognize Louis as champion, the president of the organization stated that Louis’ first defense of the title displayed a lack of championship caliber and he came near losing. “He was saved by a decision handed to him on a silver platter,” the president declared while expressing the reluctance of his organization to name Louis as champion.

Jim Braddock was the man Louis faced to win the champion. One could argue that in order to become champion, Louis had no choice but to face Braddock. Fair point. But it must also be said that Braddock, with a record of 45-24-7 at the time Louis faced him, was the quintessential journeyman. Braddock won the title by decisioning the unskilled slugger Max Baer. The contest was a nonevent. “If he can fight no better than he fought against Braddock,” reporters as The New York Times wrote, “Baer had better go into retirement. Preliminary boys who supported his first defense of the crown were better than Baer last night. But as a cold matter of fact, Braddock showed little more. He is willing. He is game. He is fearless in a determined way. But he is slow-footed, awkward and stiff. … [A]fter ten years of ring service, the new champion is ordinary as titleholders are weighed and measured.” Other than a points win over light heavyweight John Henry Lewis, Baer was Braddock’s only significant victory prior to the Louis fight. However, Braddock had earlier lost to Lewis, as well as to Maxie Rosenbloom and Tommy Loughran. Now, if you are saying to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute, those guys are light heavyweights,” then you’re on to something. Braddock fought most of his career as a light heavyweight. It is not a significant accomplishment for Louis to beat Braddock. But it is significant that an ordinary almost accidental titleholder put Louis on the seat of his pants in the first round of their title fight.

In sum, Louis’ performances against journeymen and trailhorses leave a lot to be desired. One of them (Walcott) floored him twice and outpoint him over 15 rounds. Another (Farr) took the champion 15 rounds and make him look ordinary. Yet another (Godoy) won a judge’s score card and made Louis look terrible. If one is inclined to think that they were surprises — that is, fighters who were better than billed — one only needs to study their records to disabuse themselves of this naïve and hopeful notion. And don’t forget the others. The 5’7” Musto was stopped on his feet after troubling the champion through 9 rounds. And the shopworn Braddock floored Louis and extended him 8 rounds. Dorazio and Thomas turned out to be tomato cans. So far, then, we have a record of opposition quite unbecoming to a champion of Louis’ legendary status. And it gets no better from here. In fact, it gets worse.


BUMS, NOBODIES, AND FREAKS

Buddy Baer was nothing much of a fighter. He had a padded record of 49-5. Remarkably, he had not faced a single outstanding opponent, yet he managed to lose 5 fights. But Buddy was a big fellow, standing 6’6” and weighing 237 lbs. He looked impressive standing in front of Louis. Louis looked so small. And Louis looked even smaller when Baer had Joe down on the canvas in the first round. Louis recovered and fought back, but not before the “fans in the ball yard had been treated to the spectacle of Joe Louis on the floor, Joe Louis out of the ring, Joe Louis holding, Joe Louis clinching, and Joe Louis bleeding.” Louis took a bad beating in the 5th round. He came back in the 6th to batter Baer. Baer, to his credit, got up (which was mildly surprising, since he had been pegged as something of a coward based on past efforts). Then Louis drilled him, allegedly after the bell. His corner dragged Buddy to his stool and protested the late punch. Baer’s manager refused to leave the ring and the referee disqualified Baer. In the rematch, Louis knocked out Baer in the first round.

The Baer win has impressed some observers because of Baer’s size. They contend that this victory proves Louis could have fought in today’s division, which is peopled by such large men. This is an ignorant judgment. Baer’s skill being what it was, namely, almost nonexistent, there shouldn’t have been a rematch. Despite having Louis in trouble, Baer was not a worthy contender for the heavyweight championship of the world. What do they say? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”?

The “fool me twice” saying is even more true about the Brown Bomber’s fight with Abe Simon. Simon entered the ring for his first fight with Louis with a padded record of 34-7. Simon was huge – 6’4 and weighed 250 lbs – and was durable, having only been stopped once (by Buddy Baer, although he had Baer in real trouble in the first round). Simon had even less ability than Baer, “earning” his championship shot on the basis of a loss to Jim Thompson (15-12-2). Still, it took Louis 13 rounds to stop the big fellow, and even then it appeared that the referee simply intervened to save Louis from going the distance. Simon “proceeded to give the Brown Bomber a slashing, all-out battle that went thirteen rounds.” Simon was a 20-to-1 underdog, but he turned “in an unbelievably good performance against the champion.” One of the most remarkable aspects of The New York Times coverage is this observation: “Louis forced matters from the start, but so crafty was Simon on defense that the champion had few good shots at him.” Describing Abe Simon as ‘defensively crafty’ rises to the level of sarcasm. Louis was just that awful in comparison. Abe entered the rematch with a record of 36-9-1. In between his fights with Louis he drew with Turkey Thompson (18-3-1) and was knocked out by Lem Franklin (27-5-1). Yet, he still managed to get a rematch. Louis knocked Simon out in the sixth round, but the question remains: how did such an incompetent boxer get a rematch? For that matter, how did Abe Simon get a shot in the first place? A fighter disrespects the championship by fighting a man like this even one time. Twice is outrageous. So what does it mean, then, that Simon knocked out Walcott in 6 rounds?

Jack Roper was 39 years old when he faced Louis. He would fight only five more times, losing three of those, one by knockout. His record when he stepped in the ring against Louis was 54-40-9. I might have put him in the journeyman and trailhorses section except that Jack was knocked out or stopped 13 times before facing Louis! In fact, he couldn’t beat the count in 11 fights. That’s really bad even for an opponent of Joe Louis’. Roper was knocked out three times in a row and then, later on, twice in a row. Who did he beat to get his title shot? That’s a good question. Maybe he got his shot because he weighed more than Louis. In any case, this is arguably Louis’ worst opponent.

Check this out: The question of the fight’s legitimacy came before the legislative committee investigating boxing conditions in California. The State Athletic Commission was heavily criticized for sanctioning the bout. The committee chair of the legislative body asked, “You knew, didn’t you that Roper was 39 years old and has been knocked out perhaps twenty times, sometimes by fighters whose names I wouldn’t know except for a list I hold in my hand?” The representative of the commission admitted that he was not familiar with Roper’s record, but that he was under the impression that Roper had “been getting better with age.” This is the stuff legends are made of? It sounds like a comedy skit!

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Old 05-10-2006, 08:34 AM #4
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Then there’s “Two Ton” Tony Galento. Galento looked like a refugee from a video game, one in which a squat whirling fat man charges willy-nilly into your character while you try to hold him at bay with fireballs. The New York Times described him as “roly-poly” and “globular.” Galento was 5’9” and weighed 234 lbs. His record, which stood at 73-23-5, was amassed against nobodies. He did beat Harry Thomas though, who was, for some reason, barred for life from boxing in Pennsylvania because of this fight (something about an “unsatisfactory performance”). After Louis, Galento knocked out Lou Nova, which might be something if Nova had been anything more than a carefully guided fighter. Alas, “Two Ton” Tony was, in his next fight, stopped by a completely used up Max Baer. What about his fight with Louis? Before Louis stopped him, the “gallant and globular” Galento managed to stagger Louis in the first round and floor him and again stagger him in the 3rd round. I guess Joe couldn’t get his fireballs off fast enough in the early goings.

Primo Canera was not a title defense, but an ex-champion Louis faced on his way to the title. Primo is often held up as an example of a large man that Louis beat, the implication allegedly being that Louis could have performed well against the big talented heavyweights of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. How big was Primo? He was between 6’5” and 6’6” depending on which time of the day you measured him, and he weighed 260 when he faced Louis. He appears to have suffered from some form of gigantism, as his facial features were deformed (he appeared as a giant in movies such as Hercules Unchained). Many of his fights were probably fixed, and there were in fact investigations of them. Carnera did win against name opponents, although these were light heavies, old contenders, and journeymen. He twice decisioned Paolino Uzcundun (41-9-2 and 50-14-2), twice decisioned King Levinsky (26-12-2 and 30-17-2), and decisioned Loughran (99-21-7). Carnera knocked out Jack Sharkey (36-9-2) to win the title, although Sharkey had outpointed Carnera in an earlier fight. Carnera lost his title to Max Baer (39-7). Baer knocked down the giant 11 times. Primo didn’t stand a chance against Louis, and the referee stopped the fight in the 6th round.


THE LITTLE GUYS

Tami Mauriello had an impressive record (69-7-2). However, Mauriello was not a heavyweight. Most of Mauriello’s career had been at welter, middleweight and light heavyweight. He had a carefully constructed career, and at each weight class, when he stepped up, he lost. At middleweight, he lost to Billy Soose. At light heavyweight, he lost twice to Gus Lesnevich and twice to Jimmy Bivins. At heavyweight, he lost to Joe Baski and Lee Oma. So when he faced Louis, the truth is that Tami was not an outstanding fighter across several weight divisions. And he wasn’t any better at heavyweight. Louis knocked him out in the first round, but not before Tami almost had the Bomber down with two rights in a row. So dazed was Louis from the first punch that he had no memory in his dressing room of the second right hand, which buckled his knees.

Perhaps the most memorable moments in Louis’ career were the famous two fights with Billy Conn, the light heavyweight champion. One was “fight of the year.” The other was “flop of the year.” Conn had an uneven career at lightweight, welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight. He fought half his career as a middleweight or below. After receiving a real beating at middleweight from Young Corbett III, Billy tested the light heavyweight waters, bouncing back and forth between middle and light heavy. He won the light heavy championship and defended it three times, two of those defenses coming against Lesnevich. So, despite his less than stellar record (59-10-1), he had accomplished what Tami Mauriello could not. After outboxing several heavies, including Lee Savold (48-20) and Bob Pastor (40-5-4), he challenged Louis for the title. Conn weighed 174 lbs for the fight – that’s under the light heavyweight limit. But Conn had figured out that the heavyweight division was so bad at the time (decimated by the war-time conditions and a real talent gap between weight classes) that a small man could do a lot with speed. And against a stuck-in-the-mud puncher like Louis, Conn looked brilliant. Billy was leading on two of the scorecards at the time he was knocked out in the 13th round. He got brave and thought he could win by knock out. His mistake. Too bad, too, because it would have been interesting to see how historians would have spun Louis’ second loss to an opponent he was expected to destroy. Louis admitted that Conn had him hurt in the 12th round. The rematch was rather uneventful. Louis, who outweighed Conn 207 to 182 lbs, knocked Billy out in eight. Conn’s record was 62-11-1 for the rematch. He had won a few in the meantime, one of those over (highly overrated) middleweight Tony Zale (51-15-2).

Red Burman was another bulked up light heavyweight. He stood 5’ 11” and entered the fight weighing 188 lbs. He entered the ring with a record of 58-13-1. He had been knocked out 3 times before facing Louis. He defeated and then lost to Tommy Farr in back-to-back fights. He did manage to defeat Tony Musto, though. Again, Burman is an example of Louis picking an easy mark to pad his title fight record. Nonetheless, Burman troubled the champion and the opinion of many observers was that Louis was slipping. The New York Times carried the headline, “Burman is Hailed for Gallant Stand: Fight Fans Declare Louis is Slipping.”

John Henry Lewis, whose record stood at an impressive 92-7-5, was the world light heavyweight champion. Lewis weighed just 180 lbs for the Louis fight and was three months removed from his last title defense of the light heavyweight title. Lewis had had some limited success against marginal heavyweights in the past, but Joe blew away Lewis in the first round. It would be Lewis’ last of 105 fights. Although Lewis was a formidable light heavyweight, he was not a legitimate heavyweight contender.

Al McCoy was a light heavyweight. He weighed just 180 lbs when he met Louis. He stood 5’11”. His record is impressive, depending on how you reckon it. Throwing in newspaper decisions, it stood at 114-31-20 when he entered his title fight with Louis. Without newspaper decisions, McCoy’s record of 67-18-5 entering the Louis fight doesn’t look so good. One could argue that he was a competent journeyman. However, upon closer inspection, he finds this isn’t true. McCoy had lost 11 of his previous 20 fights leading up to the Louis fight. The Louis defeat was his third in a row. It would be McCoy’s next to last fight. The fight was stopped when Ray Arcel refused to let his fighter come out because of an abnormally swollen eye. But in the time it lasted, Louis was against exposed as a poor boxer. According to The New York Times “McCoy was expected to crumble under the first punch Louis tossed in his direction. Instead the wily New England veteran made Louis appear ludicrous at times. Adopting a crouching, bobbing, weaving style, McCoy was an elusive target,” the paper reported. “For the rest of the bout Louis made some pitifully futile efforts to tag his rival with a finishing blow. Despite his eye injury and the occasional thudding lefts Louis shot to his face, McCoy fought back eagerly in the fourth, reaching the champion with a left hook to the head and a right to the head. In the fifth McCoy brought encouraging cries from the crow when, his left eye tightly closed, he came tumbling in on the attack and drove a solid right to the jaw.” Of course, not in every fight can Louis be expected to blow his opponent away. But how can he fail to impress in so many fights with so many small and mediocre fighters? So far, it is only against horribly overmatched opponents that Louis looks like the Dark Destroyer. Against competent, though nowhere near outstanding, competition, he has trouble. He is constantly befuddled by the movement of journeymen and light heavyweights.

Bob Pastor was not a light heavyweight, but he might have well have between. He stood 5’11” and weighed 183 lbs when he faced Louis in the title fight. Pastor was a safe choice. In 65 fights as a professional, he only scored 17 knockouts. Louis knocked out Pastor in 11 rounds. However, it was not the first time Pastor had met Louis in the ring. Pastor lost a unanimous 10 round decision to Louis almost three years earlier in Louis’ comeback from the Schmeling disaster. Pastor befuddled Louis in that fight and the Brown Bomber was widely criticized for his performance in this fight. The fans loudly voiced their disapproval for the verdict. “From the girder, crashing down to the floors of the Garden, came a deafening roar of dissatisfaction. Men and women stood about the ring, shouting and stamping in derision. From the side arena, from the mezzanine and from the balcony, the topmost tier, came a storm of catcalls, boos and other sounds familiar in the sport world for their connotation of discontent.” Louis’ nose was bloodied as he tried to catch Pastor. But he never even staggered Pastor. The crowd got behind Pastor and their “cheers came in stronger volume and the fight progressed. And they rose to a thunderous volume when the final bell rang, with Pastor still erect, never even knocked down.” The New York Times punctuated Louis’ terrible performance with this: “An idol swayed on his pedestal…a myth crashed.”

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Old 05-10-2006, 08:35 AM #5
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In the rematch, Pastor again troubled Louis. In the eighth round Pastor had Louis staggered. After the fight Louis’ eye was swollen, his face battered. The crowd against threw their support behind Pastor. Pastor’s error was in trying to slug with Louis. Had he fought a defensive fight as he did the first time, it was clear he would have had more success. The fight was scheduled for 20, and there were concerns that Louis would tire. After the 10th round, his corner asked Louis if he thought he could go twenty.

So how good was Pastor? He was pretty good. Pastor held wins over several notable light heavies and small heavies like Jimmy Bivins (who also beat Pastor), Tami Mauriello, and Gus Lesnevich. He also held a win over a larger heavyweight named Lem Franklin. All this was after his title fight with Louis. Also, the year after he lost to Louis, Pastor was knocked out by Billy Conn. Despite his size, Pastor was one of the better fighters Louis faced.


RECORDS AND REPUTATIONS CAN BE DECEIVING

On the surface Lou Nova had a fine record (26-2-4) entering the fight, but he had lost to former light heavyweight champion Maxie Rosenblum (219-43-31). “Slapsie Maxie,” as he was known, because he only had 19 KOs in 298 fights, was two fights away from retirement. He was also stopped by club fighter Tony Galento (73-24-5). Lou held two wins over the shot Max Baer (67-11 and 71-12) and a game but fading Tommy Farr (66-23-13). Nova drew with Bob Pastor and handed Abe Simon his first loss. The fight was competitive but cautious until the end when Louis knocked Nova down and then battered after Lou rose. Although Nova was overrated, he was nonetheless one of Louis’ few legitimate title defenses and the Shuffler (as Louis was often called because of his slow footwork) won in impressive fashion.

The Bomber also impressed in his one-round blowout of former champion Max Schmeling, whose record stood at a respectable 52-7-4. But we must be frank about how Joe got Schmeling in the position to take him out in the first round. Schmeling was luring Louis to the ropes to land his counter right when Louis staggered Max with a short right hand. Schmeling, hanging on to the rope, turned from Louis to avoid more punches and Louis threw two sharp punches into Max’ left kidney. The rules of the state did not allow for winning on a foul (kidney punches are nevertheless illegal), so this had no bearing on the fight, but it does explain why Schmeling was paralyzed. He continued to turn away from Louis while Louis hit him from behind. The referee finally stepped between them to stop the action. He then waved Louis back in. Bent over from the pain, Schmeling was a sitting duck and Louis nailed Schmeling with a right hand. Schmeling was up quickly, floored again, up quickly, and then floored again. His corner threw in the towel and the referee stopped the contest.

The title fight was a rematch between these fighters. In the first fight Schmeling dominated Joe Louis and knocked out the Dark Destroyer in the 12th round. “Exactly 2 minutes 29 seconds of the fatal twelfth had gone into history when Louis, hailed as the king of fighters entering the ring, was counted out, his invincibility as a fighter a shattered myth, his vulnerability convincingly established and his claims to heavyweight title distinction knocked into the discard,” wrote The New York Times. So bad was the beating Louis took that he had to be carried to his corner. “And when his handlers got him to his corner, Louis required several minutes of resuscitating before he was able to stagger on shaky legs out of the ring – unnoticed.” Schmeling won because he “refused to believe that Louis was a superman of the ring.” Louis had no answer for Schmeling. “Louis tried with all the tricks of the trade at his command to live up to the excessive pre-battle confidence place in him as a fighting man. But nothing he had, nothing the astute Jack Blackburn could tell him or do for him in the rests between these tortuous rounds after the fourth, helped him against the sense-numbing influence of Schmeling’s right-hand punch.” The crowd had gotten behind Schmeling in the fourth round, when he floored Louis the first time. “The crowd was delirious with joy, hoarse with shouting as its sentiment turned to the German after the amazing knockdown of the fourth round. The Bomber was tottering drunkenly on unsteady legs, careening aimlessly about the ring.” Louis, as was his practice, blamed the defeat on two hurt thumbs. “Those who saw the battle will testify that the unerring qualities of Schmeling’s unerring punches really had more to do with the Bomber’s downfall.” The New York Times reported that “the German was the master and knew it.”

How good was Schmeling? He has been elevated because of his performance against Louis in his first fight. In truth, he was never a great fighter. He was 48-7-4 when Louis first faced him, and he had been knocked out or stopped four times, once by Max Baer (38-7). He also suffered a first-round knock out to Gypsy Daniels (61-19-9). His most impressive performance was a 15th round stoppage of Young Stribling, a natural light heavyweight, and Mickey Walker, a natural welterweight.

This is a good time to note that Louis faced two other ex-champions on the way to the title. The first was against Max Baer (40-8), the crude boxer discussed above. Baer, a sitting duck, was easily knocked out by Louis. The second was Jack Sharkey, who had a journeymen record of 38-13-3. Sharkey had battled Jack Dempsey between the Tunney-Dempsey matches and was having his way with Dempsey until Dempsey fouled him in the seventh. The “vicious left hook” Dempsey allegedly landed on Sharkey was not vicious at all. Sharkey was already going down from a vicious punch to his testicles. Sharkey won the heavyweight title with a 15 round decision over Schmeling after having lost in a shot at the vacant title over a foul to Schmeling. The decision was split, and many ringsiders voiced the opinion than Schmeling won. Although Sharkey put up a bit better of a fight than Baer, Louis handled him easily.

Nathan Mann had a good record of 40-4-3. He was 5’10” and usually weighed around 185 lbs. He was heavy for the Louis fight at 197 lbs. Mann owned decision wins over two decent fighters in Pastor and Godoy, so he was a competent challenger. Two fights after Louis, however, he would be knocked out by Galento in ever quicker fashion than he was by Louis. And in a weird fight with Al McCoy, one of Mann’s handlers struck the bell to keep Mann from being counted out. The fight was ruled a no contest. Mann would be stopped by Buddy Baer and outpointed by Lesnevich.

Johnny Paycheck had a good record of 39-4-1, but it was amassed against inferior competition and old fighters. Entering the fight at a light 187 lbs, Paycheck was stopped in two rounds. In his next fight he was knocked out in 10 by the 8-2-1 Altus Allen. Paycheck lost his next fight, as well, and decided to call it a day.


CONCLUSION

Looking at the record in an objective fashion, the reaction that a rational individual has to the idea of Louis as a great heavyweight is simple, namely, Why is Joe Louis considered to be so great? It is a rhetorical question, because no one who seriously studies the matter can expect an answer from a Joe Louis devotee that will contradict the opinion he or she has formed, which will be, to put it bluntly, that Joe Louis is arguably the most overrated heavyweight champion ever. The only champion who gives Louis a run for his money as most overrated is Marciano, whose undefeated record was built from the scraps of Louis’ feast on journeymen, trailhorses, and light heavies – some of whom whipped Joe. And Marciano’s six title defenses against unworthy competition, with the exception of two fighters, would make Louis’ championship run look brilliant if it wasn’t for the fact that Marciano was never hammered to the canvas by a bum or embarrassed by a light heavyweight like Louis was (although Archie Moore did knock him down).

Consider the fights in which Louis was badly beaten or nearly beaten. Max Schmeling floored Louis and knocked him out. He beat the **** out of Louis, frankly. Charles, a light heavyweight, practically shut him out. He had Louis busted him and nearly out in the 14th round. Jersey Joe Walcott, a shopworn journeyman floored Louis twice and outpointed him. And in the rematch he floored him and was outpointing Louis until he got careless. Arturo Godoy had Louis in knots and won one of the scorecards. Tommy Farr took Louis 15 rounds and many observers believe Farr was robbed. Billy Conn was boxing Louis’ ears off until he got careless in the 13th round. Louis was arguably outboxed by Pastor the first time they met, and was frustrated in the rematch before Pastor got careless. And then there are the fights where Louis was exposed by journeymen and bums to be a rather ordinary fighter himself. Louis was extended to 13 rounds by Simon, a truly awful boxer, who, because of Louis’ clumsiness, looked defensively clever. Musto finished on his feet. Louis was floored by Braddock, staggered by Buddy Baer, and floored and staggered by Galento. Sure, the Dark Destroyer blew away terrible opposition and shot contenders in Dorazio, Thomas, Roper (which sparked an investigation), Canera, M. Baer, and Sharkey. And he handled small men in Mauriello, Burman, Lewis, and McCoy. Who were the decent fighters that he beat actually looked impressive against? Lou Nova, Nathan Mann, Johnny Paycheck, and Schmeling (in the rematch) were impressive wins.

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Old 05-10-2006, 08:54 AM #6
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What some people will do to tarnish the reputation of fighters! Some of what he says is true, but the simple fact is that Joe Louis beat all the best heavyweights in the world during his era. Perhaps other than Louis himself, that era was not particularly strong but even that notion is debatable. Look carefully at the guys that Larry Holmes beat while he was champion, and although most had fewer losses than Joe Louis's opponents, they had a lot more losses by the time their careers were over. A bunch of Holmes' opponents were put in against Larry while they were still young, on the rise and maybe not at their peak.

It's a long story, but the simple truth is that Joe Louis beat everyone that was put in front of him, and usually decisively. To my knowledge Louis ducked nobody. I've never heard anyone ask questions such as "why didn't Joe Louis fight so-and-so".

It's the same old story. If you work hard enough you can take any fighter's reputation down a peg with carefully selected anecdotes.
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Old 05-10-2006, 09:07 AM #7
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That person deserves to be shot for writing that, even if its a joke.
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Old 05-10-2006, 09:33 AM #8
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(oh yeah, forgot the ending)

This historical journey has erased whatever remaining myths I still harbored about Joe Louis. I recognize that he is historically important, coming as he did during the Great Depression and WWII. But he was jeered and criticized at the time for all his terrible performances. Reading through the articles you see repeated how the myth is being shattered, how the idol is being toppled from his pedestal, etc. Boxing fans turned against Joe in fight after fight when they saw how vulnerable he was to slick boxing. He often looked incredibly stupid trying to figure out an opponent’s style, and often he had no answers by the end of the night. He wouldn’t have stood a chance in the ring with fighters of the caliber of Liston, Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Holmes, Tyson, or Lewis. In fact, he would have been easily whipped by boxers not usually recognized as great heavyweights, including Michael Spinx, Evander Holyfield, and Ken Norton. Louis was just not good enough to have given any of these fighters a competitive fight. He was too slow, did not have the chin, and was too dumb in the ring.

Joe Louis was not a great fighter. And this truth needs to be repeated until people clear their heads of the Louis fable. The very idea that he could take a fighter like George Foreman in 5 rounds is ludicrous. One can only make such a ridiculous claim because they are ignorant of the facts. If Schmeling could knock out Louis in 12, Foreman or Frazier would knock Louis out in one. If Walcott could floor and outbox Louis, imagine what Ali or Holmes would have done. Joe Louis stood nearly 6’2 and usually weighed around 200 lbs. Imagine how easily a 6’3” 200 lbs Michael Spinks, with all his skill and movement, would defeat Joe Louis. Louis could barely get past Farr and Godoy. Spinks would have embarrassed him.

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Old 05-10-2006, 09:50 AM #9
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He said that he had bad chin, that he wasn't good enough and TOO DUMB. Can you take a piece of **** like that serious? Joe Louis too dumb?
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Old 05-10-2006, 09:55 AM #10
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Was a ridiculous article. Joe was definately not dumb.. he had a bit of a suspect chin but a brilliant defense to somewhat makeup for it. These blatent attacks on fighters are just plain ****edup.
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