Joe LouisJoseph Louis Barrow (May 13, 1914 - April 12, 1981), better known in the boxing world as Joe Louis and nicknamed The Brown Bomber, was a native of Alabama who became world's Heavyweight champion.
The son of a cotton picker and a homemaker, Louis became interested in boxing after the Barrows moved to Detroit in 1924. He went on to win Michigan's Golden Gloves title, after which he turned professional in 1934. Louis made his debut on July 4 of that year, knocking out Jack Kracken in the first round at Chicago that night. He won 12 fights that year, all in Chicago, 10 by knockout. Among his opponents in '34 was Art Sykes, a good contender of that era.
In 1935, he boxed 13 more times, and started touring the United States and Canada. He won each of his fights, and he began to face better opposition, beating former world Heavyweight champions Primo Carnera and Max Baer, and former Carnera world title challenger Paulino Uzcudun. His last four bouts that year were exhibitions in Canada, as one fight versus Isodoro Castagana, supposed to take place December 29 at Havana, Cuba, was suspended.
He began 1936 knocking out Charlie Retzlilaff in the first round. Louis' ascent up to this point of his career has been compared by many boxing critics to that of a young Mike Tyson. In his next fight, however, he was matched with former world Heavyweight champion Max Schmeling, who was thought to be fading when he upset Louis by a knockout in 12 at New York. The fight took place during the beginning of World War II, and Louis was affected by his defeat to the German, and he immediately started asking for a rematch.
That year Louis had four more bouts, winning all of them, and three exhibitions. Among the boxerss he defeated were former Heavyweight champ Jack Sharkey and Eddie Simms, who turned to the referee and asked the referee to take a walk on the roof with him after Louis hit him with a punch, the referee stopping the fight right away.
1937 came by, and after a ten round decision win over Bob Pastor, Louis was matched with world champion James J. Braddock in Chicago for the World Heavyweight title. Louis was dropped in round one, but he got up and became the world champion by knocking Braddock out in round eight. He said after the fight, however, that he would not feel like a world champion until he beat one man: Schmeling. Louis retained the title three times, outpointing the capable Welchman Tommy Farr and knocking out Nathan Mann in three and Harry Thomas in five. The rematch with Schmeling finally took place, on June 22, 1938. The War was going on full speed overseas, and many fans around the world saw this fight as a war symbol: Louis representing the American interests and Schmeling, who was wrongly seen as a Nazi, fighting for Germany. Louis retained his title by a knockout in the first round, avenging his only loss up until that time and achieving something not too many African-Americans of the era imagined anyone could do: Becoming a national hero both for the white and the black population. Louis was black, so when he won the title, he had become an example to his fellow black Americans. But by beating a German boxer in the middle of the war versus Germany, Louis won over whites too, something very hard to do during the 1930s and 1940s in the United States.
In between serving in the United States Army during the Second World War, Louis kept on defending his title, totalling 25 defenses from '37 to 1949. He was a world champion for 11 years and 10 months, after which he left his crown vacant. He set records for any division in number of defenses and longetivity as world champion non stop, and both records still stand. Apart from Schmeling, Farr, Mann and Thomas, other notable title defenses during that period were:
- his fight versus world Light Heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis, knocked out in the first
- his fight with Two Ton Tony Galento, who upset the boxing world by knocking Louis down in round one, but Louis got up and knocked Galento out in the fourth
- his two fights with Chilean Arturo Godoy, who almost did something no other boxer from Chile has ever done and no hispanic had done before: Become world Heavyweight champion in their first bout, which Louis won by a close decision, and when Louis won the rematch by a knockout in the eight round, a riot broke loose at theMadison Square Garden
- his two fights with world Light Heavyweight champion Billy Conn, who was leading Louis on all scorecards when he tried to knock him out in round thirteen and instead it was Louis who ended up knocking him out in that round, and in the rematch, Louis won by a knockout in the eight round.
- his two fights versus future world Heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, who would drop Louis in round four of their first bout and lose a close decision, then get knocked out by Louis in the rematch in 11 rounds.
In 1950, he announced a comeback and was promptly given a chance to recover his title, but he lost a 15 round unanimous decision to world champion Ezzard Charles, who had won the title after Louis left it vacant. He kept boxing, and in his next fight be beat fringe contender Cesar Brion by a decision in 10. Seven more wins followed, including a rematch with Brion and a decision over fellow hall of famer Jimmy Bivins. In 1951, however, he would box what would be his final fight: In front of a national television audience, Louis lost by a knockout in eight rounds to the future world Heavyweight Champion, Rocky Marciano. Louis did not embarrass himself that night, but it was obvious his best years had gone by.
Louis faced a drug problem, a fact not too many people knew about but which was made public by a boxing book published by Ring Magazine, just as in Sugar Ray Robinson's case. But later on in life, he was able to kick his drug habit.
A few years after his retirement, a movie about his life, The Joe Louis Story, was filmed in Hollywood.Louis remained a popular celebrity until his twilight years, when he began suffering various illnesses and ran out of money. In his later years, he got a job welcoming tourists to the Caesar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas, where many world boxing champions and legends from other walks of life, including old rival Schmeling, would visit him. He and Schmeling became very good friends over the years. He died in 1981, and Schmeling was one of the casket carriers. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
Louis' life prompted a writer to say once that: Joe Louis is a hero to his race, the human race.
He retired with a record of 62 wins and 3 losses, with 49 wins by a knockout. He has a sports complex named after him in Detroit, the Joe Louis Arena, where the Detroit Red Wings play their NHL games.
Louis is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.