Bridging Eras Part 1 (diary entry)

louis v walcott 214.09.21

Tuesday’s “Learn from the Fight” focused on the continuing decline of Joe Louis’s career, Jersey Joe Walcott’s continued determination to be the oldest man to lift the World Heavyweight Championship and the emerging force that was Ezzard Charles.

Joe Louis versus Jersey Joe Walcott World Heavyweight Championship 25.06.1948

Joe Louis felt his career was nearing its end and wanted to go out on top. However, his financial problems were only getting worse thanks to money taken by his handlers and his own generosity towards his family. Of the $4.6 million plus he earned in purses during his boxing career, he apparently saw just $800,000. He had yet to see his $500,000 tax bill that was going to be charged to him with accumulating interest. His previous fight with Walcott had earned him a purse of $600,000 that $140,000 went to his managers, $66,000 went to his ex-wife and the US state of New York received $30,000.

Louis entered his second fight with Walcott weighing in at 213½lbs, the heaviest in his career. Despite this, it was noted that he entered the fight with more focus than before determined to redeem his previous bout. As we have come to see with Max Schmeling, the only man to hand him a defeat let alone a knockout at this point of his career, with Billy Conn who almost beat him in their first match and even with Buddy Bear who was the surprising final contender in the “Bum of the month club”. In all of these cases Louis had proven he had learnt his lessons the first time around and had decisively dominated in the rematch. Most people at the time and in retrospect believe that Louis had lost on points to Walcott who had knocked him down twice, dominated for 12 twelve rounds and only held off for the last three rounds so not to risk a knockout. Even Louis had been disgusted by his performance and clearly felt Walcott had won.

We picked up the highlights of the rematch in round three. Walcott’s excellent footwork was on display. It has been said that his awkward style was a forerunner of the Ali Shuffle. He baited, jabbed high and low as Louis came forward in his usual minimalistic fashion. Louis used one of his bridging jabs but totally misread Walcott who easily slipped the punch with his own distracting jab before letting fly with a right cross. The punch sent Louis down but he was straight back up. Walcott moved in to pour on more damage and they clinched. Walcott threw some two-fisted attacks as close range, but they were soon at long range with Louis trying to renew his former offensive.

In round four the fight was a fairly clean mixture of ranges. Early on Louis closed the gap and this time Walcott didn’t play the out-boxer or even the counter-puncher but stood his ground. It has been said that he had grown a little cocksure since the last fight and his corner had warned him not to slug it out with Louis. After a little bit of posturing we saw Walcott temporally revert back to his back-peddling and lateral footwork where the Ali comparisons seem pretty apt. Again he became a bit emboldened, abandoning his defensive style and began landing some one-two combinations of his own. Otherwise he kept bouncing off his jabs with Louis doing his normal stalking. All in all it was a good round of Walcott again.

We skipped to round nine for a brief exchange of jabs and Louis being made to look more like a slugger as he tried to drop his big right. Highlights of round 10 showed Walcott again getting tempted to challenge Louis for the centre ground and a fair amount of resulting in-fighting. He was apparently ahead on points again.

In round 11 Walcott’s confidence was at its height. He circled Louis; he swaggered and walked around him. He baited and feinted in dramatic fashion as he scored jabs, zipping in and out. Louis remained focused, cagey and relied on his classic style as he looked for his opening. Walcott bobbed and weaved, switched direction and came in with some hard combinations. They clinched and exchanged with Walcott coming out on top a couple of times, but Louis kept closing in. Eventually it came to a slugfest – the type Walcott had been warned about and the type he could not resist. Louis pinned his opponent against the ropes and let fly with lefts and rights with his usual laser point accuracy. Walcott bobbed, slipped and weaved but the punches were going in. Louis’s right hurt him. Then he got in the body. He continued to bob and weave, firing back with his left hooks but they caught air or slapped harmlessly onto Louis’s shoulder who continued throw right hooks. It then went in again and again chopping down the challenger. Walcott tried to get up and eventually stumbled to his feet, but it was all over. Louis had redeemed himself and could retire with his title.

walcott vs charles 1 (a)Ezzard Charles versus Jersey Joe Walcott World Heavyweight Championship 22.06.1949

In 1949 Ring magazine awarded Ezzard Charles fighter of the year. They would also consider him to be the best light heavyweight of all time, a position often contested by others as being Archie Moore’s place. Charles had 65 wins, five losses and one draw by the time he was considered eligible to fight for the now vacated NBA World Heavyweight Championship. Indeed, Charles and Walcott were both selected by Louis as the fighters most worthy of fighting for the title. Apparently the vacant Ring and the NYSAC versions of the belt wouldn’t be on the line until the next year. The same could be said for the British Board of Boxing Control and European Boxing Union.

The man who came to be known as the Cincinnati Cobra was born in Lawrenceville, Georgia and grew up in Cincinnati. He has the unusual distinction being considered Ring Magazine’s greatest light heavyweight of all time despite never winning the world title in that division.

He began fighting in the amateurs whilst still attending Woodward High School in Cincinnati from where he graduated. Charles first fought as a featherweight at this time but began moving up the divisions, winning the Diamond Middleweight Championship in 1938. He also won the Chicago Golden Gloves in 1939 in the tournament of champions and the AAU Middleweight Championship the same year. He turned professional in 1940 and won 17 of his first fights before losing to Ken Overlin. Overlin had just lost the World Middleweight Championship to Billy Soose having won it a year previously from Ceferino Garcia. In 1944 he won the Inter-Allied Middleweight championship in 1944 and joined the military, not fighting professionally again until 1946.

By the time he came to fight Walcott he beaten top contenders like Jimmy Bivens and future longest reigning light heavyweight champion, Archie Moore, several times. One of these bouts also resulted in Sam Baroudi dying from his injuries. As is often the case when this happens with boxers, many historians have speculated that Charles became a far less aggressive fighter after this bout.

Charles and Walcott would each receive 25% of the gate with the nefarious mob-run International Boxing Club getting 50%.

We started our watching in round 14. Both fighters still seemed tentative, which is unusual so late in the match. Walcott definitely shoot Charles a little at point leading the Cobra to clinch and hold on for a bit. Charles was a very active fighter, bouncing a lot on his toes and fought on the front foot with Walcott who took the usual counter-punching approach. In round 15 Charles appeared to take the back foot at the beginning, forcing Walcott to come forward. Both fighters seemed a lot more active in this round than the previous one.

The fight’s ending was met by a chorus of boos due to what many considered to be a poor performance by both fighters. Walcott was criticised for throwing what looked like a weak jab throughout and Charles won the day with his body shots.