Ezzard Charles versus Joe Louis 27.09.1950
After winning the tournament that decided Joe Louis’s successor for the NBA version of the World Heavyweight title, Ezzard Charles fought three title defences before he was given an opportunity to unite the belt with the NYSAC and The Ring titles. He soundly defeated Gus Lesnevich, Pat Valentino and Freddie Beshore inside the distance with a corner stoppage, a straight KO and TKO respectively, but the general audiences weren’t impressed. Neither the first nor the last of these three drew large crowds with the Beshore audience being the smallest recorded for a heavyweight championship bout. The Valentino one in the middle saw the audience boo Charles when he entered. The audiences wanted another Joe Louis and, despite Charles’s immense talents, he could not mimic Captain America.
Meanwhile Joe Louis, heavy in debt and financial problems that were just about to get worse. The IRS audit came back with a bill in excess of $500,000. A large amount of his problems had stemmed from allowing his manager, Mike Jacobs, to manage his finances. For his comeback he switched to Truman Gibson. He also switched his manager from Roxborough and Black to Marshall Miles.
After retiring the World Championship Louis continued fighting exhibition bouts. These matches were no easy-going affairs. After a brutal 10 round exhibition bout where Louis punished the same Pat Valentino who had challenged Charles, it seemed to all that he was ready for a comeback. He was even favoured 2-1 by the bookies when six months after this exhibition he decided to challenge Charles for the undisputed World Heavyweight Championship.
Louis weighed in at 218lbs, 4½lb heavier than when he had last fought Jersey Joe Walcott and the heaviest he had ever been. This was despite Louis saying he was in his best ever shape and that he expected to win by knockout. Gene Tunney was of a similar opinion: “If Jack Dempsey is not the greatest fighter who ever lived, then Joe Louis is. There is no reason to think, because Louis is 36, that he has not retained the skill and power that he had when he retired.” Tunney predicted Louis would win in round five. However, Sugar Ray Robinson, a good friend of Louis’s, said “Ezzard Charles is the most underrated fighter I know. Charles is in superb fighting condition. I refuse to go out on a limb in predicting what the outcome of his fight with Louis will be but I’ll say this much, Ezzard looks very good to me.”
We have discussed Louis’s mechanical and precision boxing style. Ezzard Charles is noted for his bladed stance and the way he leaned his head off-centre, much like Joe Louis, and also used a slight lean. This made for an efficient defence. His lean allowed for faster loading time on his right, which he used as an effective countering tool. He also had other weapons at his disposal including smothering by pressing against an opponent’s glove to prevent them punching on the inside. Furthermore, Charles proved to be a very adaptive fighter with a high ring IQ. He was a boxer-puncher, known for his right hand but known more for his out-boxing skills.
The fight was won via a unanimous decision in favour of Charles who completely dominated the match. He was quicker and slicker with his footwork, readily beating the former champion to the punch and avoiding Louis’s powerful shots. Louis tried to press forward in his usual style, but at 36 with many wars on his mileage and at his heaviest he seemed sluggish to the fresh-looking Charles. Rounds 10-12 looked like Louis was making a comeback and things could be turning in his favour. Charles had swelling around his left eye, but that was nothing compared to the damage on Louis had been exhibiting since the earlier rounds.
In round 14 Charles came close to knocking Louis out. This was a moment both my client and I noticed where Charles appeared to pull back. It wasn’t so much a case of him not having the ability or Louis wethering the storm, but rather Charles simply refusing to knock out his idol. Round 15 looked like pretty similar story.
Louis’s face was badly swollen and he looked very bloody. He was clearly devastated at the loss. Charles, although ecstatic with the result praised Louis, ““I’d like to give thanks to God for giving me the strength and courage to win the fight, and since I won the championship I feel very proud about it. I’ll try and do my very best to keep it as clean as the previous fellow who just stepped down.”