Tuesday night’s second lesson was my regular “Learn from the Fight” class.
We returned to the career of Joe Louis for tonight and his first three fights/title defences after he finished his service in World War 2.
The last time we saw Louis was in a rematch that retired Buddy Bear in one round. He dedicated his entire purse to the war effort before fighting Abe Simon two months later in another rematch that also saw Louis claim a knockout victory, this time in round six. This was also a charity event and for the next four years, Louis would be dedicated to his service in the military. As it turned out, he wouldn’t see combat but would be actively involved in boosting morale.
During his time fighting in exhibition bouts and delivering motivational addresses to the press about the war effort, historians have noted that virtually all racist suggestions about Louis were absent. He simply became a sports hero and a symbol for America during the Second World War. The only official bout recorded in these exhibitions was against Johnny Davis who beat in round one of a four round bout. Along with Sugar Ray Robinson, he and other celebrities embarked on a 22,000 mile tour to boost morale amongst troops with exhibition matches and shows. He was also used a recruitment figure for young African Americans. When asked why he joined a racially segregated army he replied, “Lots of things wrong with America, but Hitler ain’t going to fix them.”
It should also be noted that Louis worked with his lawyer, Truman Gibson, in helping African American soldiers suffering from racist harassment. During this period, he helped out a young Jackie Robinson and another group of young black men to get into Officer Candidate School. Robinson would later go on to break the colour barrier in baseball and become a sporting legend.
Louis apparently raised over $90,000 fighting in exhibition bouts for the relief fund and despite not receiving a penny the IRS considered it to be taxable income. They would pursue him after the war with added interest and add to his financial problems.
Billy “The Pittsburgh Kid” Conn had fought and won three more professional fights after losing to Louis in what many consider to be amongst the greatest fights of all time. Conn was a natural light heavyweight closer to the middleweight division than the heavyweight and took opponents from all three divisions. His last opponent was the calculating slugger, Tony “The Man of Steel” Zale on 12 February 1942 who he beat by unanimous decision.
Joe Louis versus Billy Conn World Heavyweight Championship 19.06.1946
Louis’s official record going into the fight was 54-1 whilst Conn’s was 62-10-1. You will recall Louis was a boxer-puncher and Conn was an out-boxer. Critics have said that neither man was as good as he had been four years ago and the lack of regular real competition had made them less formidable. Previously, Conn edged ahead of Louis and had the champion in trouble before getting greedy for a knockout which ended being his own. This time clearly the strategy for him would be to stick to his out-boxing and not be tempted. However, Louis was known for his learning and his vengeful rematches. His word to the press was “He can run, but he can’t hide”, which amongst the most famous quotes in boxing to become a part of popular culture. It is often attributed to their first fight. Louis went in as the 3 ½ to 1 favourite.
Round 1 – From what present in this highlight footage, both fighters resumed similar positions as before. Conn circled and jabbed, Louis parried the jabs, stalked and used lead hooks.
Round 2 – There was a small amount of in-fighting in the footage we watched. Conn generally stuck to the outside and used a lot of lateral footwork. Louis increased the pressure with his own jabbing.
Round 3 – Louis was more aggressive again in this footage and there were more brief clashes at mid-range, but Conn did well to move into his best range. Louis launched some power jabs in response along with some straight hooks. Louis also went to the body more with his jab as did Conn.
Round 4 – Conn continued to stick and move, using side-to-side movement to stay at long range. Louis cornered him against the ropes with some heavier punches, but he escaped. Louis spent most of his time jabbing and attempting to close whilst Conn back-peddled. This was Louis’s round.
Round 5 – Conn snapped out jabs working around Louis, but the champion’s shots were landing and his combinations were beginning to get through. At one point Louis corned Conn and seemed quite determined to pin him down. He began throwing combinations but Conn, clearly seeing the danger, demonstrated he was still very strong and lively and won the exchange.
Round 6 – Joe hit with a light lead hook on the advance. Conn and Louis exchanged jabs. Louis sought to land his signature one-two. There was more evidence of Louis trying to corner Conn now and pushed the challenged towards the ropes. Conn put the brakes on and fought back as he had done in the previous round. Conn then went on the attack and there were a few livelier flourishes at mid-range. Demonstrating the danger out-boxers have with boxer-punchers, Conn ran into a stiff jab that sent him to the canvas. He recovered quickly and the referee stood him up to continue. The bout finished with more exchanges at long range, Conn wisely deciding to keep out the skirmishes for now.
Round 7 – Conn seemed a little slower on his feet and Louis’s shots were landing. Louis backed him into the ropes where we saw Conn demonstrate some old milling as part of his escape tactic. He also clinched a little before going to long range. There were some more exchanges at mid-range with Louis going to the body and Conn going to the head.
Round 8 – A few hard rights to Conn’s jaw can be seen an ominous warnings of what was to come especially at one pone when Conn seemed to lean on Louis to recover. Conn moved to long range and started throwing his own one-twos. Louis caught Conn with a jab, followed up with a one-two. The cross visibly did its magic and the challenger desperately tried not to go down. Clearly weakened quite badly by the shot, he attempted to clinch Louis but the champion pushed him away and followed up with a rear uppercut/left hook combination to send him down for the count.
The Associated Press rather unfairly called the bout “The Flop of the Year”, but this clearly demonstrated the huge amount of anticipation built by the previous encounter.
Billy Conn was so upset with his performance that he first announced his retirement. However, he quickly went back on his decision and said he would be up for a third match with Louis and would donate his purse to charity. This never happened but Conn fought two more times two years later. Both these matches were technical knockouts for Conn in round nine, which was unusual and might be a reflection on his quality of opponent. He then retired with a record of 64-11-1. He died in 1993 aged 75. Just three years previously he foiled a robbery by attacking the robber who had assaulted a store manager. There is a portion North Craig Street in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh that is now named Billy Conn Boulevard. Conn is referenced in several movies including the seminal boxing movie, “On the Waterfront”, as wells as “The Fortune Cookie” and “Black Dahlia”
Joe Louis versus Tami Mauriello World Heavyweight Championship 18.09.1946
Stefano “Tami” Mauriello was another light heavyweight who wanted to try his hand in the heavyweight division. He was a 5’11” slugger with a 73” reach from New York nicknamed “The Bronx Barkeep”. He was born on 24th May 1923. He won his first professional fight on 25th July 1939 with a first round knockout. After this he won his next 23 fights in a row with 15 knockouts. NYAC World Middleweight Champion Billy Soose handed him his first defeat on a very close split decision. He then won his next eight fights via KO or TKO before challenging for the NBA and vacant NYAC versions of the World Light Heavyweight title, but NBA champion, Gus Lesnevich beat him twice on respective split and unanimous decisions. The split decision was close and somewhat controversial at the time.
Mauriello then moved up to the heavyweight division. His next six wins were all stoppages of some sort, four TKOs, one RTD and one KO, before his got his first draw against Bob Pastor. His next three were wins, including a point decision of Tony Musto. He would fight Musto later on in a rematch where the doctor would stop fight after round seven when it was discovered Mauriello had dislocated his opponent’s jaw. In 1942 Mauriello also knocked out the great contender Lou “The Cosmic Puncher” Nova, the yoga practising fighter who had stopped Max Baer twice, almost lost an eye to Tony Gelento and had been demolished by Joe Louis a year previously. Nova had knocked Mauriello down in the first only to then be KO’d in the sixth. Four years later with a string of victories, often by knockout, and a few more losses, Mauriello knocked out Bruce Woodcock in round five. This was Woodcock’s first defeat and Mauriello won the price: a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship.
Mauriello entered the fight having never been stopped – all of his defeats had come via decision and often quite tight and controversial ones. Mauriello had also been knocked down a few times before only to come back in and win by knockout. Eleven of those knockouts had come in the first round. Louis’s record was 55-1. Mauriello’s record was 68-8-1. Mauriello may have lost quite a few more fights than Louis, but he had also won more and was nine years younger. Mauriello believed he had age and Louis’s WW2 layoff on his side. At the weigh in, Louis was 212 lbs and Mauriello was 193 lbs.
Round 1 – The fighters circled each other. An early ponderous jab by Louis was hastily checked by Mauriello with his right. They circled again and Mauriello got set. Out of nowhere Mauriello let fly with the first punches of the bout. It was left hook/overhand right combination, the former cuffing a surprised Louis’s temple and the latter sending him reeling across the ring. Mauriello was in hot pursuit as Louis stumbled into the ropes. He closed the distance and continued to let rip in the clinch as Louis held on briefly to recover. They separated without referee intervention. Mauriello came back in again, but this time Louis was ready. He had been more shocked than actually hurt by the punches. You will also recall that Louis never underestimated sluggers. He had learned his lesson well from his defeat at Schmelling’s hands and similarly taken other heavy hitters like the Baer brothers and Gelento out of the game as early as possible.
As Mauriello renewed his charge, Louis deftly posted him with the left and dropped his trademark straight right. Mauriello tried to fire back with a right but was immediately caught by Louis’s checking left hook. The champion chained his lead punch with an overhand that narrowly skimmed off Mauriello’s face. Mauriello appeared to miss with his right again as Louis loaded a far deadlier left hook. This punch sent Mauriello down.
The challenger almost rose at five but decided to go back to a knee and take the nine-count. They squared off again but Louis could smell blood. Mauriello moved back but he didn’t have Conn’s footwork. He was quickly backed onto the ropes where he hastily retaliated with scrappy left and right haymakers as Louis bored into him. They clinched but Louis broke it with a sharp push. Mauriello circled round. Despite being lighter he seemed bulkier. Despite being younger he didn’t look anywhere like Louis in condition. A cut above his left eye was visible. Again he initiated the exchange that brought them into close quarters and Louis landed punches to the body.
They closed and exchanged each time, Louis’s shots coming over as cleaner, sharper and far more potent. Mauriello threw out a jab, but Louis counter-punched and steamed in again. Mauriello desperately clinched. Louis forced the separation and began to tear in again. Mauriello held on again before Louis pushed him away. A third time clinching pretty much revealed that Mauriello was in trouble and trying to play for time. As the referee separated them, he looked hurt. Trapped in the corner Mauriello decided to not use footwork, as he had been previously, and begin rolling low with his head. It seemed to work for a few seconds as he rolled and threw punches before briefly clinching and then resuming the same tactic. This enabled him to finally move away from the corner and get back on his toes. Having made some distance now, Mauriello continued to back-peddle and also brought in a pawing jab of sorts to maintain the range. He then thrust out a normal jab only to be repaid by an explosive left hook/right hook combination. They closed and clinched again. Mauriello back-peddled but Louis was in pursuit. Louis landed with a left and right hook combination. Mauriello slumped to the ground holding onto the ropes as the referee intervened for the count. The challenger got to his knee, but a glove to his battered face indicated that it was over.
Later Mauriello would be recorded by unkindly by the press as “blubbering in his dressing room”. Mauriello said, “I thought I had him… I thought I had him and I grew careless.” This was Louis’s fifth first round knockout in a title match.
Joe Louis versus Jersey Joe Walcott World Heavyweight Championship 05.12.1947
Arnold Raymond Cream took the title Jersey Joe Walcott when he began competing as a boxer. The name comes from Barbados Joe Walcott, Cream’s idol, who held the World Welterweight title 1901-1906. Jersey Joe Joe Walcott was born 31st January 1914 in Pennsauken Township, Camden, New Jersey to a Danish West Indies immigrant father and a Jordanstown, New Jersey resident mother. His father died when he was just 15 and Walcott quit school to provide for his mother and 11 younger brothers and sisters. He worked in a soup kitchen and began training as a boxer, making his professional debut on 9th September 1930 where he knocked out his opponent in round one.
He went into his championship match with Joe Louis with a record of 44-11-2. It looked like a journeyman’s story, but his defeats had been at the hands of world class talent including World Lightweight Champion Joey Maxim and heavyweight contender, Elmer Ray. He avenged both of these matches before fighting Louis. At 33 years he broke the record for being the oldest man to challenge for the title and was given 10-1 odds against him winning. Walcott was a boxer-puncher and also a counter-puncher.
Round 1 – Louis and Walcott began with an exchange of jabs. Louis closed the distance and pushed Walcott back into a corner. Louis was an aggressive boxer-puncher but Walcott was a counter-puncher. As Louis led the flurry so Walcott fired back, landing a right hand that floored the champion. He beat the count but was almost knocked down again as Walcott kept catching him with the same right hand.
Rounds 2-3 – Walcott continued to dominate by scoring points off the back the foot.
Round 4 – Again, Louis was caught by Walcott that sent him down. He beat the count but lost the round again.
Rounds 5-6 – Walcott dominated again in the fifth but Louis came back harder in the sixth.
Round 7 – Louis seemed to walk into Walcott’s counters again. His aggressive style seemed to be matched by Walcott’s defensive skills.
Round 8 – Walcott dominated again as Louis seemed bewildered by the challenger’s style.
Round 9 – An even exchange this time with Louis getting caught as usual by Walcott’s rights, but he gave as much as he got.
Round 10 – This wasn’t enough footage available to show anything in this round.
Rounds 11 and 12 – Walcott continued the similar story totally dominating the fight. Louis looked like he was in the same trouble he experienced during his first encounters with the slugger Schmelling and the out-boxer Conn.
After this round Walcott was told by his corner that he was miles ahead on points and he made the decision to not get drawn in as Conn had done during his first match with Louis.
- Walcott narrowly missed a big right from Louis who now must have been looking for a knockout. He won this round due to his opponent wisely deciding to play for time.
- Despite Walcott trying to avoid getting knocked out and also the temptation to go for the knockout he did get pulled into an aggressive exchange with Walcott.
- Walcott turned into total out-boxer this time, doing his best to avoid getting knocked down by Louis. He succeeded, believing that he was the new world champion. However, in one of the most bizarre and unfair decisions in the history of the title this was not to be.
Louis was so disgusted by his own performance that he attempted to leave the ring before the score was read out. However, his corner and ring officials stopped him. The referee, Ruby Goldstein, scored the match in favour of Walcott whereas the two ringside judges gave it to Louis. Louis didn’t even hold up his hands in triumph. Instead he walked over to Walcott to shake his hand and say sorry. When asked about Goldstein’s score, Louis said “I know Ruby. He calls ‘em how he sees ‘em.” Louis immediately granted Walcott a rematch six months later.