Dateline-4TH of JULY, 1934:
Alabama sharecropper’s son, Joe Louis was birthed as a professional boxer at Bacon’s Arena, Chicago, Illinois, forever altering the history of the known world.
Need I remind anyone the miserable state of affairs in the world in 1934, particularly gruesome in Asia, Britain and Europe?
The storied Joe Louis left hook made it’s debut, knocking down Jack Kracken, 10-6, to open the first round. One good punch shortly thereafter and the world was officially put on alert when Louis knocked Kracken OUT of the ring into the lap of the startled Illinois Athletic Commissioner overseeing the bout. The ruckus stirred up so much havoc that the poor timekeep never got out of the gate to record the time of the first round KO.
Nobody needed to wave the Red, White, and Blue or strike up the Brass Band. The fireworks he staged in the ring were impressive enough to be remembered forever.
Joe earned $52 for his efforts, a pittance by inflated modern standards, but nothing for a sharecropper’s boy to sneer at in those morbid Depression era years, yet so much greater riches and acclaim awaited in the wings than he could ever imagine in his wildest dreams.
Some 20 years prior, Joseph Louis Barrow made a more typical entry as a bouncing baby boy in Lafayette, Alabama, May 13th, 1914 from the union of Munroe Barrow and Lillie (Reese) Barrow, the seventh of eight children. He weighed 11 pounds at birth, already a heavyweight. The champion, Jack Johnson was in his last year as an exile in France. The next year he would lose his title in Cuba to big Jesse Willard, leaving the door ajar for Louis to slam shut some 22 years later.
The purpose of this article is not a blow by blow account of Joe’s rise to the top of the heap. You can peruse his chronological record here, read the fight reports, and click on his bio: Joe Louis
No sir, I bring up that hot 4th of July introduction of Joe Louis to cheer your countenance and warm your cockles on these frigid winter days and lend perspective why he is usually considered the greatest pure heavyweight in history.
The entire fate of the Free World, indeed, the entire world of high and mighty down to common folk and other sharecropper’s sons and daughters resided in the dynamite of his fists not even 4 yrs later, June 22, 1938.
70 million folks in every imaginable time zone and of every imaginable nationality, race, religion, and class across the world listened to THE FIGHT, the first ever truly international broadcast of a championship fight.
By Jove, can JOE LOUIS GET ANY BIGGER THAN THE UNIVERSAL TRUTH without the Sun exploding in OUTRAGEOUS RIGHTEOUSNESS?
Some intriguing Joe Louis ring essentials defy all logic:
~~Louis finished his debut year in the Ring rankings.
~~First full year of boxing and Louis finishes as Ring #1 with James Braddock being the new champ.
~~Third full year of boxing and Louis, barely a month after turning 23, wins the title, already sporting a record of 4-1, 4 KOs against future HOFers.
~~Joe was still in his prime when he volunteered for the US Army at the start of World War II resulting in 3+ yrs of professional boxing inactivity, yet remained invincible in his return to the ring with a 4-0, 3 KO title defense record, 3 of those wins being against future HOFers.
~~Fourteenth year of boxing and Joe Louis retires as unbeaten, untied, universally beloved champion, still holding the current never to be broken record of 25 defenses and near 12 yrs as champ. His record was an incredible 58-1, 50 KO. He had just turned 34 and beaten all of his competition out of sight for the immediate future.
Of all the championship modern heavies passing through the gates of time since, only Wladimir Klitschko has come close to that record, currently age 34 and 55-3, 49 KO. Take almost 4 years out of his career to match Louis, and he wouldn’t even be close.
~~Louis makes comeback after two years retirement at age 36, taking on The Great Champion of the day without a tuneup, Ezzard Charles, and dropping a hard fought decision. Joe soldiers on, winning 8 straight against era contenders in becoming Ring #1, beating yet another future HOFer, Jimmy Bivins, before succumbing an all time legend, Rocky Marciano, putting up a tough fight before going out on his shield.
~~Included in the above post retirement streak was Lee Savold who was the BBB of C recognized Heavyweight Champion of the World, making Louis the first to regain a portion of his heavyweight title. Regrettably, the BBB of C decided to “strip” Joe by recognizing Ezzard Charles the very next day. Savold was also the last known holder of the “white heavyweight title,” a title Joe never claimed nor wanted, but was entitled to by merit.
Final record of 66-3, 52 KO.
While in the US Army, Joe Louis not only ran interference for the Robinson twins, Jackie and Sugar Ray, but he mentored them much as Joe had been mentored by Jack Blackburn and John Roxborough. Without Joe Louis both fiery competitors would have likely ended up in the brig and the sports world deprived of their matured greatness when they emerged from the US Army with honorable discharges.
Joe Louis was awarded the Legion of Merit medal in 1945 for meritorious service during dangerous war conditions endured on both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters after logging more than 21,000 miles and staging 96 boxing exhibitions before two million servicemen, a defacto free pass out of the service. I became acquainted with one of those elderly grizzled service fighters in my youth, a still in fighting trim ex-Navy heavyweight champ, Mr. King, who swelled in obvious pride when he recounted his exhibition with Joe.
The boost in morale Joe Louis gave to the troops was incalculable. He reputedly fought an exhibition at Cheesefoot Head, a very large natural amphitheatre in the Hampshire countryside just outside Winchester, England in front of tens of thousands of gathered Allied troops just days before the massive D-Day invasion of Normandy.
So, when President Harry Truman was turning over the intractable issue of military integration in 1949, Joe Louis was one of the few men whose counsel he solicited, and you better believe that the naturally reticent Joe gave Mr. President the full measure his Army experiences and opinions.
If ever a man was the embodiment of Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of walking softly and carrying a big stick, Joe Louis would be that man.
Nelson Mandela cites Ghandi and Joe Louis as his greatest influences growing into his own manhood as does Martin Luther King.
As the pellet dropped into the container, and the gas curled upward, through the microphone came these words: “Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis.”
“Every time I hear the name Joe Louis my nose starts to bleed.”- Tommy Farr
Joe Louis by his nature had a very compact, relaxed style both in and out of the ring, never prone to great flashy shows of extemporaneous physical prowess or braggadocio, yet his simple observations are as timeless as his abbreviated knockout punches:
“He can run, but he can’t hide.”
“Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit.”
“Everyone wants to go the heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
When mocked for his Bum of the Month record by the new champ, Muhammad Ali, Joe kept it simple and on target…
“I’d make you one of my bums too.”
And with my personal favorite, Joe knocked simplicity on it’s noggin when queried by a brusque reporter who noted that Joe didn’t like getting hit to the body…
When Joe Louis finally passed away a month before his 67th birthday, then President Ronald Reagan ran interference and secured him an esteemed burial plot just below the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery where he was buried with full military honors.
Posthumously he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Of course, in Detroit, he has an arena named after him with a massive sculpture of his arm and fist, and this year a, 8’ tall bronze statue of Joe was erected at the county courthouse of his birthplace.
There are so many more complexities to the story of Joe Louis from his tragic battles with the IRS and shaky accountants, to the long list of his wives, women, and his friends that layered themselves into the fabric of his greatness, it becomes like trying to bottle lightning whilst reading The Iliad and The Odyssey Through The Looking Glass.
His magnificent boxing records and influence outside the ring may dim in the glittering here today, forgotten tomorrow bling of modern public consciousness, but Joe Louis can never be eclipsed in history.
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