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13 NOVEMBER 2018


Great fights recalled - Joe Louis vs Billy Conn

By John F. McKenna: By 1941 Joe Louis had already established himself as a great fighter and was well on his way towards achieving pugilistic immortality in the boxing world. He had lost but once and that was to Max Schmeling in 1936. Louis avenged the loss to Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in June 1938 with Max’s corner throwing in the towel at 2.04 of the first round in the most hyped fight in boxing history up to that time. Louis had inflicted the most savage beating on Schmeling seen in a boxing ring since the Dempsey – Willard fight on July 4 1919.


When Louis won the heavyweight title with an 8th round knockout over “The Cinderella Man”, Jimmy Braddock in June 1937 he went on record by saying that he would be a fighting champion and would not put his title belt in cold storage as so many previous heavyweight champions had done. Louis made good on his promise. By the time he took on Billy Conn, AKA “ThePittsburgh Kid” on June 18, 1941 “The Brown Bomber” had already defended his title a remarkable seventeen times


Louis defended his title with such regularity in 1941 that boxing scribes began referring to his title defenses as the “Bum of the month club”.Connwas a classy boxer who gave up his light heavyweight title to take on the bigger and stronger Louis.Connwas a superb boxer with lightning reflexes, a good left jab and a terrific left hook. More importantly howeverConndid not fear Louis and was extremely confident going into the fight.


Their epic battle took place on June 18 atNew York City’s Polo Grounds. Boxing fans gaveConnvery little chance to defeat Louis who was as dominant a champion as the Klitschko’s are today. For that reason there were rumors being floated around in the boxing community that “Bomber Joe” had lost the edge. Their reasoning was that although Louis was still knocking out his opponents, it was taking him longer to do it.


54,800 fans were on hand to see if Louis still had the magic which made him one of the most feared heavyweight champions of all time. In the first two rounds Louis launched a brutal attack onConn’s body. The fact that he survived those rounds was indicative of the excellent shape he was in.


But as the fight wore on, Connstarted to come on. By the middle rounds Connwas using his superior speed and lightning quick punches to draw even with Louis. In fact by the end of the 8th round Louis appeared to be tiring and it was thought by some at ringside that Joe had underestimated his challenger.


By the 10th round it was clear that Connwas ahead on points as he repeatedly beat Louis to the punch. At times Louis appeared to be befuddled by Conn’s speed. The 11th round sawConn’s confidence rise and the crowd began to sense that he may actually be able to pull off what would be one of the hugest upsets in boxing history.


The 12th round saw more of the same as Conn began to pile on what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. Toward the end of the 12th round “The Pittsburgh Kid” clearly staggered Louis and had him holding on at the bell. Conn’s seconds tried to calm him down between rounds and implored him not to trade punches with Louis in the 13th round.


Connhowever was not going to take the safe route towards victory. He had visions of knocking out the great heavyweight champion. The 13th round turned into a fire fight and for a while Billy held his own. Then Louis caughtConn with a paralyzing right hand to the jaw that appeared to freeze him. Joe followed up the right with a wicked left hook to the body. A series of lefts and rights followed andConn fell to the canvas where he was counted out.



World War II prevented a much anticipated rematch happening for five long years. Both Louis andConnhad lost much of the luster which made them the great fighters they were. Louis andConnwent on to become great friends.Connonce jokingly asked Louis why he could not have loaned his buddy the title for a year or two. Louis responded by saying: “I loaned you the title one night for thirteen rounds and you couldn’t handle it!”


Joe Louis went on to defend his title a record twenty five times. He also held his title eleven years and eight months. Both the number of title defenses and the length of his title reign are records for not only the heavyweight division, but for any division in boxing. They are records that may never be broken. Joe’s five first round knockouts as heavyweight champion are also records.


Prior to their 1946 rematch reporters good naturedly chided Louis about Conn’s ability to move in and out quickly while throwing punches. Louis fired back with one of the most famous sports quotes in history when he said:


“He can run but he can’t hide.”


A few years ago President Bush incorporated the famous quote into one of his presidential speeches.


August 2, 2012

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