Billy Conn has been considered one of the great light-heavyweights, yet he will always be remembered for a loss. The Irish-American was comprehensively out-boxing the legendary Joe Louis in a world heavyweight title bid in June 1941 and was a street ahead on points after 12 rounds, but foolishly looked to finish the powerful Louis and was hammered to defeat in the 13th round. “He can run, but he can’t hide,” glowered Louis beforehand and those famous pre-fight words came painfully true for the over-confident Conn.
Born in East Liberty, Pennsylvania on October 8, 1917, Conn’s progress was initially slow when, as a fresh-faced teenager, he lost six of his first 14 fights in preliminary bouts in 1934-35. Conn was never a concussive puncher, but he was clever, resourceful and an excellent boxer. He matured into a fine middleweight decisioning good men like Fred Apostoli, Teddy Yarosz, Vince Dundee and the roughhouse Fritzie Zivic.
A shot at the world title eventually materialised, but at light-heavyweight, and Conn took the opportunity with both hands outpointing Melio Bettina for the vacant championship in Pittsburgh on July 1939. But the world was at war and, after three successful defences and that heartbreaking loss to Louis, Conn relinquished his light-heavyweight crown and joined the US Army in 1942. He returned four years later, only to be crushed by Louis in a rematch after eight painful rounds in New York in June 1946 and Billy was left to rue what might have been.
Conn retired two years later and died on May 29, 1993.
Billy Conn: Fights 76, Wins 63 Losses 12 Draws 1 (Knockouts 14).
By Mark G. Butcher