Joe Louis was the most powerful and fastest punching heavyweight boxer in ring history. His great hand speed, especially in combination, was awesome to behold. He had a powerful jab, threw every punch perfectly and with wasteless accuracy. His right cross, thrown short and straight, was sheer dynamite. The "Brown Bomber" never ducked anyone as his record 25 title defenses attests to. Of those 25 successful defenses, 21 were won by knockout, 17 of those were ten counts! 5 in the first round! He also knocked out six men who held the Heavyweight Championship of the World. From 1934 to 1949, when he first retired as champion, his record was 60-1 with 51 knockouts. He held the Heavyweight Championship for a record of nearly 12 years.
Louis had the perfect physique for a fighter with long, smooth muscles which gave him great speed and reflexes. Though overlaid with racism, one of the top sportswriters of the 30's, Grantland Rice, described Louis as a "brown cobra" and referred to his "blinding speed" as the "speed of the jungle" and the "instinctive speed of the wild" . Rice (In Mead, Sports Illustrated Sept. 16, 1985) also compared Louis to a "black panther stalking his prey" . His speed and power was explosive. Louis was a rare heavyweight who could throw a triple left hook with power as he did against Max Baer. In terms of hand speed, Louis, in his prime, ranks with the best in the division including Muhammad Ali.
Alan Clevens wrote, (Louis 1914-1981 p 4) "For a day or two after Joe Louis died, the TV networks flooded the airwaves with clips of Joe's fights. A young friend of mine who thought Larry Holmes was the last word marvelled, "I never saw anybody with hands that fast. God his hands were even faster than...than.."
"Go ahead and say it" he told him.
"Sure they were young man. Nobody in history had an offense like Louis. One punch was all Joe needed, but he never threw them one at a time. When Joe had an opponent hurt, veteran Louis watchers reached for their hats. He was the greatest "finisher" that ever lived! Joe shuffled forward, always the predator, behind a swift and powerful jab. And then the fireworks! Left hooks, the deadliest right hand ever seen, uppercuts...all thrown in deadly combinations."
As a puncher Louis had everything. When Joe first appeared on the scene he was hailed as (See Durant p. 99), "A ring rarity. A boxer-puncher with the fastest pair of hands and the hardest punch ever seen." He is without doubt the greatest combination puncher to ever lace on the gloves. No one could put their punches together as beautifully as did Louis. He threw every punch in the book with text book perfection, the jab, the hook, the cross, and the uppercut. He placed his punches accurately to vital points; the heart, the liver, behind the ear, under the floating rib, and to the chin. His punches were short, often travelling only inches, yet they landed with jolting power. In this extremely important category of punching efficiency Louis has no peer.
Louis was an extremley accurate puncher who wasted no motion and never threw a wild punch in his life. Detloff (2004) agrees saying , "All the blows in Joe Louis arsenal were so perfectly and precisely thrown every time that you get the sense watching him that he couldn't have been wild or sloppy if he tried."
Ring historian Gilbert Odd wrote, (The Great Champions, p 40), "Louis jab would snap a man's head back with sickening monotony until he wavered under the steady punishment, then he was speedily finished off with swift and accurate hooks from both hands, or a finely timed right cross that carried such knockdown force that few who took it could survive. Louis was ice cold in action, rarely wasted a punch and had an uncanny way of anticipating and avoiding a blow by the merest move of the head."
Nat Fleischer writing in the April 1939 Ring Magazine said, "He sails in, crashes his blows to the body and head, gives the opposition little chance to get set for a counter-attack and wards off blows with the cleverness of a Jack Johnson. Only Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey compare to Joe Louis of today in all around ability...No human body can take the punishment that Jolting Joe dishes out once he goes after his prey. That has been proved conclusively in his last few contests."
Fleischer wrote, Mar. 1942 Ring Magazine, after Louis' destruction of the 6'5" 250 pound Buddy Baer, that, "Not even in the second fight with Max Schmeling did the Detroit Destroyer show as much as he did against Buddy. Joe had everything. He was magnificent. He was a whirlwind on attack, a master of defense, a terror with his devastating punches."
Jimmy Braddock commenting on Louis power said, (McCallum, 46), "Nobody hits like Louis. A punch is a punch. But that Louis. Take the first jab he nails you. You know what it's like? It's like someone jammed a electric bulb in your face and busted it." When asked about his right hand, he said, "It ain't like a punch. It's like someone nailed you with a crowbar. I thought half my head was blowed off. I figured he caved it in. After he hit me I couldnt even feel if it was there."
Eddie Futch, who knew Joe Louis and trained with him at Brewster's gym, described Louis power (Anderson pp.231-232), "Joe's punches could paralyze you...Anywhere he hit you, you'd feel it. Even if he didn't hit you much, just blocking those shots was like being in an automobile accident."
The ruined face of Arturo Godoy after Louis won by Tko in 8.
Emmanuel Steward after studying film of Louis-Schemling 2 concurred about Louis paralyzing power, making the following observation, (Pacheco, 45), "Louis body punches were unbelievable. After Max had been immobolized by a right to the kidney, he took a left hook to the solar plexus which paralyzed him. Even though Max was hurt and wanted to fall down, he couldn't even fall."
The June 23, 1938 NY Times quoted Schmeling as saying he was hit with a kidney punch, a devastating right, which so shocked his nervous system, that he was "dazed" and his "vision was blurred." He was hit so hard to the body he lost his sight for a few seconds.
Ray Arcel, one of the greatest trainers in history who trained champions such as Barney Ross, Tony Zale, Roberto Duran, and Larry Holmes, also worked against Louis in 14 of his fights said (Anderson p. 120), "Louis once drove Paulino Uzcudin's teeth right through his mouthpiece!" That's how hard Joe Louis could hit!
Louis had a certain range he liked to work in. A slippery opponent with good footwork who stayed outside Louis punching radius could give him some problems. Louis style was made for a long fight. Given enough rounds he could eventually break down any opponent. Billy Conn boxed beautifully, the best fight of his career, but one only need to make one mistake against Louis and it was over. Louis eventually caught him and knocked him out in the thirteenth round. "They can run but they can't hide" Louis was fond of saying.
Joe said he learned real early in his career to keep his mouth shut and his ears open. His willingness to learn and listen to the advice of his trainer Jack Blackburn (once a great lightweight with over 150 pro fights) allowed him to carry out Jack's fight plans to perfection. In his 2nd title defense against Nathan Mann, Joe was instructed between rounds to "set him up with the right uppercut and deliver the knockout drops with the left hook". Louis executed flawlessly producing an early knockout victory.
In Louis day there were not a lot of films of fighters for study. Often one would step into the ring not knowing an opponents style. A properly prepared Louis showed how dangerous he could be as he was 10-0 in rematches of opponent's who had given him trouble the first time, he knocked out and destroyed fighters like Schmeling, Arturo Godoy, Buddy Baer, Abe Simon, Billy Conn and Jersey Joe Walcott in rematches. Louis could spot the fault in an opponent's style and capitalize, demonstrating his worth as a master boxer-puncher.
The Bomber has been berated by some fans as having a "weak chin". This is simply not true. This argument can be made against virtually anyone. All fighters have been knocked down by lesser opponents. Jack Johnson was actually knocked out by Klondike Haynes and Joe Choynski. Dempsey was decked Luis Firpo and the relatively light-hitting Gene Tunney. Rocky Marciano was decked by an old Jersey Joe Walcott and light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore. Muhammad Ali was dumped by Sonny Banks, and Henry Cooper as well as Joe Frazier. Larry Holmes was decked by Kevin Isaacs, Earnie Shavers, and Renaldo Snipes who was not known for his power. Lennox Lewis was knocked out by Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, never getting off the deck to win a fight.
Max Baer, whose fists were lethal, hit Joe with some of his hardest punches. Louis took them easily. Louis never hit the canvas until his first fight with Schmeling. In his only loss, (from 1934-1949 when he retired as champion), it took Max Schmeling 57 right hand power shots to finally bring Louis down. Schmeling, a first rate counter puncher, was able to exploit Louis mistake of dropping his left after jabbing and especially when launching a left hook. He then proved vulnerable to a straight right hand. (Joe afterward corrected that mistake). Louis proved he could take it. One punch could not knock out Joe Louis. He had to be beaten over the course of the fight. Nat Fleischer in the Aug. 1936 Ring Magazine commenting on Louis loss wrote, "Louis at least answered the critics who said he couldn't take a punch. He took it, and how! He absorbed enough punishment to have laid low the average pugilist a half dozen times. Staggered time and again, he kept on his feet and fought back..." That comment still stands. Louis could take it and fight back, usually with a vengeance!
The ability to come back and win is the sign of a great fighter. Louis had exceptional recuperative ability. He was knocked through the ropes by Buddy Baer in their first bout. Many of the sportswriters at ringside were having visions of Dempsey-Firpo. Sportswriter Dick Cox described what happened next, "Louis, though dazed, recuperated with extraordinary swiftness, and had the situation well in hand, almost before the crowd had ceased shouting over Buddy's surprising feet." In his bout with "Two Ton" Tony Galento, Louis found himself on the receiving end of a Joe Frazier style left hook. Louis went down from the blast in the third round. He got up immediately. Louis was battering Galento mercilessly by rounds end. The end came with sudden devastation in the 4th. When the Bomber let loose the big guns nobody could survive the ferocity of his attack.
The defining fight of Joe Louis career was his rematch with Max Schemeling. With the world on the brink of all out war, Joe Louis faced the Nazi symbol of Aryan supremacy, who handed Louis the only loss of his prime career. Writer Bob Considine described Louis preparation, (Book of Boxing p. 64), "He was a big lean copper spring, tightened and retightened through weeks of training until he was one pregnant package of coiled venom."
Louis uncoiled his blazing fists upon Schmeling with a raging assault. With murder in his eyes, Joe floored Max three times and knocked him out in the first round. It was one of the most devastating knockouts in heavyweight history.
Hype Igoe, a boxing writer and historian, in the Feb. 1941 issue of Ring Magazine, stated "It has been my contention that had Louis always fought with a rush, as he did against Schmeling, none of his opponents would have gotten out of the first round." Louis was indeed a devastating puncher with either hand. William Detloff rated him the # 1 puncher of all time in his article The 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time Ring Almanac 2004.
Perhaps Joe Louis can be best summed up in his own words, "I don't like to hurt nobody, but its my job, and I do it as best as I can!"
Louis skills greatly faded after his 4 year lay-off due to World War 2. He retired as champion in 1949. Because of a tax debt Joe was forced to make a comeback to pay off the IRS. Louis was no longer the same fighter. His blazing hand speed was a thing of the past. He still had some success due to the fact that he was a boxer who made few mistakes in the ring. But as Nat Fleischer wrote, (Ring Dec 1955), by the time of his last fight against Rocky Marciano he had "long since lost his once paralyzing punch."
Louis wasn't able to pay off his debt, though it was eventually forgiven him by the U.S. Government. Joe Louis suffered from health problems later in life. He died on April 12, 1981. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetary at the request of President Ronald Reagan.
Most boxing historians rate Joe Louis number one or number two on their list of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Eddie Futch, who devised the strategy that defeated Ali for both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, considers Joe Louis to be the greatest of the all time heavies. The late editor of the Ring, Nat Loubet, rated Joe Louis number one on his list of heavyweight greats. Boxing historians such as Dan Daniel, Lew Eskin, Ted Carroll, and Bill Gallo all consider Joe Louis to be the greatest heavyweight champion. John Durant, author of "The Heavyweight Champions" rated him as the # 1 heavyweight of all time. Bert Sugar rates Joe Louis # 2 at heavyweight. The Aug. 1980 issue of the Ring rated Louis as the second greatest fighter in history behind only Sugar Ray Robinson. The Holiday 1998 issue of the Ring rated Louis second behind Muhammad Ali at heavyweight. Former heavyweight champ and boxing historian Mike Tyson, in the HBO video, "Tyson and the Heavyweights" (1988), said of Louis, "It's difficult to see anyone beating him even Muhammad Ali". Cox's Corner rates Joe Louis # 1 among All Time Heavyweights.
Be sure to check out Frank Lotierzo's article Joe Louis: Power, Perfection and Complete
Joe Louis Named Greatest Heavyweight by the International Boxing Research Organization (2005)
See also Joe Louis Professional Record
You Tube Boxing Video: Joe Louis Unbelievable
Anderson, Dave. 1991. In The Corner. NY. William Morrow and Co.
Clevens, Alan. 1981. Joe Louis 1914-1981 Clay Communications Group. Miami, Fl.
Detloff, William. 2003. The Ring Almanac 2004. London Publishing Co. Fort Washington, Pa. The 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.
Fleischer, Nat. 1958. 50 Years at Ringside. Fleet Publishing Corp. NY
Heinz W.C. and Nathan Ward. 1999. The Book of Boxing. Total Sports Illustrated Classics. NY. The Second Louis-Schmeling Fight by Bob Considine.
McCallum, John D. 1975. Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions. Chilton Book Co. Radnor, Pa.
Mead, Chris. 1985. Sports Illustrated, Sept. 16, 1985. p. 91. Black Hero in a White Land.
Odd, Gilbert. 1974. Boxing: The Great Champions. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited
Pacheco, Ferdie MD. 2003. The 12 Greatest Rounds of Boxing. Sport Classic Books. Sport Media Publishing, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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