Joe Louis: The Best Heavyweight Ever!

By Monte Cox

(This article originally appeared in the May 1992 issue of Boxing Scene, Tiger Press Inc, Palisades, New York. pgs. 76-77. Copyright © 1992. Expanded, Updated and Revised by the Author. Copyright © 1999.                                                                

ImageJoe Louis and his beloved trainer Jack Blackburn were preparing to walk down the aisle for a big championship fight. Blackburn who had recently endured some serious health set backs, was breathing hard and suddenly blurted out: :"Chappie, I don't think I can make it up them steps tonight". What was Louis to do?

His opponent Buddy Baer was a tough fighter who had scored a knockdown over Louis in their previous title bout. Without hesitation Louis replied: "Don't worry Chappie, you'll only have to go up and down them steps one time."

Louis, keeping his word, knocked Buddy out cold with a paralyzing right hand in the first round. When Joe Louis meant business no-one could stand up to his dreadful assaults. Such was the power and mettle of the man the world called "The Brown Bomber".


There never has been a more complete fighter than Joe Louis. He more than any other heavyweight most closely resembles the perfect fighter. Imagine the task of building a perfect heavyweight. First he would have to have two-fisted punching power equal to that of Jack Dempsey or Mike Tyson. His hand speed would have to be among the best including Ali, Patterson and Tyson. The left jab an offensive weapon like that of Sonny Liston's. The left hook as powerful as Joe Frazier's. His right cross as crushing as Lennox Lewis. His combination punching comparable to pound for pound great Ray Robinson. His counter-punching ability on par with Jack Johnson. He would have the inside fighting ability of Riddick Bowe. He would also have the analytical ability of Gene Tunney in spotting the weakness of an opponent's style. Joe Louis had all of these attributes in one compact explosive package of heavyweight TNT.

As a boxer Louis had everything. 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 with waste less accuracy to vital points; to the heart, across the liver, behind the ear, under the floating rib, to the mental foramen nerve (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. 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. Jimmy Braddock commenting on Louis power said; "It ain't like getting hit with a punch. It's like someone nailed you with a crowbar!"  

Joe Louis had the perfect physique for a fighter. His elongated, smooth muscles 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 also compared Louis to a "black panther stalking his prey." His speed was explosive. Louis was a rare heavyweight who could throw a triple left hook with power (against Max Baer). In terms of hand speed Louis ranks with the best in the division including Ali and Tyson in his prime. His undeserved reputation for being slow stemmed from his lack of foot speed. Foot speed and footwork are two different things. Joe may have been slow of foot, but he was a master at cutting the ring and driving his opponent to the ropes. Louis preferred to shuffle forward aggressively, saving his energy and planting his feet to throw quick and powerful combinations.


Louis 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) allowed him to carry out Jack's fight plans to perfection. In his 2nd title defense against Nathan Mann, Joe was instructed 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, he knocked out and destroyed fighters like Schmeling, 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. Max Baer, who hit hard enough to send two men to an early grave, hit Joe with some of his hardest punches. Louis took them easily. 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 after throwing 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 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! Louis had exceptional recuperative ability. He was knocked through the ropes by Buddy Baer in their fore mentioned first bout. Many of the sportswriters at ringside were having visions of Dempsey-Firpo dance in their head. 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 "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! He also knocked out five 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 Ko's. He held the World Heavyweight Championship for a record 12 years.  In view of today's multi-million dollar purses and the infrequency in which champions defend their title, it is doubtful that future champions will risk their health and reputations for so long a time period. Louis records may stand unbroken, forever bronzing his place in heavyweight history. Since longevity is one of the most important factors in rating a fighters place among the all time greats Louis long winning streak places him at the top.

Joe Louis, the perfect fighting machine, contained the best attributes of many of the Heavyweight Greats. He was the best in combination of speed, power, and punching accuracy. He executed every punch perfectly. He had the perfect jab. The "Brown Bomber" was a master place puncher. He kept constant pressure on his opponents. He had great come from behind ability and heart. A master strategist when prepared properly. Louis had the longest title reign and most defenses of any champion in any weight class. Joe Louis was the Best Heavyweight Ever!

I saw this published at another site (besides my Joe Louis page) without giving me credit. I dont mind if you use them but please give me credit for my work. Thanks-M.C.