1946: When the Boys Came Home

By Mike Casey on October 20, 2012
1946: When the Boys Came Home
Their skills had been in the garage for too long and rust never sleeps once it sets in.


Never again would they be quite the same fighters they were. They couldn’t be. Their skills had been parked in the garage for too long and rust never sleeps once it sets in. But nobody cared. The golden boys were back from the war and it was just great to have them home.

Their magnetic names jumped off the page and still do all these decades later—the eight world champions of the eight established weight classes. Doesn’t that sound blissfully simple? It was. You didn’t have to consult your record book to remind yourself if Joe Louis or someone else was the rightful owner of the heavyweight championship.

Joe was joined by Gus Lesnevich, Tony Zale, Freddie Cochrane, Ike Williams, Bob Montgomery, Willie Pep and Scotland’s clever and hard hitting flyweight champion, Jackie Patterson. Note that seven of those eight boys were American.

Not that everything in the garden was rosy. Certain plants hadn’t taken and others had withered. Contrary to expectations, few outstanding fighters were developed in the services and some of the old guard had lost their fire and sparkle.

The eagerly anticipated rematch between Joe Louis and Billy Conn went down like a lead balloon on June 19 at Yankee Stadium, almost exactly five years to the day after their first and truly epic confrontation. Joe could still bang ‘em out but was beginning to slow down. Billy seemed to be somewhere else entirely.

Both men carried more suet around the belt and Billy was the one who felt the pace and the pain every time Joe dug him one in the belly. So dull was the action that many people in the crowd whiled away the time by having a chat. Back in the day, nobody went to a Joe Louis fight for a chat.

Conn went down and out rather tamely in the eighth round, prompting those witty gentlemen of the Associated Press to give Billy the “Flop of the Year” award.

The fans wanted Joe Louis to thrill them again and the old Bomber didn’t take long to answer their call, proving the old maxim that the last thing a great fighter loses is his punch. Three months after the Conn waltz, Joe dusted off his Superman garb and took care of Tami Mauriello. Often treated lightheartedly by some writers of the era, New Yorker Mauriello was actually a good and brave fighter who had beaten some decent opponents in a busy 78-fight career.

But Tami couldn’t win the big ones and couldn’t believe his luck when he had the chance to do so. Fate presented him with such a chance against Joe Louis. Tami came out for the opening round and landed with a big right hand that caused Joe’s legs to wobble and sent him to the ropes. The crowd gasped and Tami all but did likewise. More stunned than Louis, Mauriello made the classic mistake of pausing to admire his own handiwork. “Hit him! Hit him!” screamed his exasperated manager, Lefty Ramini. Unfortunately, it was Louis who heeded the sound advice, pulling himself together and knocking Mauriello out.

“Thank heavens, Joe Louis makes it quick and merciful,” wrote the great Damon Runyon, who would die that December at the age of sixty-six.

Whilst old Joe could still clout and thrill the crowds, there was no doubt as to who were the poster boys of 1946. On September 27, Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano clashed for Tony’s middleweight championship at Yankee Stadium in the first of two unforgettably savage wars in which they would punch each other to a state of physical exhaustion and near collapse. Tony stopped Rocky in six rounds in the old fun city before the boys moved on to their mirror image sequel in the furnace-like heat of the Chicago Stadium in 1947, where Rocky prevailed in the same round.

There would be an anti-climatic third battle in 1948, in which Tony would regain the championship on a third round knockout in Newark. But those first two titanic struggles were the jewels in the crown, prompting writers across the world to rifle through their lexicon of superlatives to fashion the appropriate words.

The fights were all things brutal and wonderful, sprawling and gorgeously abstract works of heart and will that rocked two major cities and left them caked in adrenaline. People said that Tony Zale had lost something when he came out of the Navy. They said that the Man of Steel, as they called him, was no longer the fighter he used to be. He wasn’t. But he was still pretty useful.

So was the brilliant bantamweight champion, Manuel Ortiz, who came out of the Army to successfully defend his title three times. So too was an eighteen-year-old kid called Carl (Bobo) Olson, the Territorial middleweight champion, who was winning regularly at the Civic Auditorium in Honolulu and attracting a lot of attention.

There were delicious little oddities too, such as the unfortunate plight of Ralph Walton, who hadn’t planned to make the news in quite the way he did. Poor Ralph was attempting to make his mouthpiece slot into the right place when he was belted into dreamland in eleven seconds flat by the ferociously alert Al Couture.

It seemed that everything was happening and mostly for the good. After the grayness and the quiet desperation of a grinding war, the year of 1946 marked a new beginning. Boxing, much like the free world, breathed a sigh of relief and looked forward to a future that was fresh and vibrant and exciting.

The boys were back in town.

Mike Casey is the Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Joe Louis in movie «This is the Army»



Joe Louis vs Billy Conn ll - Part 1 of 2 (Title fight)



Joe Louis vs Billy Conn ll - Part 2 of 2 (Title fight)



Joe Louis vs Tami Mauriello



Tony Zale vs Rocky Graziano II (Highlights-Fight of the Year 1947)



Manuel Ortiz vs Luis Castillo III (Part One)



Manuel Ortiz vs Luis Castillo III (Part Two)



Carl "Bobo" Olson TKO 11 Pierre Langlois, & W 10 Ralph "Tiger" Jones



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  1. Mike Casey 02:16am, 10/22/2012

    Thanks kindly for your thoughts, Burt. I was speaking to Frank Baltazar the other day, who managed Tony and Frankie Baltazar and who saw Manuel Ortiz fight. Frank still rates Manuel as the greatest bantam he has ever seen.

  2. Burt bienstock 08:28pm, 10/21/2012

    another great article Mike that brings back memories of 1946 . I saw a few of the guys you post on film ringside, such as Tami Mauriello,who I watched fight Bruce woodcock, Joe Baksi, Lee Savold at MSG…Tame was a fan’s favorite action fighter at MSG as he never took a back step…Pierre Langois I saw once or twice ringside, and Bobo Olson was a helluva fighter who had the bad luck to fight when the incomparable Ray Robinson was fighting at MW… My dad took me to see Ray Robinson fight
    his idol Henry Armstrong at MSG in 1943, and Robby took it easy on the past peak Armstrong, all the fans sensed it…Last time I saw Robinson fight was his ko of Randy Turpin at the old Polo Grounds in NY. What an ending a desperate Robinson fashioned koing Olson in the 10th rd, as
    Robinson had a very bad cut eye…What a thrilling ending to that fight.
    Watching the clip of Manuel Ortiz stopping Luis Castillo you post above was the only time I have seen Ortiz on film ,though in the 1940s his reputation as a great Bantamweight was well known..i think that Ortiz would have beaten any Bantamweight since his time. Too bad Ortiz fought on the west coast and I never got to see him in N.Y.

  3. Tex Hassler 07:05pm, 10/19/2012

    Billy Conn one of the best fighters of all time simply was not the same fighter 5 years later that he was in the first Conn - Louis fight. Bobo Olson is one of my favorite fighters and he fought just about any one he could find. Fine article Mr. Casey.

  4. dollarbond 06:58am, 10/19/2012

    Wonderful read

  5. Matt McGrain 05:21am, 10/19/2012

    Lovely wee read and what a great photograph.

  6. the thresher 04:50pm, 10/18/2012

    Well, I was 9 when this happened and my brother came home in early 1946 just after th A Bomb precluded his having to go to Japan and fight a prolonged and agonizing and war to the death.

    Hope was the operative word back then. Those lads and ladies were the very best America could produce.

  7. Mike Casey 01:35pm, 10/18/2012

    Yes, Irish, very true about Bobo. I liked him a lot. Look at some of the great names he beat!

  8. Mike Casey 11:01am, 10/18/2012

    So I recall, Mike. I had my picture taken at Joe’s grave many moons ago. What a champion he was!

  9. Mike Silver 10:19am, 10/18/2012

    Keep ‘em coming Mike! You bang out these great stories with the speed of a Louis one-two combo! The clip of Louis in “This Is the Army” is priceless. Did you notice that in the cast credits Lt. Ronald Reagan and Sgt. Joe Louis are listed together. It was Reagan, as President, who authorized the great American’s burial in Arlington.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 08:59am, 10/18/2012

    Mike Casey- Thanx for the neat and nifty reminder….thought you were Ted Sares there for a minute….Bobo could really scrap and is an ATG in my book…he just had the same problems with Sugar Ray that Jerry Quarry had with Ali and Frazier.

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