Joe Louis: Six Will Get You Ten

By Clarence George on December 1, 2015
Joe Louis: Six Will Get You Ten
When asked, "When did you think you had him beat?" Joe said, "When I took the match."

Max Schmeling, James J. Braddock, Tony Galento, Buddy Baer, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Rocky Marciano knocked down the greatest heavyweight of all time…

“In his first amateur bout, Louis was knocked down seven times. He was seldom knocked down again.”—The Boxing Register

Quintessential heavyweight champ Joe Louis fought from 1934 to 1948, retiring after his 11th-round KO of Jersey Joe Walcott at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx that June 25. Beset with financial problems, he returned to the ring two years later and fought into 1951. Of his 69 fights, he won all but three, 52 by knockout.

Perhaps equally impressive, only six of his opponents put him on the canvas, for a total of 10 knockdowns.

“I saw something,” said Max Schmeling. “I am satisfied.” And that was no pre-fight malarkey. Here’s what he said post-fight, “After he jabs with his left hand, once, twice, he drops his left arm. The side of his face is wide open for a straight right cross. I know that after I have taken his left, my right hand, which drops from my chin, must land before he can.” Not that “The Black Uhlan of the Rhine” was smug about it. “Taking Joe Louis’ iron left fist in the face ten or fifteen times in a round is not exactly a pleasure,” he observed. If anyone was smug, it was Louis, who “shared the general opinion that he was unbeatable,” writes Randy Roberts in Joe Louis. Of course, the future champ’s complacency was anything but unwarranted. After all, he’d won his first 24 fights, 20 by KO or TKO. Still, continues Roberts, the lifestyle he led at his training camp “verged on the royal, with more than a hint of New World decadence. He seemed to lack intensity and focus, going through the motions like a priest who had lost his faith saying Mass.” 

The fight, which took place at Yankee Stadium on June 19, 1936, was a humdinger. The Ring‘s Fight of the Year, in fact.

Despite getting the worst of it in the first three rounds, the German’s confidence was unshaken. “I think I knock him out,” he told trainer Max Machon. “I have him where I want him.”

“In the fourth round,” writes Roberts, “everyone in Yankee Stadium saw what Schmeling already knew. Louis jabbed, dropped his left to jab again, and then ‘pop,’ Schmeling countered with a perfectly timed right.” More rights, as well as lefts, followed, “Louis stumbled backward and fell straight down.” He was up before referee Arthur Donovan got to two, but down he’d gone and for the first time in his professional career. As Roberts writes, “Madness reigned in Yankee Stadium.”

Round after round was dominated by the Teuton, Louis’ “left cheek looked like it had been inflated with an air pump.” Going in for the kill in the 12th, the end came at 2:29. “Louis is down! Louis is down!” came the voice of ring announcer Clem McCarthy. “And the count is ten. The fight is over! The fight is over! Louis is completely out!”

Following that devastating loss, “The Brown Bomber” returned to his winning ways, scoring victories over Jack Sharkey, Al Ettore, and Bob Pastor, among other worthies. Then, on June 22, 1937, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, Louis challenged James J. Braddock for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. How would he fare? Many wondered, but “inside Louis’ camp,” Roberts writes, “there was an air of inevitable triumph.”

Braddock’s strategy was to try for an early knockout. And, yes, “The Cinderella Man” did put Louis on the canvas in the first with a short right uppercut. Though the Bomber was down for less than a second, he had indeed suffered the third knockdown of his career.

The end of the sixth was the beginning of the end for the game champ, who from that point forward did it on guts alone. A straight right to the jaw in the eighth dropped Braddock “like a room at night goes dark when you turn out the lights,” and Joe Louis became Heavyweight Champion of the World.

“When did you think you had him beat?” McCarthy asked Louis. “When I took the match,” he said.

The new champeen scored win after win, including tasting sweet revenge by kayoing Schmeling in the first at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938. But then came the fourth knockdown, this one courtesy of Tony Galento at Yankee Stadium on June 28, 1939.

Short and fat, a crouching rhino, “Two Ton” didn’t know the meaning of a whole lot of words. One was “fear.” Another, let’s face it, was “boxing.” But he was in a class by himself as a brawler and had a formidable, however lunging, left hook.

It was in the third round that one of those lefts “collided with the Bomber’s chin,” writes Joseph Monninger in Two Ton, “snapping it to Louis’s left and making the champ’s head recoil from the impact.” He “crumpled,” and Galento “felt what it would be like to be Heavyweight Champion of the World.”

Referee Arthur Donovan didn’t even count one before the champ was back on his feet. But he had been down, and for the first time as champion.

What’s the old saying, “You come at the king, you best not miss”? But Galento did miss. In the fourth round, Louis landed 30 blows, 28 to the head. There was a perfect right to the chin, followed by a left and two more rights. Yet more blows, coming down like Seattle rain. Tony, against the ropes, slipping to one knee, Donovan embracing him like a child who had fallen. “Come up and get him,” he called to Galento’s corner.

When Louis and Galento appeared on The Way It Was on January 29, 1976, Two Ton told host Curt Gowdy, Louis “respected me, don’t worry about that.” The Bomber didn’t argue the point.

More wins for Louis, against Bob Pastor for a second time, Arturo Godoy (twice), Johnny Paychek, Al McCoy, Clarence Burman, Gus Dorazio, Abe Simon, and Tony Musto. Then, on May 23, 1941, Louis met Buddy Baer at DC’s Griffith Stadium.

As my colleague, Norman Marcus, writes in “Joe Louis vs. Buddy Baer 1941: ‘Baer Hugs’,” “About two minutes into the round [the first] Buddy caught Joe on the ropes with a good left hook to his cheekbone. It sent the champion through the ropes and out of the ring; it was the first time that a heavyweight champion had been knocked out of the ring since Luis Angel Firpo did it to Jack Dempsey at the Polo Grounds in 1923. Louis landed right in front of his promoter Mike Jacobs. Jacobs exclaimed, ‘Well, there goes the meal ticket,’ but Louis was up and back in the ring by the count of four. Baer tried to finish Louis off right there but couldn’t land that final big punch. The round ended with Joe still on his feet. It was still a good round for Baer.” No doubt, but Buddy wound up losing by disqualification. Upset with apparent Louis fouls, manager Ancil Hoffman wouldn’t let Baer out for the seventh unless allowed time to recover. His refusal to leave the ring resulted in his boy being disqualified by referee Arthur Donovan.

More wins — Billy Conn (twice), Lou Nova, a first-round KO of Buddy Baer, Abe Simon for a second time, Johnny Davis, and Tami Mauriello. Then, on December 5, 1947, at Madison Square Garden, Louis defended his title against Jersey Joe Walcott. Although the champ won by split decision, there’s almost universal consensus that Walcott was robbed. And no wonder, given that the challenger knocked Louis down in the first and fourth. Certainly, Louis was no longer in his prime. As Roberts writes, Walcott “knocked him down in the first round with a solid right, and sent him to the canvas again in the fourth round with an uppercut. He cut the champion’s eye and mouth. Louis struggled to come back but was flat.” When the two men met again on June 25, 1948, at Yankee Stadium, Louis was put down again, this time in the third, but won definitively by knocking out Jersey Joe in the 11th. “By the time he made it to his feet the fight was over, but Walcott did not know it.”

Following his short-lived retirement, Louis took on Ezzard Charles for the heavyweight crown, losing by unanimous decision, but beat Cesar Brion (twice), Freddie Beshore, Omelio Agramonte (twice), Andy Walker, Lee Savold, and Jimmy Bivins. Then, in what turned out to be his swan song, he faced Rocky Marciano at the Garden on October 26, 1951. The erstwhile champ was knocked down twice in the eighth, first for an eight-count, then through the ropes. Referee Ruby Goldstein didn’t even bother with the count. “I saw the right coming,” Louis said after the fight, “but I couldn’t do anything about it. I was awfully tired. I’m too old, I guess.” Wrote Arthur Daley in The New York Times, “Old age and Rocky Marciano had simultaneously caught up with the old champion. He was the champion no longer, though. But he was, oh, so old.”

Others came close, of course. Mauriello, for instance, knocked Louis into the ropes in the first round of their September 18, 1946, bout at Yankee Stadium, only to be kayoed at 2:09 of that very same round. “The first god-damned round! The first god-damned round!” cried “The Bronx Barkeep” in his locker room. No matter — close don’t get you that Montecristo.

Max Schmeling, James J. Braddock, Tony Galento, Buddy Baer, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Rocky Marciano knocked down the greatest heavyweight of all time. That calls for a gold star next to their names. Yes…it…does.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Max Schmeling vs Joe Louis, I (All Rounds)

Joe Louis vs Jack Sharkey

James J Braddock KNOCKED OUT by the GREAT Joe Louis

Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling, II (Full Film, HD)

Joe Louis KNOCKS OUT Tony Two Ton Galento

Joe Louis vs Arturo Godoy, I

Joe Louis vs Buddy Baer, I

Joe Louis vs Billy Conn

Joe Louis vs Jersey Joe Walcott, I

Joe Louis vs Jersey Joe Walcott II

1951-10-26 Joe Louis vs Rocky Marciano

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  1. Clarence George 02:40pm, 12/03/2015

    Jeez, Walter, I most fervently hope that the kielbasa Chez Stan’s doesn’t have the gray-beige 1980s computer color of the wurst I had yesterday at the German’s.  I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever return.  Fortunately, there’s a Polish food truck that serves delicious kielbasa.  Smoky and the color of burnt brick.

  2. Walter Wojtowicz 02:11pm, 12/03/2015

    @Brother Clarence,  Enjoy your water!  I am making a list in advance of my next invasion of the Manhattan Isle.  And, if at any time your fridge is bare just make a “Wish Sandwich”!  What is that you say?  I knew you’d ask..  Well, my friend, you take two pieces of bread slam them together and wish you had something in between.  And, when you make it to Chicago I will proudly take you “STAN’S PLACE”  home of the worlds best kick ass Polish food.  Or, at least that’s what Stan’s home made cardboard sign says..  And, yes, everything looks like an old computer.

    @Peter, Thanks Pal.  I will let you know what Mustapha has to say..  Pressing Onward!

  3. Clarence George 01:45pm, 12/03/2015

    I remember that place, Peter, but I don’t think I ever went and I never knew its history.  I did go to Tad’s Steaks a couple of times, however.  There was one right next to Papaya King, if I remember right. Pretty awful, but wonderfully New York 1970s.  The last one was in Times Square, I think, but I’m pretty sure it’s gone now.  Pity.

  4. peter 10:18am, 12/03/2015

    Why not grab a rib eye and baked potato at the Flame Restaurant on East 42nd Street. Eddie “The Flame” Gregory’s manager owns it.  Oops! It’s no longer there…and Eddie is now Mustapha Muhammad. Never mind.

  5. Clarence George 08:57pm, 12/02/2015

    Walter, me auld warrior!  Glad you liked it.

    Listen, I got a sausage from the German cart on 54th and Fifth today, and it was disgusting.  The color of an old computer.  I’ve been emotionally and physically queasy all day.

    Next time you’re in the city, we’ll get a proper steak.  What you had at Sardi’s last time didn’t look up to snuff.  Or we’ll go over to Isle of Capri for spaghetti.  Or the Heidelberg for German.  Or maybe Papaya King for the best hot dogs in the city.  But right now, all I can do is drink cold water.

  6. Walter Wojtowicz 08:00pm, 12/02/2015

    Once again KEEM-O-SABE thank you for the education.  Good stuff.  Not as good as that EYEtalian pork burger on 42nd street which name I still can’t pronounce but really great article.

  7. Clarence George 06:28pm, 12/02/2015

    Thanks, Peter.  I think a lot of people, including very knowledgeable ones, don’t know about the Braddock, Galento, and Baer knockdowns.  I guess we have the understandable tendency to think of Louis as pretty much always ascendant.

    Yes, hard to believe that Fury is now heavyweight champ.  I mean, the guy barely meets the requirements of sparring partner.  But I wish him well, and here’s hoping his reign will at least be a little more exciting than his predecessor’s.

  8. peter 05:37pm, 12/02/2015

    With this article, Clarence George found a refreshing slant on Joe Looey….I did not know Braddock knocked him down! I’ll be looking at the clip…“Short and fat, a crouching rhino…”—great description!...BTW—The thought of an updated edition of “The Fireside Book of Boxing”, with its long fold-out page showing heavyweight champs from beginning to end must now, unfortunately, feature Tyson Fury.

  9. Clarence George 02:40pm, 12/02/2015

    Much too kind, Mike.  In my lumbering way, I merely stumbled across a Louis-related story that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.

    Yes, in addition to being a phenomenal puncher, the Bomber was a true Einstein of the ring.

    Jeez, that nightmare is straight out of Edgar Allan Poe!  Could never happen in real life, of course.

  10. Mike Silver 02:06pm, 12/02/2015

    As you prove time and again CG we can always gain new insights when examining the careers of the all time greats, especially by someone with your depth of knowledge and discernment. Joe was such an overpowering puncher that his excellent boxing technique often takes a back seat. I really appreciated how good he was as a boxer after watching a film of his losing effort against Charles.
      You know, the other night I had this awful nightmare. Some big 250 pound lumbering, slow moving, muscle bound excuse for a heavyweight who was actually afraid to throw a punch because he might get hit in return fought an even bigger lumbering stupid looking gutless slab of beef who did not know how to throw a correct punch, and only won by default because the other guy wouldn’t fight. Worst fight I have ever seen. And—believe it or not—it was for the heavyweight championship of the world! Thank goodness it was only a bad dream.

  11. Clarence George 09:05am, 12/02/2015

    I think I mentioned him in my piece on Jack McGurn.  I must have.

  12. Eric 08:57am, 12/02/2015

    Never heard of Joe E. Lewis but you are right about “guts.” He was made an offer he couldn’t refuse and basically told them to FU. Dem Capone goons didn’t take no for an answer. Tanks for the tidbit, I now know another Joe Lewis/Louis and admire all three.

  13. Clarence George 08:50am, 12/02/2015

    Or Joe E. Lewis.  He was certainly gutsy enough.

  14. Eric 08:13am, 12/02/2015

    Louis vs Lewis? Only kidding. hehe. How about Joe Lewis vs. Joe Louis?

  15. Clarence George 04:38am, 12/02/2015

    Thanks very much indeed, Mike.  Ha!  Yeah, it is rather timely, isn’t it?  From Joe Louis to Tyson Fury.  I mean, come on.  The Bomber certainly did get better and better.  He never stopped getting better.  It was only age that ultimately did him in.  True of all of us, of course.  And good point about his not taking time off to pout.  Two months after the Schmeling shellacking, he was back at the same venue with the same referee against Jack Sharkey, knocking him out in the third.  Speaking of the German, I’m the proud owner of a signed photo.  Yet another boxer who doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition he deserves.

  16. Clarence George 04:15am, 12/02/2015

    So glad you liked it, Beaujack.  For me, no boxer is more poetry in motion than Joe Louis (not even Sugar Ray Robinson).  I quite agree with you that he would make short work of Klitschko.  The same is true of Dempsey, who today is absurdly diminished by people whose knowledge of boxing wouldn’t fill a thimble.  Klitschko’s technique evokes a perplexing degree of awe.  Draping yourself over an opponent until exhausted and then hitting him may be effective, but it’s hardly impressive.

    I don’t think, Mike, that I dismissed Schmeling’s performance that night, which was indeed “brilliant.”  And it’s not that Louis didn’t train or that he did terribly.  But there’s ample testimony that he wasn’t at his best in camp.  And no wonder—too much time on the links and in various boudoirs.  Full credit to Schmeling, absolutely, but Louis must share some of the blame for getting knocked down (twice) and for his ultimate defeat by KO.

    Good post, Jan, thank you.  You say, “Schmeling saw nothing special; he saw the obvious.”  Ah, but seeing the obvious is sometimes very special indeed.  Unlike previous opponents, Schmeling wasn’t intimidated into not seeing that Louis’ defense left one or two things to be desired (brilliant though he was in every other aspect).  The Bomber’s idea of defense (and not at all without reason) was that his opponents knew what he would do to them if they had the temerity to hit him.  Max Baer, who had no end of guts, found Louis terrifying.  Galento, however, went out of his way to antagonize Louis (both before and during the match) and got his head handed to him.  Almost literally.

    By the way, there’s not much written on this topic, which I found amazing.  Louis is held in such justifiable awe, I suppose, that his opponents are seen as only that.  Not fair.  The six who knocked down this legend deserve all tribute.

  17. Mike Casey 04:11am, 12/02/2015

    A well written and timely reminder of just how great Joe Louis was. Schmeling too, as Mike Silver points out, was an outstanding talent. Louis was indeed a work in progress going into that first fight with Max. Even Damon Runyon and many others got ahead of themselves in their praise of Louis before that fight. But isn’t it to Joe’s credit that he took such withering punishment for so long before finally going down in the 12th? More importantly, he learned from it. He became even better and didn’t need to lay off for one or two years to ‘find himself’ or whatever. What a champion! Thanks, Clarence.

  18. Jan Swart 03:05am, 12/02/2015

    What I have always found perplexing about Schmeling’s “I zee zumrting” reference to Joe Louis’s supposed low left hand, is that EVERYONE drop their hands after jabbing, including Schmeling himself. Schmeling saw nothing special; he saw the obvious. lowering the left after jabbing was common then, still is today, and was in no way unique to Louis. Watch the films. There is not one HW champion who is / was not guilty of it, and who was not susceptible to a counter right cross. What made Schmeling successful is that he had the balls to throw right hands at JL without a left lead - something which leaves the thrower vulnerable and is regarded almost an insult to do to a champion.

  19. Mike Silver 09:40pm, 12/01/2015

    One thing that has always annoyed me is the excuses made for Louis in his loss to Schmeling, eg: “He was overconfident, did not train properly, lacked focus, played too much golf…etc.”  That is mostly B.S. In 1936 Louis was still a work in progress and on that night he simply met a superior ring technician who could not be intimidated. In those first three rounds Louis didn’t fight like he was taking his opponent lightly. Jack Blackburn made sure Louis was in top shape when the bell rang. There is no way Joe could have stood up to the horrific punishment for 7 more rounds after the first knockdown if that was not the case. By giving excuses for Joe it takes credit away from a brilliant performance by Schmeling.

  20. beaujack 09:13pm, 12/01/2015

    Enjoyable article Clarence o Joe Louis, the greatest combination puncher ever. At his peak Louis’s combo punching was once described “as a coil spring unwinding”. He along with the Dempsey of Toledo were my two favorite heavyweights ever. Sadly today, both are diminished by many pundits of boxing as being “TOO SMALL” for todays behemoths…Boy are they wrong ! What nature gives in bulk , nature takes away in speed, suppleness and dexterity…Just look at the Louis of the Max Baer fight, and envision what he would have done against a Klitschko ? TIMBER…

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