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The Ring Archives: Born on this day: Joe Louis – part two

Joe Louis' heavyweight title run is the longest uninterrupted championship reign in the history of boxing - 11 years, eight months and eight days.
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Louis bludgeoned Godoy, who lasted the 15-round distance in their first bout, to an eighth-round stoppage in the rematch, June 10, 1940, at Yankee Stadium. Photo from Ring archives

Joe Louis was born this week (on May 13) in 1914. By the time he was 24 years old, he was the reigning heavyweight champion, boxing’s most popular fighter and, due to his devastating title defense against Max Schmeling in June 1938, he had become the standard-bearer for all Americans at a time when the country was on the brink of involvement in World War II. (Read part one of The Ring Archives: Born on this day: Joe Louis.)

Following the Schmeling rematch, Louis embarked on a title-defense tour that included a colorful cast of outclassed characters that jaded sports writers often called his “Bum of the Month Club.” This group included part-time actor Jack Roper, wisecracking New Jersey bar owner “Two-Ton” Tony Galento, South American heavyweight champ Arturo Godoy, Johnny Paychek, Abe Simon and Buddy Baer (he fought Godoy, Simon and Baer twice each). (In Louis’ defense, Galento, Godoy, Paychek, Simon and Baer were Ring-ranked at the times he fought them — and Simon and Baer were giants for the era.) However, in June 1941, one year before enlisting in the army where he served as a morale-booster to troops, fighting 96 exhibition bouts before nearly 2 million GIs around the world, he faced former light heavyweight champ and fellow future hall of famer Billy Conn. (Louis only fought twice in early 1942 and he donated his purses to the war effort.)

After his military service (which caused him to suspend his title reign from mid-1942 to June 1946, except for one defense vs. unrated Johnny Davis in 1944), he faced another future hall of famer, who would also go on to win the heavyweight title, Jersey Joe Walcott. Below are some of The Ring covers that chronicled Louis’ “Bum of the Month” phase and his epic battles with Conn and Walcott.

The KO streaks that Louis and Galento brought into their shootout on June 28, 1939, was a selling point. The fight delivered. Galento dropped Louis before being brutally overwhelmed in Round 4.


There were many standouts in boxing in 1940 but Joe Louis’ star shined the brightest. Conn, who defeated heavyweight contenders Bob Pastor and Lee Savold in 1940, would get a shot at Louis in 1941.


Billy Conn, only 23 at the time of this historic challenge at New York’s Polo Grounds, was as skilled as he was brash (and undersized). Conn gave Louis one of The Brown Bomber’s most difficult fights and was ahead on two judges’ scorecards (and even on the third) after 12 rounds. Louis finally clipped Conn in Round 13. The public clamored for a rematch but it would have to wait until after World War II.


Walcott, the most battle-tested and ring savvy heavyweight of the late ’40s, was even more of a handful for Louis than Conn was in ’41. Walcott, who finally got his shot at the title on December 5, 1948 at Madison Square Garden, dropped Louis in Rounds 1 and 4 and gave the defending champion fits en route to a controversial split decision loss.


The public outcry following Louis’ gift decision over Walcott ensured that there would be a rematch. Walcott was confident going into the return bout on June 25, 1948, at Yankee Stadium, but Louis was a master of rematch dominance – he’d knocked out every opponent (Schmeling, Godoy, Simon, Buddy Baer and Conn) that ever gave him hell or hung tough the first time around. And although Walcott was once again tricky and slippery, Louis kept his rematch record intact with an 11th-round stoppage. This was Louis’s final title defense and he announced his retirement on March 1, 1949.


Doug Fischer is the Editor-In-Chief of Ring Magazine. Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and watch him on Periscope every Sunday from SMC track.