Wednesday, February 21, 2024  |



From the archive: ‘How I would have clobbered Cassius Clay’ by Joe Louis

Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali's influence extended far beyond the prize ring.
Fighters Network

By Joe Louis (as told to by George Whiting)

Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the February 1967 issue of The Ring Magazine.

CASSIUS CLAY’S got lots of ability, but he is not The Greatest. He’s a guy with a million dollars’ worth of confidence and a dimes worth of courage. I could have whipped him. In all honesty, I feel it in my bones. Clay can be clobbered, and if you’ll pardon an old-timer talking, I am certain I know how.

These days, I get to the fights in most parts of the world, especially when Clay is defending my old heavyweight title. We kid around the training camps a little, and Clay makes speeches and goes into his act, telling the folks how he would have fought Joe Louis. I play along.

It don’t harm nobody. Maybe it helps the action, puts a few dollars on the take.

Fellows come up, asking for autographs, that kind of thing, and tell me I could have licked Clay with the Empire State Building tied to my feet. I don’t say anything.

Muhammad Ali decks Cleveland Williams. Photo from The Ring archive

But a man gets thoughts sitting there watching Clay. I seen him fooling in the gym, and I seen nearly all his fights, right through from Willi Besmanoff, way back in Louisville to Cleveland Williams in Houston. Sometimes Clay fights good and sometimes he pulls rhubarbs that should get his head knocked off if the other guy knew his trade like they made me learn mine.

Trouble with Clay, he thinks he knows it all. Fights with his mouth. He won’t listen. Me, first thing I learned in the fight game was to keep my trap shut and my ears wide open, especially when my wise old trainer, Chappie Blackburn, was telling me things for my own good.

We did alright. Seems like I won a championship, so maybe I’m entitled to speak up a word or two of truth after all these years. And the truth in my book is I’m sure I could’ve put Clay away, and also know how.

Clay says he’s got the fastest hands and the fastest feet of any heavyweight who ever was born. That’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it. The kid has speed and can surely box when he has to. There’s nobody around to outbox him, and the opponent who tries is in his grave.

Especially in the middle of the ring. With room to move, Clay’s a champion, real dangerous. But he doesn’t know a thing about fighting on the ropes, which is where he would be if he were in there with me. He’s all confused, his feet in knots, and his body wide open to everything.

I didn’t see Henry Cooper put Clay down in their first fight in London, but I’d like to bet Clay was coming off the ropes when he got caught with that left hook.

I certainly saw that German southpaw, (Karl) Mildenberger, bang him good in a corner, and that was when Mildenberger had been battered into a hopeless, beat-up hulk in the 10th round. Clay did not appreciate that punch one bit, but if Mildenberger had known enough to send it over when he was fresh, I figure Clay would have appreciated it a whole lot less.

Sure, Clay’s got fancy feet in the middle of the ring, faster even than Billy Conn or Bob Pastor, two of the quickest men who ever gave me a run-around til I caught up. But Clay wastes his footwork, stumbling around like Conn and Pastor never did from where I was looking.

There’s a couple of other thing about Clay. He drops his left hand when he should be protecting that pretty face he’s always talking about. Doing a fool thing like that in a championship fight, he could wind up looking like a meat wagon, or riding in one.

Dropping your left hand ain’t healthy. It was a weakness of my own ’til Max Schmeling taught me the hard way in our first fight.

If I were fighting Clay, I would start licking him at least five weeks before the bell, right in the training camp . . . some place like my old stand at Pompton Lakes.

There wouldn’t be too much of the fancy fixin’s and show-biz routines they give you in the gymnasium these days, but there sure would be some murder going on. I never fooled around in workouts.

I would pay top wages for the five fastest sparring partners I could buy. I would need quick targets to speed up my hands for a fast opponent like Clay, and I would feel real sorry for those boys by the time we were through.

Clay has his own ideas about sparring. Me too. There would be no horsing around. I never did pull punches with sparmates. Fighting was my business hours. If I were training to whip Clay, my partners would go home bruised and busted up round the body, even from big gloves. Anyone who couldn’t take it would be out long before fight night.

And if I was boss in camp I’d aim to be boss in the ring, where the gloves come smaller. Any man who fights Clay’s fight is crazy. With me, Clay would have to fight a Joe Louis fight, my way, all the way.

Which means I would go in to outpunch him rather than try to outbox him. I once thought I could keep up with Billy Conn, and for a long time it didn’t take.

I’d see to it that Clay did not stay in ring center. Out there, I could be the patsy on the wrong end of the punishment. No, he’d be hit into those ropes as near a corner as I could get him…  some place where, from all I’ve seen, he does not know how to fight.

If he stayed on the ropes, he’d get hurt. Sooner or later he’d try to bounce off, and when he did he’d get hurt more. That’s what the fight game is all about.

I’d press him, bang him around, claw him, clobber him with all I got, cut down his speed, belt him around the ribs. I’d punish the body, where the pain comes real bad. I know I can still feel the triphammers Rocky Marciano hit me with when he knocked me out when he was on the way up and I was on the way out.

Clay would have welts on his body like I did. He would ache, like I did. His mouth would shut tight against the pain and there would be tears burning his eyes. It is not very funny being under fire from body punches, and it wouldn’t help Clay any looking for his trainer, Angelo Dundee, to come riding into the ring with a rescue posse.

Those guys in the corner fight good during the intervals, but they can’t give you any more fists or any more heart when some guy’s caving your ribs in.

“Kill the body and the head will die,” Chappie used to tell me. It figures.

Sooner or later, I think Clay would get the message. Get it so good that he’d stop worrying about that face of his and drop his left hand like he did against Mildenberger and George Chuvalo. Those fellows got their opening by accident, and then fouled it up. I would work for it, and I wouldn’t reckon to miss it when it arrived.

If I goofed with a million dollars or so in the pot – plus all that television money these days – then I would not have any right to be in there with a smart fighter like Cassius Clay.

But only smart so far. Clay coming out of a corner all confused, busted up from body punches, would be a sucker for any opponent waiting for him with a shot in the locker. I’d be waiting, ready with something hot.

I haven’t got around to figuring what kind of punch I’d send in for the pay-roll, but I learned several in my day. A one-punch fighter is only half a fighter. Take away his hammer and he’s nothing. You have to be properly equipped.

When I won my title from Jim Braddock, I cut Jim’s lip with a left hook, but that was only by way of preparation for the pay-off. When his legs began to wobble, I put my whole body behind a right to the jaw and Jim dropped on his face for goodbye.

Louis cracks Schmeling in their rematch. Photo from The Ring archive

Maybe I would hit Clay with that kind of right. It takes all sorts, like in my second fight with Max Schmeling. A right to the jaw gave Max a three-count; he took two more from a one-two combination; then I threw a straight left jab and a right cross for keeps. But all these counts started from a right to the ribs after Max had bounced off the ropes with his legs in a mess.

I owed Max a thing or two. After he beat me two years earlier, I spent lots of time studying his style before I discovered he was a sucker for a left jab.

I honestly feel I could have turned the same trick against Clay, but my feelings don’t predict which round. Only poets go around predicting.

I was prepared to travel all the way against Schmeling, but I got my chance to tag him in one. Contrariwise, I was hoping for a quick kill in my first fight with Billy Conn on the New York Polo Grounds. But I came in too light, and Billy breezed along so fast he nearly took my title. Too bad he finally decided to slug it out, like I hoped he would, and got his face all mixed up with my right in the 13th.

If I was fighting Clay, I would aim to be ready with the big one any time, from Round 1 to Round 15.

In London and most other places I go, people always ask me how Clay would have come through against my old opponents, and we kick the thing around, arguments this way and that.

I think Jersey Joe Walcott would have outgeneraled him. Clay is faster, but old Joe had better style and better brains. When he dropped his left hand it wasn’t a mistake. It was to feint you on to a right hand that could bring the roof on your head.

Billy Conn was like lightning. He learned his trade in the small clubs, from welter right through to heavyweight. He could have kept up with Clay because his legs knew where they were going. Only thing is Clay and Conn would have been running away from each other so fast that there would have been no fight.

Clay I think would have been too fast for Jim Braddock and would have had too many moves for Max Baer. Maxie packed a punch but never paid attention to learning his business the hard way, in camp and round the clubs.

Louis decks Schmeling and the end is near. Photo from The Ring archive

Schmeling could have taken Clay with his right, same way he took me when I forgot to keep my left hand up after I’d jabbed with it in our first fight.

But of all my opponents, the one to give Clay the worst time, would have been Rocky Marciano. “The Rock” didn’t know too much with the boxing book, but it wasn’t a book he hit me with. It was a whole library of bone crushers.

If Marciano caught up with him, I figure Clay would get discouraged and start looking for Angie Dundee to cut his gloves off.

Nobody ever beat Marciano, and I was wrong when I thought I was still young enough to know how. I could be wrong about Clay as well, but it’s good to forget the calendar once in a while and dream up ways of whipping the man who wears your old crown.

Once I happened to walk along when Clay was hollering “I am The Greatest!” to some fellows outside the Theresa Hotel in Harlem. When he saw me, Clay came over and shouted to the crowd: “This is Joe Louis, WE is The Greatest!”

That was nice. Cassius Clay is a nice boy and a smart fighter. But I’m sure Joe Louis could have licked him.