Michael Rosenthal

The best of all time A to Z: Louis

This is the 12th in a 26-part series in which RingTV.com endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment –- the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) -– demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others that were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar -– who provided input –- tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes … today’s letter: “L.”

L: JOE LOUIS
Lifespan: 1914-1981
Hometown: Detroit, Mich. (born in LaFayette, Ala.)
Record: 66-3 (52 KOs)
Active: 1934-51
Weight class: Heavyweight
Titles: World heavyweight
Sugar’s ranking: No. 4
The thought process: This was the most-difficult installment of the series. Several fighters whose last name begins with “L” would’ve been a legitimate choice. Benny Leonard probably was the best fighter. Sam Langford, by all accounts, was a wonder. Sugar Ray Leonard brought a combination of ability and charisma that is rarely seen in the sport. And Ted “Kid” Lewis of England might’ve been the greatest European fighter ever. In the end, though, Joe Louis’ accomplishments and impact on both the sport and his country put him at the top of the list. Louis was a tremendous fighter whose combination of quick hands and crushing power made him next-to-unbeatable in his prime. THE RING magazine had him No. 1 on its 2003 list of greatest punchers. And, while his “Bum of the Month” campaign didn’t speak well of his competition, his utter dominance of the division was striking: He beat Jim Braddock to win the title in 1937 and held it until he “retired” in 1949, with a few years off because of World War II. He successfully defended his title a record 25 times, becoming an institution in the process. And he did beat the best heavyweights of his time, including Max Baer, Jack Sharkey, Tommy Farr, Billy Conn and Jersey Joe Walcott. Louis, beset by tax problems, returned to boxing in 1950 with a record of 58-1 – his only loss to Max Schmeling when he was 22 – but he was never the same. He lost a one-sided decision to Charles in a bid to regain the championship and then concluded his career with a knockout loss to Rocky Marciano. That was only part of his story, though. Louis’ rematch with Schmeling in 1938 might’ve been the most-important fight of all time. Schmeling, bolstered by his KO of Louis, was an important element in Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine, a symbol of Aryan “superiority.” Louis became a symbol of freedom, embraced by whites and blacks alike even before the Civil Rights era. His first-round knockout of Schmeling set off celebrations across the country and made Louis an icon. The humble man solidified his place in history when, early in the war, he said: “We'll win, 'cause we're on God's side.” Sadly, the U.S. government hounded Louis for back taxes for many years. And his last years were marked by poor health and mental problems. However, his legacy was set in stone: Joe Louis was and remains one of the most-beloved sports figures in U.S. history.
Five more (alphabetical order): Jake LaMotta, Sam Langford, Benny Leonard, Sugar Ray Leonard and Ted “Kid” Lewis.
Sugar quote: “It wasn’t just his victories in the ring, where he defended his title more than any man in history – 25 times, 22 by knockout. It was what he did outside the ring, giving America its slogan for World War II. He was supposed to say “We’ll win because God is on our side” but he reversed it, saying “We’ll win because we’re on God’s side.” He didn’t take the presumptuous approach the Teutonic Germans had. And that’s what we went to battle on. As Jimmy Cannon said: “He was a credit to his race – the human race.”

A: Armstrong: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2203/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_armstrong/

B: Burley: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2204/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_burley/

C: Charles: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2205/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_charles/

D: Duran: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2219/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_duran/

E: Elorde: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2223/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_elorde/

F: Foreman: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2227/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_foreman/

G: Greb: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2228/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_greb/

H: Hagler: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2231/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_hagler/

I: Ibeabuchi: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2238/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_ibeabuchi/

J: Johnson: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2244/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_jack_johnson/

K: Ketchel: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/2248/the_best_of_all_time_a_to_z_ketchel/

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