Lee Groves

10: Most notable St. Louis title fights

April 8, 1941, St. Louis Arena – Joe Louis KO 9 Tony Musto

World heavyweight champion Joe Louis was in the midst of the “Bum of the Month” tour that stretched from January 1939 to March 1942 and encompassed an extraordinary 17 title defenses, only two of which failed to end with a knockout. Arturo Godoy fought Louis to a split decision in their first encounter while an after-the-bell KO controversy enabled Buddy Baer to lose by DQ instead of KO because his protesting manager refused to vacate the ring.

The Musto fight was Louis’ third fight of 1941 and was staged just 18 days after a demanding 13thround TKO of Abe Simon – boxing’s last scheduled 20-round heavyweight title fight. Despite the demanding schedule, Louis was such a heavy favorite against Musto that the odds were 4-to-1 that “The Brown Bomber’s” night would knock out Musto within five rounds. Also, the fight was originally scheduled to take place April 2 in Cleveland, but the local boxing commission refused to stage the fight because they deemed the fight too uncompetitive. Cleveland’s loss was to be St. Louis’ gain, for it would be the only time Louis would fight in the city.

The 26-year-old Musto was nicknamed “One Ton Tony” and the “Blue Island Tank” because his 5-7 ½, 199 ½-pound frame resembled that of a miniature Tony Galento. Also, like “Two Ton Tony,” Musto fought out of an extreme crouch, which gave Louis problems against Galento, Paulino Uzcudun and Arturo Godoy – at least until Louis blasted them out.

The same scenario unfolded here, as Musto gave Louis a much tougher fight than anticipated before he ultimately fell at Louis’ feet. Musto’s crouching stance served him well in the first six rounds as he gave just about as much as he took. The one time he poked his head out was in the third round and the opportunistic Louis promptly decked him with a hook to the jaw. A chastened Musto jumped to his feet and eagerly re-entered the fray. In fact, Musto earned a surprising edge in rounds five and six with swarming tactics that forced the Bomber to back away.

Any thoughts of an upset were snuffed out starting in the seventh when Louis regained his bearings and sliced up Musto’s face with pinpoint jabs. Those cuts worsened in the eighth and ninth, prompting referee Arthur Donovan to stop the fight over Musto’s objections.

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