Joseph Louis Barrow (May 13, 1914 – April 12, 1981) was an American pro boxer who competed from 1934 to 1951. Nicknamed the Brown Bomber, Louis is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential boxers of all time. He reigned as the world heavyweight champion from 1937 until his temporary retirement in 1949. He was victorious in 25 consecutive title defenses, a standing record for all weight classes. Louis had the longest single reign as champion of any boxer in history. Idolized by fellow G.O.A.T conversation participant, Sugar Ray Robinson and armed with 400 fight veteran trainer, Jack Blackburn, Joe Louis embarked on a destructive and most revered path of glory and destruction. Often included in the top two heavyweight boxers of all time, Joe Louis was considered the greatest champion of the pre Muhammad Ali era. Some debate still rages as to whether he was the true king, Ali included. Here is my attempt to settle that. Here’s how Joe Louis, in my estimation, would fare against the champions of the Golden Era.
Vs. Joe Frazier.
This would be a battle of wills. Both Joe Frazier and Joe Louis were absolutely opposed to taking the back foot. They shared a pitbull like determination to follow prey around the ring and land devastating punches. At 6’2, Joe Louis would have a 3 inch height advantage over the 5’11 Joe Frazier. While having similar offense, defenses differences would decide this fight. Joe Louis was the original catch and kill fighter. He was one of the earliest fighters to attack on the same side his opponents would punch with. Joe Louis had a tight high guard and decent footwork. Joe Frazier was a roll with punches fighter. Often dipping below pinches and swaying at the waist, Joe Frazier could evade damage. Joe Louis’ defensive aptitude allowed him to immediately shift to offense where as Joe Frazier’s was a step to get inside in rangier opponents and attack. The latter style was predicated on a backwards moving opponent. Joe Louis would not provide that. In turn, Frazier’s sways would leave him susceptible to hooks and uppercuts. Member of Joe Louis’, “Bum of the Month” club could attest to this.
Result: Joe Louis wins via late knockout.
Vs. George Foreman.
George Foreman was a powerhouse in the golden era. What he lacked in footwork and technique, he overcompensated for in raw power and intimidation. However, against a power puncher like Joe Louis, intimidation would be a non factor. Joe Louis knocked out the larger Primo Carnera. Carnera was 6’6 and 265 lbs of former heavyweight champion. Joe Louis wasn’t regarded as being extremely fleet footed either. More so, he was a technician who could cut off the ring and nullify punches with a high guard. Joe Louis also liked to employ body shots in close. He earned a stoppage over Clarence Burman. Body shots take stamina and George Foreman, in his youth, was plagued by a lack of stamina. Foreman’s own winging of power shots was taxing his cardio also.
Result: Joe Louis wins via late fight knockout.
Vs. Muhammad Ali.
This is the other half of the top two heavyweights of all time. Muhammad Ali, in any iteration, versus Joe Louis is the deciding factor on greatest of all time. On one side, we have Joe Louis. Joe Louis was a devastating puncher with a penchant for tracking people down and dealing death. On the other hand, you have Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali was never one to lead the dance. An active counter punchers and elusive savant, Muhammad Ali would drop his hands and weave through punches to make opponents look silly. Opponents followed him as if on a leash. Joe Louis’ style worked because opponents generally fought his tactical aggression with aggression under pressure, or rather lashing out as a reaction to being pressured. Muhammad Ali was more clear minded. He was able to wear down George Foreman, or let Foreman tire out, before ending the contest. Joe Louis did similar work to Buddy Baer and Al McCoy. But neither possessed the speed or chin of Ali. Footwork is key here. Joe Louis was at best a cut above average in movement. Muhammad Ali was a track star in the ring. Ali faced pursuant power punchers in Cleveland Williams, Sonny Liston, Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle, and George Foreman. Not once in these fights was Ali knocked down or out. In fact, Ali won each fight. Chasing Ali would do one thing if you have inferior footwork. That would be running into counters. Ali would pick up a lot of rounds by simply being more accurate. Just as Joe Frazier was able to do in the first fight with Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis would eventually notice Ali’s pattern of shifting his weight to the opposite side of his punch, in order to escape. Joe Louis would take over in late rounds. However, Joe Louis was not as fast as Joe Frazier and his opportunities to do damage would be more sporadic.
Result: Muhammad Ali wins unanimous decision.
Vs. Leon Spinks.
This would be a late addition to Joe Louis’, “Bum of the Month” club. Despite the name, most victims in this list were top 10 heavyweights. Leon Spinks was a forward moving aggressive fighter, known for defeating a lethargic and well lazy Muhammad Ali. The problem with Leon Spinks is that he had no power. He won 14 of his 46 fights by knockout. He also was knocked out in 9 of his 17 losses. You can’t go into a firefight with a broken gun.
Result: Joe Louis wins via knockout in the first three rounds.
Vs. Ken Norton.
A battle of technical masters. Joe Louis brings the offense with his high guard catching punches and in return dealing death. Kenny Norton is the defensive wizard who Muhammad Ali could not dominate. His cross arm block with extended arms to prevent close quarters combat puzzled many. What decides this is power. Kenny Norton did not take being hit by heavy hitters well. Joe Louis was knocked out in 12 by Max Schmeling and at age 38.agaunat Rocky Marciano. Kenny Norton was stopped in two by George Foreman. He lost in one round to Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney. None of the fighters who decked Norton were known for being movers. They just hit really hard. Joe Louis faced better punchers in victory and defeat and even defeated Schmeling in a rematch. Joe Louis hit really hard, had good defense, and could close the ring off. All of these are bad for a fighter like Norton who would like to pot shot and move away from power. The fight would see Norton gain a huge lead on the scorecards. His defense was frustrating. He also had an ability to trick fighters into backing him into a corner during pursuit. At the last second, Norton would spin out of the corner and have his back to the center of the ring. Therefore, the chase would begin anew. Backing Norton into a corner and throwing a straight punch is a bad idea. Backing Norton into a corner and throwing hooks and uppercuts would devastate him. George Foreman and Gerry Cooney proved this. Joe Louis’ pressure and predilection for throwing hooks would see him hurt Norton, who has never recovered in a fight after being hurt.
Result: Joe Louis wins via knockout rounds 6-9.
Vs. Larry Holmes.
Quite possibly the third best heavyweight ever and owner of the greatest jab at heavyweight, outside of Sonny Liston, the Easton Assassin would cause serious problems. A dynamic puncher with no issue going forward or backwards, Larry Holmes employed straight punches like jabs and crosses with sniper like precision. He sent Marvis Frazier on a rocket across the ring. Also Technically savy, Larry Holmes was able to outwit Ken Norton and tough enough to survive being knocked down by the one of hardest punchers ever in Earnie Shavers. Larry Holmed go on to win that fight. At 6’3, Holmes would be tall3.and more tangy. His main defensive lapses would be keeping his hands low. That was an effort to bait in attacks, but sometimes it did get him caught. Only Mike Tyson was able to stop Larry Holmes and Holmes was 38 at the time. Golden Era Holmes was undefeated. Joe Louis would have to chase down a faster, longer fighter. Joe Louis had decisive power but was also more prone to being hurt and outboxes by more reflexive men. Ezzard Charles was able to tag a returning Joe Louis all night. People who could move gave Louis trouble. Billy Conn was a prime example and he was under 200 lbs.
Result: Larry Holmes wins a unanimous decision.
The Brown Bomber is a consensus all time great and he would level most of the competition of the Golden Era.a champion of the people who gave African Americans hope in a Depression Era world and propped up against Nazi Germany, unwillingly along with also forced counterpart, Max Schmeling, Joe Louis was the first African American superstar in boxing that America had to accept. When you can make a “ Bum of the Month” club consisting of top rated fighters, I have to accept your place in the greatest of all time.