The numbers are part of boxing history. Eleven years as champion, twenty five defences (if not for World War Two it would have been even higher, damn that Adolf!), a final record of 69 wins, just 3 losses, one before he became heavyweight champion and was avenged, the other two after he unretired and was past his best and all three were to heavyweight champs past, present and future, 57 fights were won by knockout and you have one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. The Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, was just that damned good. But what always impressed me was his execution of everything he did. It was like textbook. For me, he was the greatest technical heavyweight ever. A breakdown:
Balance & Footwork
Joe was superbly schooled, first as an amateur at the Brewster’s boxing club in Detroit, incidentally, the team also included Eddie Futch, arguably the greatest trainer who ever lived, and when he turned professional he was trained by the fantastic Jack Blackburn, who really did mold him in to the dominant force he became. With his feet just over shoulder width apart, he had the right balance to be able to get full power in to his shots and, with a short shuffling motion, always be on balance to attack, counter or cut the ring off. And remember, it was Joe who coined the phrase “he can run, but he can’t hide!”.
The Left Jab and Right Cross
Two words describe Joe’s jab: hard and accurate. It wasn’t a piston, like Sonny Liston or Larry Holmes, but it thudded, straight down the pipe, busting up his opponent’s features. And it set them up for his devastating right cross. Thrown with full impact, straight through the target, it could be devastating. My favourite knockout of Louis has to be his second round win over Johnny Paycheck. With Paycheck backpedaling Joe steps in with a jab and detonated a right hand against the side of the jaw. Paycheck falls horizontal like a tree. This clip can be found on YouTube and is well worth a look. The power of Louis right hand can also be seen in his rematch with Max Schmeling. To avoid the first round onslaught, Max turns his back and Joe nails him with a right hand near his lumbar. Max yelled with pain and after it was discovered that Joe had cracked one of his vertebrae!! Now THAT’S power!
Hook and Uppercut
Joe’s left hook was short, never long, but delivered with superb accuracy, the same with his uppercut. He never wasted punches, never swinging wildly until he connected, but manoeuvred himself or his opponent in to a position where he could do the most damage. He transferred the weight from one leg to the other, pivoting perfectly on the balls of his feet. There are top professionals today who still don’t do this rendering them arm punchers. And as you see by his record, knockouts usually followed.
Combined with Louis physical skills was his ability as a fantastic reader of a fight. He could be outboxed, but not all the way and, if he had a tough fight, he would make the adjustments to win the rematch a lot more convincingly. And you never saw him panic. He just had that calm, stone face look that said “sooner or later I will catch you, and when I do…..!”.
So many fighters have different style’s, based upon their individual strengths, but for me, Joe Louis mastering of the basics, combined with his abilities, created a perfect blueprint for future heavyweights, one, that with today’s knowledge and expertise in nutrition and conditioning, could lead to a successful career. Not bad for a fighter who was champion seventy years ago and is still revered by so many. Not too bad at all.