The announcement of the fight for the WBC, IBF and WBO belts, scheduled for today at Madison Square Garden, New York, between the undefeated champion Artur Beterbiev, who has knocked out his 17 opponents and the American Joe Smith Jr. (who defeated by KO of the legendary middleweight Bernard Hopkins, defeat that sent him to retirement) led us to dig into history to see if there had been a match of equal or greater importance in a distant June 18.
Indeed, there was one that met such characteristics, although of greater relevance with respect to the opponents, both immortal figures: Joe Louis, heavyweight champion, and the skilled Billy Conn, who a few months before the fight had relinquished the NBA and NY Athletic Commission light heavyweight belt.
Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” is in the books as the king of the heavyweights with the most defenses (26) and the longest time on the throne of the division with 11 years and 8 months, between 1937 and 1949.
For many Louis is the greatest, most complete champion and is ranked 4th among the best fighters of any weight class.
At the age of 27, when he faced Conn, he had 45 KO’s in 54 fights. His surprising and only loss was to German Max Schmeling, who knocked him out in the 12th round. In a second fight, Louis knocked out the German in the first round. Both fights took place at Yankee Stadium.
Conn, who relied on his defensive style and great hand and foot speed, was a Pittsburgh native with Irish roots, was 24 years old. He went up with 58-9-1 and only 13 knockouts to his credit. There was a notable difference in weight as Louis weighed in at 199.1/2 pounds and Conn at 25 pounds lighter. The fight was staged at New York’s Polo Gounds Stadium.
Louis was the betting favorite. No one thought that Conn would have enough of his swordsmanship to hold off the Alabama fighter. Naturally, Conn was fully confident of his victory. He was sure that Louis would not find him all night and that he would walk out of the ring with the crown. That seemed to come true until the opening 12 rounds. Under today’s eliminated round system, he was ahead 7-5, 7-4, and a third card marked a tie at 6.
But the challenger made a fatal mistake in round 13: he foolishly looked for the KO, attacked Louis and the inevitable happened: Louis rocked him with a powerful right, crossed him with rights and lefts and knocked him down for the full count at 2″58″.
Five years and one day later, on 6-19-46, they met again. The result was the same, but in fewer rounds: Louis finished him in the eighth. They met at the now demolished Yankee Stadium. Some 146,000 spectators, a record number for the time, watched it on TV in the first live broadcast of a fight. Louis weighed 207 pounds (93.894 kilos) to 192 (82.556 kilos) for Conn, who constantly bragged about his speed to which Louis responded with a phrase later popularized: “He can run, but he can’t hide.” Indeed, he couldn’t: at 2.19 in the eighth Louis blew him away.
Conn, aka The Pittsburgh Kid, finished his 14-year career, between 1934-48, with a record of 63-11-1, 15 KO. Born in 1917, he died on 5-29-1993 in his hometown.
Louis, harassed by the tax authorities for tax evasion, ended up in abject poverty. He fought between 1934-51 (17 years) and left a record of 66-3-0, 52 KO’s and 2 against, one against Schmeling, the other against Marciano, a setback that marked his retirement and lost a decision to Ezzard Charles. He died on April 12, 1981 (31 days before his 68th birthday) of a heart attack in a hospital in Las Vegas, the city where he worked as a public relations man for a hotel, that employed him just to help him. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery by order of President Ronald Reagan and the hospitalization and burial expenses were paid by his friend and former rival, Max Schmeling, then a prosperous businessman.