Joe Louis was born this week (on May 13) in 1914. By the time he was 24 years old, he was the reigning heavyweight champion, boxing’s most popular fighter and, due to his devastating title defense against Max Schmeling in June 1938, he had become the standard-bearer for all Americans at a time when the country was on the brink of involvement in World War II. (Read part one of The Ring Archives: Born on this day: Joe Louis.)
Following the Schmeling rematch, Louis embarked on a title-defense tour that included a colorful cast of outclassed characters that jaded sports writers often called his “Bum of the Month Club.” This group included part-time actor Jack Roper, wisecracking New Jersey bar owner “Two-Ton” Tony Galento, South American heavyweight champ Arturo Godoy, Johnny Paychek, Abe Simon and Buddy Baer (he fought Godoy, Simon and Baer twice each). (In Louis’ defense, Galento, Godoy, Paychek, Simon and Baer were Ring-ranked at the times he fought them — and Simon and Baer were giants for the era.) However, in June 1941, one year before enlisting in the army where he served as a morale-booster to troops, fighting 96 exhibition bouts before nearly 2 million GIs around the world, he faced former light heavyweight champ and fellow future hall of famer Billy Conn. (Louis only fought twice in early 1942 and he donated his purses to the war effort.)
After his military service (which caused him to suspend his title reign from mid-1942 to June 1946, except for one defense vs. unrated Johnny Davis in 1944), he faced another future hall of famer, who would also go on to win the heavyweight title, Jersey Joe Walcott. Below are some of The Ring covers that chronicled Louis’ “Bum of the Month” phase and his epic battles with Conn and Walcott.
Doug Fischer is the Editor-In-Chief of Ring Magazine. Email Fischer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and watch him on Periscope every Sunday from SMC track.
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