Tag Archives: joe louis

Could Joe Louis Beat Today’s Big Heavyweights? He Sure Could.

He Beat Giant Buddy Baer Twice

By Bobby Franklin

Poking around on social media recently I came across a discussion where the “experts” were once again going on about how today’s big heavyweights would be just too strong for the champs from previous eras. There was little disagreement that guys like Wilder, Joshua, and the Klitschko brothers would walk through fighters such as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey. One person commented that all of the big heavyweights of the past 25 years would have beaten all of the smaller heavyweights that came before them. These people seem to believe we were living in Munchkin Land until the past couple of decades. Using their reasoning we would have to believe Jess Willard and Primo Carnera were the greatest heavyweight champions of the past century since they were comparable in size to today’s fighters. 

I could go on about the number of “small” heavyweight champs who took apart men much larger in size than they were. I have written in the past that in many of these matchups where the champ was taking on a much larger opponent, not only did the smaller man win, but it was not even close to being his toughest fight.

Since it seems so many of these experts just can’t get past believing size is the most important factor in deciding the outcome of a heavyweight fight I thought I would once again come up with an example of why someone like Joe Louis would have had no problem defeating today’s crop oversized champs.

Buddy Baer was a contender for the heavyweight title in the early 1940s. He was the brother of former champ Max Baer. At 6’ 7” and weighing in at around 250 pounds he was comparable in size to today’s heavyweights. Buddy was also a tremendous puncher scoring 49 knockouts in his 53 wins. He lost only 7 fights and was stopped just twice. Baer was also lean and agile. He had excellent boxing moves to go along with his great strength. Unlike today’s wild swinging heavyweights, Baer threw short, accurate punches.

In 1941, Buddy stopped Tony Galento a win that put him in position to challenge heavyweight champ Joe Louis. The fight was set for May 23, 1941 in Washington, DC. Louis weighed in at 201 3/4 to Baer’s 237 pounds. Buddy, at 6’7”, was also 5 inches taller and had a much longer reach. Seeing the two of them step into the ring together gives you a sense of what Louis would have looked like matched up against Klitschko or Wilder. The one difference being that Buddy Baer was a much better boxer that either Deonty or Vlad.

Boxing experts covering the bout in 1941 were bit more savvy than those around today. They made Joe Louis a ten to one favorite over Baer despite the difference in weight and height. The experts I hear from today would have had Baer a hundred to one favorite based on his size. After all, how could Louis possibly beat someone so much bigger than he was? We all know Wilder and Klitschko would just walk through Louis because of their size and strength. The same would have to hold true for Baer. 

A funny thing happened when the bell rang for the start of the fight. Baer came out aggressively and went after Louis. Baer was not prone to the wild swings such are used by Deonty Wilder. Instead, he used much shorter and well placed punches. He did back Louis up. He even managed to deck Joe with a short and accurate left hook, sending Joe through the ropes. But after that  the fight became pretty much a one sided affair. You see, Louis did something that today’s experts aren’t terribly familiar with; He used his great boxing skills to turn Baer’s size against him. Joe was able to slip inside the big man’s arms and hit him with short and powerful punches that hurt him. 

Buddy Baer was no quitter and did manage to stay in the fight trying his best to overpower Louis, but by the sixth round he was nearing the end. In that round Louis floored Baer three times with devastating and accurate blows. The final knock down finished him off. There was some controversy over the ending of the fight as Baer’s handlers argued the last knock down had come from a punch that was landed after the bell. Baer was protecting himself at the time it was landed, so if the bell had indeed rung before the punch had landed neither fighter heard it. It made no difference in the outcome of the fight.

It did make a difference in how the fight was ruled. Baer was helped back to his corner and was on his stool when the bell rang for the seventh round. His handlers argued he should be given the win because of a foul. Referee Arthur Donovan did not agree and instead disqualified Baer because his seconds would not leave the ring and allow the fight to continue.

Louis v Baer Second Fight

The minor controversy was enough to get Buddy a rematch with Louis, and on January 9, 1942 the two met again at Madison Square Garden. This time Baer came in even heavier for the fight probably figuring the extra weight would work to his advantage. That theory feel apart before the bell could ring ending the first round. Louis was devastating in taking the giant apart dropping him three times in less than three minutes with the final knockdown being for the ten count.

If you can’t seem to visualize Joe Louis handling himself against the overgrown champs of today just take a look at his matches with Buddy Baer. You will see how the old adage “The bigger they are, the harder they fall” applies. 

Joe Louis would have no problem dealing with today’s unschooled giants. They would provide target practice for him. To say a Deonty Wilkder would be too big and strong for Louis is simply laughable. Joe would have had a field day with him.

It should also be noted that when Louis and Baer fought the second time WW II was underway. To help with the war effort Louis donated his entire purse of $47,100.94 from the fight to the Navy Relief Fund. Not only was Joe Louis a great champion, he was also a great American.  

The First Louis Walcott Fight

70 Years Ago
Louis Won A Controversial Decision

By Bobby Franklin

December 5th marked the 70th anniversary of the first meeting between Champion Joe Louis and challenger Jersey Joe Walcott which took place at Madison Square Garden in 1947.

Louis had been a very active champion and this was to be his 24th defense of the title. Up until 1942 Joe defended the title often and always successfully. In 1941 alone he had met eight challengers including his historic match against Billy Conn. Things would change at the beginning of 1942 as the country was now focused on World War II. After defeating Abe Simon in March of 1942 Joe would not defend the championship again until his rematch with Billy Conn in June, 1946.

Louis stepped up and supported his country during the war by enlisting in the Army. During this time he fought a number of exhibition matches at Army bases around the world, but for such an active fighter the four year layoff took its toll. The Joe Louis who returned to the ring after the war was older and slower than the devastating fighting machine who had dominated the division throughout the 1930s and into the 40s. While Joe’s physical abilities may have faded a bit, he was still a very great fighter.

The long awaited rematch between Louis and Conn turned out to be a disappointment as it didn’t come close to having the excitement of their first go. After the Conn fight Louis dispatched Tami Mauriello in the first round of their fight. At this point the heavyweight division was looking quite weak with no truly outstanding challengers.

Promoter Mike Jacobs decided to go with a former sparring partner of Joe’s for his next title defense. Jersey Joe Walcott was a very slick boxer with a solid punch who never seemed to get a break. Walcott had been a pro since 1930 and was now having a fairly successful run of it. He had only lost 3 of his last 21 bouts which took place since 1944. He avenged all three of those losses. Joe had also missed a few years during the war not fighting since being stopped by Abe Simon in 1940. Walcott was back and giving it one more try in an attempt to get a title shot.

It should also be noted that early in his career Walcott had been trained for a brief time by Jack Blackburn. Blackburn ended up taking on Joe Louis as a pupil so Walcott and he parted ways.

Jersey Joe wasn’t given much of a chance of defeating Louis who entered the ring a ten to one favorite. The challenger made the oddsmakers look a bit silly when he decked the champion in the first round. The two fighters were mixing it up with Louis having Walcott against the ropes. Suddenly, Walcott landed a short right hand that was a solid punch but also caught the Brown Bomber off balance. The Champ went down for a two count.

In the fourth round Walcott would again deck Louis with another right hand. This time Louis was down for a count of seven and hurt. Louis got up and fought his way out of trouble avoiding numerous rights thrown by the challenger.

The rest of the fight was a cat and mouse game with Walcott using his brilliant boxing skills, his feints and shuffle, to keep Louis off balance. Louis’s left eye was swelling while Walcott had no marks on his face. Louis, while determined and steadfast, just could not land a solid combination on Walcott. Jersey Joe, who had started the fight quite aggressively, seemed to be content to keep at a distance as much as he could and rely on his speed tasty out of trouble. Perhaps he was thinking back to when Billy Conn fought Louis the first time.

Before the start of the 15th and final round Walcott’s cornermen told him he had the fight and he should play it safe. He followed their instructions and spent the final round moving and circling Louis intent on not being knocked out.

When the decision was announced two of the judges gave the fight to the champion while the referee scored it for Walcott. The crowd also thought the challenger had done enough to win.

It has been written that even Joe Louis believed he lost the fight. There are two reasons for this. One, Joe tried to leave the ring before the verdict was announced. Second, Louis went over to Walcott and told him he was sorry.

In an interview years later with Curt Gowdy Louis made it clear that while he was not happy with his performance he truly believed he did enough to win. He said he left the ring early because he was disgusted with himself and felt he should have done better. And as far as why he told Walcott he was sorry, Joe responded “I said that to everyone I beat.” Louis felt that in order for Walcott to win the title he would have had to fight more aggressively and not run so much. Apparently, the officials agreed with him. The press, however, did not. 21 out of 32 boxing writers that were polled said they saw Walcott as the winner.

In reality, this was a tough fight to judge. While Walcott fought beautifully, he also seemed to be playing it safety first. It is difficult, especially in that era, for judges take a title away from a champion when the challenger hasn’t won it decisively. It should also be remembered that the scoring of the fight was on the rounds system, so the two rounds where Walcott scored knockdowns did not count anymore than the other rounds he won. Even if it had been scored on points Louis would have won.

The two would meet again a little over six months later. Walcott would once again floor the champion, but Joe Louis would show the old fire in the 11th round when he knocked out Walcott with a blistering combination. Louis would announce his retirement after the fight, but unfortunately, he would’ve to make a comeback because of financial problems.

Jersey Joe would go on to fight for the title three more times finally winning it in the third try against Ezzard Charles. He was 37 years old at the time.

While the first Louis/Walcott may not have been the greatest Heavyweight Championship bout of all time, it was certainly an interesting one and very much worth watching.


 

Tony Shucco One Of Boston’s Greatest: He Should Never Be Forgotten

North End Native Defeated Five World Champions

by Bobby Franklin

Tony In His Prime

I remember getting to know Tony Shucco when I was a young amateur boxer training at the New Garden Gym in Boston. He would climb the stairs to the fourth floor of the legendary gym many a day to watch the fighters work out. He was usually quiet, but it was obvious he enjoyed being there. Boxing had been and still was his life.

It is sad that such a great fighter, a man who defeated five world champions including two heavyweight champs, is not better remembered. Tony was among the best boxers to fight out of Boston and deserves to be recognized for that.

Not long ago I spoke with his daughter Angela and she allowed me to look at a box filled with letters, photographs, and news clippings of her father’s career. She is very proud of her father and hopes more people will learn about his career.

Tony Shucco was born June 13, 1911 and grew up in Boston’s North End where he lived most of his life. His original name was Anthony Sciucco, but he changed it to the more easily pronounced Shucco when he began boxing.

The Man About Town

After an outstanding amateur career that consisted of nearly a hundred bouts and numerous championships, Tony moved onto the professional stage with his first bout taking place in 1928. He would remain undefeated for 18 fights before dropping a decision to the great Johnny Indrisano at the Boston Arena. At this time Tony was campaigning as a welterweight but would begin moving up through the weight classes. And, like so many great boxers who start off at lower weights, he retained the speed and skills that are rarely seen in the heavier fellows.

Tony was a brilliant boxer who possessed one of the best left jabs in the business. Though he rarely weighed over 180 pounds he fought many of the leading heavyweights of his day. He defeated Natie Brown, Lee Ramage, Tuffy Griffiths, and two heavyweight champions, Jack Sharkey and James J. Braddock. He also scored wins over champions Maxie Rosenbloom, Bob Olin, and Lou Brouillard.

Tony Shucco was a solid top contender for years and it is unfortunate he never got a shot at a title. He certainly had the credentials for it, but back in those days there were so many outstanding fighters competing you really needed to be connected to get a shot.

Packing For A Fight In Germany

In 1938 Tony traveled to Europe where he had an English representative by the name of Tom Hurst. He was a making a name for himself across the Atlantic with fights in England, Ireland, and Germany. In letters he wrote home he began signing his name “English” Tony Shucco. While there he became close friends with American Flyweight Champion Jackie Jurich who was also represented by Hurst. The clouds of war were starting to gather and it was difficult being separated form his wife Etta and young son Anthony, so Tony returned home. He was immensely popular with the European fans and surely could have built a great reputation on the Continent had he continued fighting there.

Tony Missing His Family

When he returned to the States he dropped a close decision to top rated heavyweight Bob Pastor and then went on a winning streak. It is at this point in Tony’s career where he just couldn’t catch a break. In 1940 Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis agreed to defend his title in Boston. The logical opponent for Joe would have been Tony Shucco who was on a six fight winning streak. Tony was back from Europe, in good shape, and full of confidence. Unfortunately, the title shot was given to Al McCoy who had lost three of his last six fights including two consecutive losses leading up to the Louis fight. I am not sure why McCoy was chosen over Tony, but it should have been Shucco in the ring on that December night.

Jackie Jurich with Tony Shucco

I am not arguing Tony would have beaten Louis as there wasn’t a man on the planet who could have taken Joe back then. But, I will make the case Shucco had the style to give the Brown Bomber some trouble. It is also highly possible Tony could have lasted the distance. It is a shame he did not get the opportunity to fight for boxing’s biggest prize against its greatest champion. I can guarantee you he would have been remembered for that and would have made Boston proud.

It is interesting to note that after the loss to Pastor, Tony continued without a loss until he retired in 1942. In spite of this great record he would never get that elusive shot at the title.

In 1944 Tony embarked on a comeback. He had seven bouts winning three, losing two, with one ending in a draw. He retired for good in 1944.

Boxing’s Elder Statesman

When I got to know Tony he was showing the effects of the punches he took later in his career. I remember being told at the time that his managers, one of whom was a relative that I shall not name, kept him fighting to cash in on his reputation. At this point Tony’s legs were not what they used to be and he was taking punches he easily would have avoided as a younger man. Once again, that dark side of boxing reared its ugly head.

I spent many an afternoon talking with Tony in the New Garden Gym. He aways stressed the importance of the left jab to me. He would say “Kid, keep hitting ‘em with the left, and every once in a while toss in a right so they don’t get bored.” He also stressed to me to always fight fair. He told me “Even if the other guy pulls stuff on you never sink to his level.”

There is a sign at the corner of Bowdoin and Cambridge Streets in Boston that names it “Anthony Sciucco Square”. There are two things wrong with this sign. One, it is a Gold Star sign that is meant to remember a fallen soldier. Two, it should read Anthony “Tony Shucco” Sciucco Square, and have a pair of boxing gloves on it. Maybe some politician will read this and correct that oversight.

Tony Shucco passed away February 26, 1983. It was an honor to know this great man. I know his family is very proud of him. It is time Boston rediscovers him. He was one of its greatest athletes, and a man who always fought fair even though he wasn’t treated that way.

Video: Shucco vs Lydon:

Jack Sharkey vs Joe Louis

The Gob Showed Brilliance
In His One Sided Defeat

by Bobby Franklin

“Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

Sharkey and Louis Weigh In

The works of great artists show us something new no matter how many times we view them. I have yet to walk away from viewing or reading a play by William Shakespeare without seeing something in it I had not seen before. That is sometimes true because of the way it is directed or performed, but I have the same experience when I read his works. Great art is always open to interpretation. It also effects different people differently, and even can have a different effect on the same person each time he views it.

Often times there are subtleties we miss during a previous experience. Many times I have noticed something in a movie I had missed before even if I have seen the film multiple times. I have watched The Third Man at least two dozen times and I still find new things in it.

Over the past few years I have enjoyed revisiting fights from the past. I have found it interesting how many times I have been surprised at how different a fight was from my memory of it from either having seen it when it occurred or having watched it many years ago and seeing it again for the first time after all those years. The first Louis vs Conn fight and the Ali vs Foreman fight are two that I have written about that turned out to be very different from what my memory told me. In the case of the Louis Conn bout, there seems to be a collective memory that has grown into a legend about that match that is really quite different from what actually occurred that night.

Sharkey In Defensive Mode

There is something else I have learned from reviewing these fights from boxing’s great past. It is possible to learn a lot from watching a great fighter at the end of his career even in a one sided defeat. I recently watched the Joe Louis vs Jack Sharkey bout and found it very interesting. The match lasted only seven minutes and was a one sided win for the Brown Bomber, but Sharkey was very interesting to watch as he fought the last fight of his career.

The bout took place on August 18, 1936 at Yankee Stadium. Just two months earlier Louis had suffered his first career loss, a knock out at the hands of Max Schmeling. Close to 30,000 fans showed up to see if the loss had a lasting effect on Joe.

Jack Sharkey, also known as the Boston Gob, and his manager, Johnny Buckley, had talked their way into the fight with Louis and even managed to get a guarantee of 25% of the gate. It looked like a good final payday for the ex champ. Unless Louis had been completely demoralized by Schmeling, it didn’t appear Sharkey would have any chance of beating him.

Sharkey had lost the title to Primo Carnera in 1933. After that, Jack had six fights leading up to the Louis fight. He only won two of them with three losses and a draw. Given his record it would appear he would be a perfect comeback opponent for Louis, and maybe that is why they were agreeable to giving him such a good payday. He still had the cache of being a former Heavyweight Champion of the World.

When the opening bell rang it didn’t take long to see that Joe was not at all gun shy. The loss to Schmeling had not hurt his confidence. If anything, it had only made him more determined and focused.

Jack came out to meet Louis in the first round only to run into a sharp young opponent. Max Baer once said “Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.” Well, Sharkey may not have felt that when he stepped into the ring, but he certainly knew that’s what he was dealing with seconds into the bout.

Now here is where my comments about seeing things that have gone unnoticed in previous viewings come into play. Jack Sharkey was definitely an artist in the ring. He was a master boxer who’s biggest fault was his lack of consistency. Given that, he still possessed outstanding talent. At this point in his career he was well over the hill. You can see that in his lack of leg movement. Jack had been light on his feet when younger, but now they looked to be stiff and tired. It is not good being in a race with a young athlete while having two flat tires.

Once the bout got underway Jack had to know he had no chance of beating Louis. But Jack was also a champion and wasn’t going to just quit. So, what could he do? Well, this is where you get to see some amazing moves.

Jack reached down for every trick he knew. He used body feints, arm feints, he rolled with the punches, he tied Louis up when he could. He attempted to counter Louis’s jab, but no longer had the reflexes to be effective.

Louis Drops Sharkey

What you end up seeing when watching this fight is a once great boxer preforming some amazing moves, only they are now being done in slow motion, which makes them easier to see. Nothing worked to save him from being stopped, but they did prevent Jack from suffering a much worse beating.

The treat for students of boxing in watching this seven minute fight is in studying how Sharkey attempts to survive the Louis onslaught. Yes, it is a one sided fight, and Sharkey goes down four times, but in between you get to see a formerly great artist reaching to his palate in an attempt to paint one more masterpiece. He is not able to do it, but he does still show amazing skill. A lot can be learned from watching Jack Sharkey during his final few minutes in the ring.

Does Character Still Matter?

by Bobby Franklin

“Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.”

For years parents looked for ways to build character in their children. Quite often sports was seen as one of the best ways for young men to learn the lessons of what it meant to truly be a man in the best sense of the word. Organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts were another institution that helped build character in young people in order to prepare them to enter adulthood equipped with the tools to live a decent and productive life where they would contribute to the betterment of society. There were many other ways that these lessons could be learned as well. Things from having an after school job such as working for a local business or having a paper route. These were all ways for young people to learn responsibility and to gain the skills needed to be able to interact with other people.

1940s Young Men Learning To Box
1940s Young Men Learning To Box

There were many ways to inculcate these values in our young people and they were used for years with much success. Unfortunately, many of these things are no longer in fashion. The Boy Scouts have been under assault for years and I can’t remember the last time I saw a young person delivering newspapers. After a snowstorm we no longer get a knock at the door from some eager young people ready to negotiate a price for shoveling the walk. Things have really changed.

I want to mention the connection my thoughts on this have to do with boxing, but first, one other observation.

As I write these words the leading candidates for both parties appear to be on their way to their respective nominations for president. According to polls, they both seem almost unstoppable. What also consistently shows up in polls is something very disturbing. The vast majority of voters, including those supporting both candidates, when asked about the character of each of these people consistently respond they find them both untrustworthy and dishonest. In spite of this they still say they will vote for them. In other words, character, that trait that was so important to Americans for so many years, no longer matters. It could be argued it is a detriment to success in today’s world. This is not only sad but dangerous for the future of our republic.

Joe Louis
Joe Louis

Now on to boxing and character. For most of the 20th Century it was almost impossible to find a man who hadn’t at some point while growing up had a pair of boxing gloves on and who had been given, at the very least, a few pointers in the Manly Art of Self Defense. These lessons were usually given by the young man’s father, but could also have been taught by an older brother, uncle, friend, or even a member of the clergy.

These lessons included, but were not limited to, being taught how to hold one’s hands in a defensive position, the proper use of the left jab, how to throw a one-two combination, and also some pointers in how to keep physically fit as taking care of one’s body was essential to being a good boxer.

Something else even more important was instilled during these lessons. That something else was how a real man carries himself. That with the knowledge of how to overpower someone and protect yourself also came the responsibility not to abuse that power. Never hit a man when he is down was a common refrain that would carry over from boxing into a valuable adage to in life to remind us to offer hand not a fist to someone who was having hard times.

Always fight fair even if the other guy doesn’t would be a constant reminder in life about not allowing yourself to be dragged down into the gutter by another’s ill behavior.

It was amazing how much could be learned from a few hours with the gloves on while listening to a mentor who would guide his student from the use of the right cross to never crossing his fellow man. It is sad that that world seems so far away now.

It is sad that that world seems so far away now.

I am not saying there weren’t always rogues, cutthroats, and dishonest people around able and willing to take advantage of any situation. It is just seems to me the public better understood the difference between good and bad and frowned upon those who would act outside of the society’s code of decency.

Boxing has often been called a reflection of society. I believe this is true. On one hand it has been populated by the poorest members of society, usually immigrants or those recently descended from those new to our shores. They often came from struggling and desperate circumstances. I think of Jack Dempsey who grew up almost in the wilderness and lived the life of a hobo having to literally fight just to feed himself and stay alive. Or of Joe Louis, the son of a sharecropper, who would make all American’s proud to have him as the Heavyweight Champion. In both these men we see examples of people who struggled and rose from nothing to gain great notoriety by using their fists. And in both these men we see how they handled the power they were given with dignity. They were both the type of men who inspired good things in others.

I am sure there are people like them around today, but those people are not being recognized in the way they should be. Mike Tyson, a totally base human being is lauded with a Broadway Show and an HBO special. Floyd Mayweather beats his wife and still makes countless millions of dollars. And the two potential nominees for the highest office in the world are deemed to be dishonest rogues by the very people supporting them.

Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.