by Bobby Franklin
Had Louis On The Canvas, But That Was Not His Best Round
Two Ton Tony Galento was the only opponent Joe Louis ever really disliked. When Joe fought Max Schmeling his fury was based on his wanting to avenge his loss as he felt he would not be the true champion until he defeated the German who had previously knocked him out. He was also was representing the United States in a symbolic battle against the evils of Nazis Germany.
With Galento it was a very different case. Tony had repeatedly made disparaging comments about Joe, his most famous being “I’ll moider da bum.” The Brown Bomber did not take kindly to being called a bum. At one point during training Joe asked a reporter, “Why that little fat man keep calling me a bum?”
Today’s fans may not see what the big deal was in such comments being made, but in the era of Joe Louis fighters, showed respect for one another.
Sure, there were plenty of colorful characters around back then, but they rarely launched personal attacks on their opponents. Their was a mutual respect that existed among those in the sport, and Louis felt Galento had stepped way over the line. This was the only time Joe entered the ring where he was angry at his opponent. He said he wanted to punish him. Even years later when both Joe and Tony appeared together on Curt Gowdy’s program “The Way It Was” to watch clips of and discuss the fight you could see Louis still didn’t care for Galento. He said on the program that he wanted to carry the New Jersey brawler for ten rounds before knocking him out in order to inflict damage on him first. So, why didn’t he?
Galento had a big mouth and was obnoxious in his comments before the bout, but he had the punch, heart, and skill, yes, I said skill, to give the champion a fight. Tony was rated the number one contender for the title by Ring Magazine, and he had earned his shot with a winning streak of eleven straight fights against top contenders. Make no mistake about it, while he hardly looked the part of a great boxer with his rotund figure, he was very talented at fighting out of a crouch and counterpunching. He also had a lethal left hook that was instrumental in his scoring knockouts in 57 of his 80 victories. Tony was also one of the dirtiest fighters to enter the ring. He was well schooled in using his head, elbows, and thumbs.
On June 28, 1939 Joe and Tony entered the ring at Yankee Stadium. In front of a crowd of 34,852 they received their prefight instructions from referee Arthur Donovan. Even at this point Tony couldn’t resist acting up. There was a problem with the amount of Vaseline Galento had on his face, so the referee had his handlers wipe it off. Tony then reached over and rubbed his hand over Joe’s head. This only added to the champion’s anger.
At the bell for round one Galento came out of his corner in a very low crouch and was leaning to his right in order to be on the outside of Joe’s left jab. By doing this he was putting himself into Joe’s blind spot. It was a very good tactic as Joe was known to have some difficulty with fighters who fought out of a crouch. Tony slipped the jab and landed some decent left hooks to Joe’s body. Joe was making the mistake of punching down at Tony instead of bending at the knees to get on an even plane with the challenger. At one point Galento slipped Louis’s jab and landed a solid left hook to Joe’s chin hurting him and driving the champion to the ropes. Joe looked a bit hurt but maintained his composure. Galento, emboldened by what he had accomplished, went after the champion and got a bit wild. The first round went to the challenger, and the crowd was very excited by what they had just witnessed.
In round two Tony was not crouching down as much and Joe was now bending his knees and finding the range. Tony had abandoned what was a good strategy and was now just bulling his way forward. He was also using his head and elbows on the inside. Joe dropped the challenger with a beautiful right left combination that would have knocked out many another man, but Tony was up at the count of two and still full of fight.
Round three was interesting for one reason. By now Galento had completely abandoned his crouch and counterpunch tactics and was standing straight up in front of the champion while throwing wild punches. He was hoping to get lucky and land the big one. Mid round, while Louis was throwing a left hook to the body, Tony landed a left hook to Louis’s head that caught the champion off balance. Louis went down more embarrassed than hurt and was up almost immediately. For the rest of the round he pummeled Tony. While this is the punch Galento will be remembered for, it was not nearly as damaging, other than to Joe’s pride, than the hook he landed in the first round. The hook in the opening round was an excellent counter punch that was executed with great skill. The knockdown blow was more of a lucky punch.
As the bell rang for round four it was now Joe’s turn to abandon his fight plan. No, he would not get wild, but he no longer was going to punish Tony for ten rounds before knocking him out. He was now going for the kill. I believe it was Max Baer who once said “Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”
Well, Joe had decided it was time to go home, and if Galento had any sense he would have been scared, but Two Ton Tony came out ready to go down fighting. He took a horrific beating during the two minutes and twenty-nine seconds that elapsed until Arthur Donovan stepped in to stopped the carnage. Galento was beaten to a pulp and would receive forty stitches to his face after the bout.
In the post fight interview Joe Louis did not gloat. As much as he disliked Tony Galento, he praised his ability and called him a great fighter. Joe Louis was always the definition of class.
This fight will always be remembered for the fact that Galento dropped the great Joe Louis, but Tony’s greatest moments came in the first round when he had the champion hurt.