Joe Louis Barrow was born on May 13, 1914, in Lexington, Alabama, the youngest of seven children. When Joe was a young boy, his family moved to Detroit where Joe's friend Thurston McKinney, a winner of a Golden Glove title in Detroit, convinced him to begin boxing. Joe trained at the recreation center with Alter Ellis, and in 1932, at age 17, he quit school to become a boxer. Although his mother disapproved, he still wanted to box. After Joe dropped out of school, he worked part time as a paint sprayer in an automobile assembly line, practicing boxing only on the weekends. When he signed up for his first amateur fight in November 1932, Joe Louis Barrow dropped the name "Barrow" for fear that his parents might see the fight results and be angry that he continued to box. In 1934, Joe won the US Amateur Athletic Union Crown and turned pro.
Out of a total of 69 bouts, Joe Louis only lost one. One June 19, 1936, he challenged reigning world heavyweight champion, Germany's Max Schmeling, for the title, and got knocked out in the 12th round. He became world champion when he knocked out James J. Braddock in the eighth round on June 22, 1937. He kept this title until 1949, defending it 25 times (more than any other champion), with knockouts in 20 out of the 25 matches. Known as the "Brown Bomber," Louis was famous for his quick, devastating punches. He was also famous for his "Bum-of-the-Month" tour where for one year he had one fight each month in order to defend his title.
"The Fight of the Century." On June 22, 1938, Schmeling challenged Louis to a rematch. As 70,000 fans crowded Yankee Stadium, it was obvious that there was more than the title riding on this fight. With tensions between America and Nazi Germany rising, the boxing match had turned into a matter of national pride. Within two minutes, though it was over, as Louis threw a punch that landed Schmeling in the hospital for a week.
In 1941, Louis enlisted in the army where he fought in 96 exhibition matches around the world.
In 1949, Louis retired from boxing with only one loss in 69 bouts. He had made over $5,000,000.00 and had given most of it away.
In the late 40's, Louis was assessed over one million dollars in back taxes and penalties. The only way that he could raise the money was to fight again, so on September 27, 1950, he challenged the new champ, Ezzard Charles. Louis was beaten in 15 rounds. On October 26, 1951, Rocky Marciano beat Louis in eight rounds. When Louis retired for good, he had a record of 68 wins and three loses.
In 1954, Louis was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Louis had open heart surgery that left him in a wheelchair until he died on April 12, 1981. President Reagan waived the requirements in order for Louis to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The inscription on his headstone is simply "The Brown Bomber."
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