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The Power and The Glory- Joe Louis Vs Muhammad Ali


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James Blears
 
 
 
 
 
Joe Louis and Muhammad are the two greatest heavyweight Champions in history,  but different generations of avid boxing fans never avoid the  until Kingdom come debate of just who was the Supreme All Time number one?
 
While the older generation insist the TNT power of Joe's fists would have pummeled and levelled Muhammad Ali, the younger upstarts and whipper Snappers,  argue that Ali who was bigger yet nimbler than Billy Conn would have danced circles and then rings  around Joe, befuddling him with jabs and striking him with lightning combintions. "He cannot hit, what he cannot see!" Our olders and betters shoot right back that although Joe wasn't gazelle like in quickness, he had indeed mastered the art of cutting off the ring, and more often than not fulfilled his own chilling prophecy of:  "He can run, but he can't hide."
 
Matching all time great fighters from different glorious gilt edged chapters of history,  is fraught with culpable supposition, and can only lead to question mark suggestions, rather than full stop copybook blots.
 
In many ways the two could hardly be more different in temperament.  Joe Louis... the child battling a speech impediment who hardly said a word until he was six and was never that gabby during the next 58 years.  The erudite, downright, forthright Cassius Marcellous Clay, later to become Muhammad Ali, who was dubbed  "The Louisville Lip."  Joe, who was a busting eleven pounds at birth,  while Cassius merely half that weight.
 
A violin and a stolen bicycle drew the two into boxing.  Joe hid his gloves inside a violin case so his Mum Lillie wouldn't know that his leisure hours were more interlaced with ring ropes, and taking a bow, rather than strings played by a bow.  While young Cassius was determined to: "Whup whoever stole my bike!"
 
Firstly let's look at the records, of which Joe's is definitely superior.  Eleven years and ten astonishing cast iron months as Champion.  That's 140 consequtive months! An astounding 25 successful defences, which stands as an all time record spanning ALL weight divisions. Critics dubbed it Bum of the Month,  but many of the fighters that Joe dismantled and dispatched were seasoned quality opponents, who simply couldn't live with his power.
 
Ali would have three reigns as Champion, the first of which was curtailed by him being stripped of the title for almost four years, for refusing to join the Armed Forces and go to Viet Nam.
 
Ali refused to take the offered option of putting on a uniform, getting into line and then proffering boxing exhibitions, far away from the front line.  Joe chose to join the Army in World War two, and courageously behind the scenes, he stood up for fellow African Americans who were segregated, denegrated and degraded, including Jackie Robinson who went on to break the racism bar in major league baseball.  
 
Years later when Joe had fallen on hard times and was a casino greeter in Las Vegas,  a women thought he was Jackie Robinson and asked him to sign an autograph. To his eternal and dignified credit, the Great Man didn't flinch.  But whispered to a friend asking how Jackie's name was correctly spelled.  As Jimmy Cannon so aptly wrote of Joe:  "Joe Louis is a credit to his race...The Human Race!"
 
Joe who famously fought one exhibition for the Navy Benevolent Fund and then the Army Benevolent Fund, keeping but one dollar from each fight.  And the IRS infamously and disgracefully taxed  him on every red cent, plunging him into a mire of debt, which would oblige him to return to the ring burdoned by liens, rather than permanently and deservedly being able to retire to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
 
Both of Ali's greatest tests under fire came against Joe Frazier.  In the first Joe had him dangling by barely a thread, following a massive left hook in the eleventh, but didn't immediatly follow up, confused with Ali's comical wobble and wiggle deceiving Smokin Joe who did: "The long march," to reach him.  Surely The Brown Bomber wouldn't have let Ali off the hook in the same fashion.  But when Ali was dropped by another awesome wall demolishing left hook in the fifteenth and final round,  although as Referee Arthur Mercante said: "He was hit as hard as a man can be hit," he got up at the count of three and fought on.  Bravery beyond bravery.  Incredible!!!
 
After his explosive KO  defeat a rueful Billy Conn plaintively said to The Brown Bomber: "Joe, you could have leant me your title for a while?  And the crushing reply returned: "Billy you had my title for thirteen rounds but you didn't know what to do with it!"   Joe is also famous for the saying: "Everyone has a plan until they're hit!"  
 
Ali is revered  for forcing the fearsome Sonny Liston to quit and then bouncing him with the famous  "Phantom punch."  Also for the Rope a Dope triumph against George Foreman.
 
Yet as war clouds gathered, can anything equal Joe's two minutes four seconds destruction of Max Schmeling in 1938 at the Yankee Stadium avenging, his previous twelve round humiliation of 1936?
 
No question Ali had the studier chin.  Joe was decked by Max Schmeling, Jimmy Braddock, Two Ton Tony Galento, Buddy Baer, Jersey Joe Walcott and Rocky Marciano. In most cases he got up to win.  Ali was dropped by Sonny Banks, Henry Cooper and stumbled against the Bayonne Bleeder Chuck Wepner.  He somehow stayed on his feet for his only stoppage loss by Larry Holmes.
 
At his nine to five best, Joe routinely blasted out opponents with either hand by Jove!  Ali was less devastating but more whiplash cutting. As one opponent said individual blows weren't devasting but their accumulation built up to have a dazzling and dizzying effect.  
 
Neither man ever warmed to the other.  In the controverisal wake of Jack Johnson,  Joe had to appear and remain humble,  devoid of any gloating, living for appearance sake a modest, discreet life.  Brash Ali foolishly accused him of being an "Uncle Tom," crassly igorning the glaring fact that Joe had paved the way for his opportunity to seize greatness.  A more mature Ali realized the folly of that wounding and utterly unjust accusation, trying to make peace via glowing tributes.
 
Just one inch height and four inches reach divided them, but in his time Joe stretched out 52 opponents, while Ali's halt muster came to 16 fewer.  Ali arguably possessed more ingenuity via guile, but palpably lacked Joe's massive stopping power.
 
Only to us is it really important to say who's the greatest.  After his eighth round KO defeat by Rocky Marciano,  Joe showed us why he was such a great Champion even though the mantle of power had changed hands in that non title fight on October 26th 1951.  Thirty eight year old Joe was suffering from a tumor on his right shoulder. He basically fought Rocky one handed.  Afterwards Rocky who idolized Joe, left the ring in less than thirty seconds.
 
In the changing room, as he wept along with Suger Ray Robinson a distraught Rocky mumbled : "I'm so sorry Joe."  Joe replied: "What's the use of crying. The better man won.  I guess everything happens for the best."
 
Years after the brutal final encounter with Joe Frazier: "The thrilla in Manila," Ali was asked if he'd ever seen the film of it.  To which he replied: "Why would I go back and see hell?!"
 
Both were so great, and as long there's Boxing, I'm totally convinved that we'll never, ever see their like again!

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