By James Blears
One of the saddest episodes in Boxing history came to pass, when “The Brown Bomber” Joe Louis was obliged to come out retirement, culminating in the bout against young upcoming Rocky Marciano, who bludgeoned him to defeat in the eighth rounds at Madison Square Garden, on October 26th 1951.
Joe was the most successful heavyweight champion of all time, with twenty five successful title defenses. No champion in the history of Boxing before or since, has matched this in any one weight category. It`s an illustrious record which still stands to this day.
Joe`s real career spans 1937 to 1949. He then retired from the ring. By that time, he`s won a fortune, but taken home only a fraction of what he`d earned. All of his many and diverse business ventures had failed and the one implacable opponent pursuing him, forced him back to boxing when he was a spent force and his heart was no longer in it.
The Internal Revenue Service, better known as the IRS, was hot on his trail. His tax returns, which had always been done by the Accountant of his Manager Mike Jacobs, were under merciless scrutiny. In May 1950, the IRS concluded its investigation, announcing that including accrued interest and penalties, Joe owed the US Government more than half a million dollars.
A deal of sorts which amounted to an ultimatum was presented. It stated that all of his net proceeds would go to the IRS. So from now on the ageing star would be handing his purses over to them.
The fraying warning signs were all there to see. Joe lost a UD to world heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, ending the fight cut over both eyes and badly beaten. But still…he had to fight on. Going into the bout against “The Brockton Blockbuster,” Joe was the 6-5 favorite. Those who knew anything about boxing were gripped with fear, foreboding and trepidation. Joe`s body was willing but simultaneously failing. Joe`s heart and mind of a champion meant that he wouldn’t tamely surrender, and as such he would suffer a fearful beating. Joe was a tired faded thirty seven years old, while Rocky was twenty eight approaching his fearsome prime.
Joe was Rocky`s childhood hero and this is a fight he definitely didn`t want to take, on his path to the championship, which came five fights later. Rocky said that Joe was the last man on Earth he wanted to fight. But the contracts were duly signed, so then awful inevitable fate had to take its course. Joe would be handing over 132,OOO dollars to the taxman, while Rocky would be paid 44,000 dollars. It was such a woefully high price to pay!
During World War Two, Joe had volunteered to be drafted into the Army. He`d fought two boxing bouts for charity, one going to the Navy Benevolent Fund and the other going to the Army Benevolent Fund, keeping one dollar each time. Incredibly, callously, clinically and to its eternal damnation, the IRS taxed him for the full amounts on both purses!!!
At one hundred and eighty four pounds, learn and bristling Rocky was giving away twenty nine pounds in weight. While the weight of world weariness would be the crushing Atlas burden that Joe would carry on that so sad night.
As early as round two, Joe was absorbing some terrific punches, but his pride temporarily sustained him. He used his famed left jab to some effect, but its ramrod potency was long gone. A lump callous on the top of his right shoulder affected him, and he wasn`t able to get proper leverage with his once feared right hand.
Rocky`s very future was on the line, so it wasn`t possible for him to ease up on or to carry Joe, who would never have wanted, much less accepted this. In round eight a massive left hook dropped Joe as if he`d been shot. He was really badly hurt and his legions of fans were fervently praying he`d stay down. The nature of the man made this utterly impossible.
He unsteadily staggered to his feet as worried Referee Ruby Goldstein reached the count of eight. He was there for the taking and at the mercy of a ruthless finisher. Backed on to the ropes, Joe was pulverized by two lefts, and then the trademark Rocky blockbuster short right landed. It catapulted Joe downwards and through the ropes strewn on the ring apron. He sagged on to the Press Tables. Reporters tenderly held him so he wouldn`t fall further, as he lay prone. The ten and out decimal was finally reached and declared.
A concerned Rocky went straight over, as Joe regained his feet and told him he`d forever be a great and fabulous champion. Back in the changing room, Sugar Ray Robinson, who`d accompanied Joe on exhibitions, especially in the Army, wept like a child, his head in his hands. Rocky himself was there shedding copious tears. He went up to Joe and apologized saying: “I`m so sorry Joe.” The forever GREAT Joe draped a comforting arm over Rocky`s shoulder and consoled him with the words: “What`s the use of crying. The better man won. I guess everything happens for the best.”
The millstone debt to the IRS still hadn’t been paid in full and awful finality. It continued to gather pace. It was many years before these faceless, gutless bureaucrats finally stopped actively pursuing it and hounding Joe. This badly affected his physical and mental health.
True friends including ex championship rival Max Schmeling, and Frank Sinatra stepped in to help Joe financially. Max once paid a considerable hospital bill for Joe, but earnestly pleaded with the Director not to reveal his name, saying that Joe was so proud that if he became aware of this, he would certainly refuse it. Max urged the Director to tell Joe, it had come from an admiring fan, which was totally true!
And when Joe died in 1981, Max paid for his funeral. That is the magnificent esteem in which Joe Louis was held by REAL AND GENUINE PEOPLE. OUR PEOPLE!
THE TEARS STILL FALL!