By Ken Hissner: Muhammad Ali and Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis were the two best heavyweights of all time in that division, in this writer’s opinion.
Ali was the best boxer, and Louis the hardest-hitting of the champions. The military had an effect on both of them and both negative.
Louis, 51-1, enlisted on January 8, 1942, in the Army. A day later, he was in the ring in a rematch with 6:06” Buddy Baer, 59-6, scoring a first round knockout. It would be fourteen months before he fought again, being the only official fight while serving in the army in March of 1942, stopping Abe Simon 36-9-1 in six rounds at Madison Square Garden.
On March 10th, Louis would appear as a guest speaker at a dinner and fundraiser for the Navy Relief Society. “I’ve only done what any red-blooded American would do,” said Louis. He added, “We gonna do our part, and we will win because we are on God’s side,” said Louis.
A large part of the money he received for the Baer and Simon fights went to the Army Relief Fund. He was ranked sergeant at discharge. While he was in the army, his finances fell into complete disarray. He had to borrow from his promoter and managers. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service taxed Louis for his income for his 1941 fights, much of which he donated to the government. By the end of World War 2, Louis would owe the IRS more than $100,000.
Louis would return to the ring in June of 1946 in a rematch with Bill Conn, 61-10-1, knocking him out in eight rounds. Conn had three wins since losing to Louis in June of 1941. Conn 55-9-1, was ahead in that bout by 7-5, 7-4, and 6-6 after twelve rounds. At 2:58 of the thirteenth round, Louis knocked out Conn.
The share from this fight for Louis was $625,916, the largest any fighter had ever made in a single night. Nearly all of it went to paying off his enormous debt. But now he owed taxes on his purse.
In 1966 Ali’s draft status was 1-Y, physically fit but exempt from the army because he scored lower than the minimum on Army Intelligence tests. In 1966 the Army lowered its intelligence requirements, and Ali was reclassified as 1-A, making him eligible for the draft.
He appealed for exemption, claiming he was a conscientious objector base on his religious beliefs as a Muslim. In April of 1967, he refused induction. He was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. He was stripped of his WBA title and the New York boxing commission. He was 28-0 and had just stopped Zora Folley, 74-7-4, in seven rounds in March 1967. He was robbed of his ability to slip punches after returning to the ring in October of 1970.
This affected Louis, who lost much of his boxing ability being in the army, to Ali lost much of his boxing ability by refusing to serve in the army. After Ali retired in 1990, he brought back fifteen American hostages from Iraq.
Louis set a record for defenses at 25 and Ali at 17. The final record for Ali was 56-5 with 37 stoppages. Louis was 66-3 with 52 stoppages. Louis had a 10-1 record and 15 stoppage difference between the two.
Both lost their titles, Louis, to Ezzard Charles, 66-5-1, in September of 1950 and Ali to “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0, in March of 1971.
Ali would regain the title some three times, defeating “Big” George Foreman, 40-0, and Leon Spinks, 7-0-1, after losing to him.
Ali by decision or Louis by knockout?