By Ken Hissner: In this writer’s opinion, the two best heavyweights of all time were Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis and Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali.
Both fighters lost prime time when Louis entered the U.S. Army, not fighting from March of 1942 to June of 1946. On the other hand, Ali lost prime time by refusing to enter the U.S. Army, not fighting from March 1967 to October 1970.
It seemed to take more out of Ali than Louis due to the latter having the fighters punch, which few lose, and Ali not slipping punches as well getting hit more.
Louis had 25 title defenses, and Ali had 19. I remember in 1977 at Ali’s Deer Lake, PA, training camp, I sat in a group with Ali, gave my camera to his business manager Gene Kilroy, and remarked to Ali, “Why are you fighting all these bums?” Kilroy snapped at me and said, “Louis had the Bum of the Month” Club!” I replied, referring to Ali. “He just fought Wepner, didn’t he?”
Louis won his first 24 fights, scoring 20 knockouts before suffering his first loss to former champion Germany’s Max Schmeling, 48-7-4, being stopped in the twelfth round after hitting the canvas in the fourth and twelfth rounds in June of 1936.
Louis would go on to win the heavyweight title in June of 1937, knocking out Jim “The Cinderella Man” Braddock, 51-25-7, and afterward, remarked, “I’m not champion until I beat Schmeling!”
A year later, Louis got the rematch with Schmeling and knocked him out in the first round. Schmeling had won four straight since his win over Louis.
Ali won his first thirty-one fights before losing to “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0, in March of 1971, hitting the canvas in the fifteenth and final round. It wouldn’t be until January of 1974 when Ali won the rematch, with neither holding the world title but for Ali’s North American Boxing Federation title.
In October of 1974, Ali regained the title, knocking out “Big” George Foreman, 40-0, called the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, Africa, in eight rounds. A year later, in their third fight, Ali stopped Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines.
In February of 1978, Ali lost to former 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist Leon Spinks, 6-0-1, by a split decision. At that time, his cut-man Dr. Ferdie Pacheco told him not only was he not working his corner anymore, but he shouldn’t fight again.
Ali would return to the ring two years later, losing to Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes, 35-0, being stopped for the first time in his career. I remember seeing him in his Deer Lake, PA, camp with a large belly and asking him, “Why are you taking this fight the shape you are in?” He padded his belly and said, “I like my ice cream!”
Ali ended with a 56-5 record with 37 knockouts in December of 1981, losing in his next fight after the Holmes loss to former champion Trevor Berbick, 19-2-1, in Nassau, in the Bahamas.
Getting back to Louis in his ninth defense, he won a split decision over Chile’s Arturo Godoy, 54-10-7, in February of 1940 at Madison Square Garden. Two fights later, he stopped Godoy in eight rounds.
In June of 1941, Louis was behind in rounds when he knocked out Light Heavyweight champion Billy Conn, 58-9-1, in the thirteenth round. It wouldn’t be until June of 1946, in their return match, that Louis knocked out Conn in eight rounds.
In December of 1947, Louis won a split decision over former champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott, 42-13-1, in Madison Square Garden. In the rematch, he knocked Walcott out in eight rounds in his following fight.
Louis then, in his next fight, lost to former champion Ezzard Charles, 66-5-1, in Yankee Stadium, New York. In his final fight, he was stopped by Rocky Marciano, 37-0, in October of 1951. His final record was 66-3 with 52 knockouts.
In my opinion, Ali, before losing his license, would have won a decision over Louis but would have been stopped in the condition he was in returning to the ring.