Famous Ring Wars – Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn

By John F. McKenna - 02/15/2024 - Comments

On June 18, 1941 one of the greatest Heavyweight Championship fights of all time was held in New York City at the Polo Grounds. Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis AKA the “Brown Bomber” took on challenger Billy Conn AKA the “Pittsburgh Kid”.

Conn who had won the Light Heavyweight Championship in 1939 had given up his title to challenge Joe Louis for the Heavyweight Championship. Conn was given a better chance against Louis than his recent challengers, but he was still an 18 to 5 underdog. Just as there are boxing writers today who attempt to undermine the champion, there were those who were saying that Louis was starting to slip and that his murderous punching power was diminishing. Of course this was all done in an effort to hype his fights and make it appear that his challenger, whoever he may be had a real chance of beating him. Nothing has really changed that much. Louis in reality at age of 27 was at the very peak of his prowess as a fighter. He was dispatching opponents so quickly and with such ease that 1941 was dubbed the “Bum of the Month Club” by boxing writers.

Billy Conn was the consummate boxer. He had a great left jab and his left hook was lightning quick and delivered with force. The “Pittsburgh Kid” was not intimidated by Louis as most of his recent challengers had been. Billy was supremely confident in his ability and really thought he was going to win. He was the picture of calm in his dressing room before the fight.

Louis immediately went to work in the first round cutting off the ring and landed some good shots to the body of Conn. The second round was more of the same with the “Brown Bomber” again landing his heavy artillery. At this point it did not seem that Conn would last very long. In the third round Billy started coming on and making a real fight out of it. As the fight progressed it became clear that Louis had a real fight on his hands. Going into the middle rounds Conn was able to nullify Louis’s early lead and by the tenth round began to pull ahead. Louis kept up the pressure, but could not deliver anything that would slow Conn down. Going into the eleventh and twelfth rounds Billy continued to build up a lead. Louis was staggered in the twelfth round and fans started thinking the unthinkable. Was Billy Conn on the brink of making history by dethroning the “Brown Bomber”?

When Louis went back to his corner his handlers told him he needed a knockout to win. Conn’s trainer came out and met him at mid ring and attempted to settle him down. He was sure he was going to knock the Champ out in the next round and told his handlers that. When the thirteenth round started Louis calmly met Conn at center ring looking for an opening. Billy met Joe and immediately started slugging it out intent on finishing up what he had started in the twelfth round. The “Pittsburgh Kid” was doing the one thing his corner had warned him not to do. In the middle of the round Louis and Conn got into a firefight where they traded blow for blow. Louis caught Conn with a terrific right hand to the jaw and then a wicked left hook to the body followed by a right uppercut to the chin. Billy was game right up to the end and continued to attempt to match Joe blow for blow. Louis landed a succession of devastating punches to the body and head of Conn and Billy finally fell to the floor. This classic battle was all over.

It would be five years before the inevitable rematch took place. World War II got in the way. Both Louis and Conn served their country well and sacrificed their best years.

Louis would always be dogged by reporters who hounded him about Conn during the five year interval between fights. On one such occasion when Louis was being chided by reporters about having to cope with Conn’s speed of hand and foot Joe made his famous quote “He can run but he can’t hide!”

As it turned out five years had taken the luster away from both Louis and Conn’s greatness. The rematch was a big disappointment. Louis scored an eight round knockout over Conn in a dull fight.

Louis and Conn became good friends in the years after their classic fight. Conn one time teasingly asked Louis why he would not let his buddy have the Title for a year or two.

Louis, always quick with the quip responded by saying “I loaned you the title one night for thirteen rounds and you couldn’t handle it.” This was one of the fights that truly did live up to the hype of that era.

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