They were two of the most dynamic and successful fighters of the first 60 years of the 1900s. And, as it turns out, the “Brown Bomber,” Joe Louis and “Sugar Ray” Robinson both passed away on April 12th, 8 years apart.
First, Louis, who was born Joe Louis Barrow, rose to prominence in the 1930s having won 24 consecutive fights to start his career before German Max Schmeling knocked him out at Yankee Stadium in June of 1936. However, Louis went on a win streak after that defeat that would last some 34 fights and an astounding 14 years.
Louis defeated Jim Braddock at Comiskey Park in Chicago for the Heavyweight Title in June of 1937 and then, defended it 25 times including destroying Schmeling in just one round in their rematch in June of 1938. We wrote about Louis getting his revenge, as Schmeling had no answer for Louis is booming right hand. The two remained life long friends after their two famous bouts.
Louis was inducted into the U.S. Army, once World War II broke out. He fought fights for U.S. Government of publicity and never saw combat.
There was heavy criticism throughout the early-mid 1940s that Louis was fighting lesser competition and his title defenses became known as “The Bum of the Month Club” by the sportswriters and broadcasters.
Louis eventually, knocked out Light Heavyweight champion Billy Conn in June of 1946 and then, had two memorable fights with future champ, “Jersey Joe” Walcott.
The first was a split decision win for the champ in December of 1947 in a fight that many thought Walcott had won. They rematched 7 months later in June of 1948 and Louis left no doubt this time with an 11th round KO of Walcott.
However, just 3 months later, Louis would lose the Heavyweight Championship to Ezzard Charles on a 15-round decision. It was only his second loss in 60 professional fights.
Still, Louis fought numerous times against a little-known opposition over the next few years.
He was doing this, in no small part because he was in debt more than $500,000 to the Internal Revenue Service for failure to pay taxes on his previous earnings in the 1940s.
Louis eventually fought future Heavyweight champ, Rocky Marciano, in October 1951, who battered him and knock him out in the 8th round. Louis was done for good at age 37 with a 66 – 3 record.
He still holds the record to this day for most title defense wins in a heavyweight career and was inducted posthumously to the international Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Living modestly in Nevada in his retirement years, Louis had attended the Larry Holmes-Trevor-Berbick heavyweight title fight April 11th, 1981. And, he was even recognized on the Public Address at ringside for the crowd. The former champ became ill after the fight in the middle of the night and eventually died of cardiac arrest early Sunday morning April 12th of that year.
Shortly after Louis’s death, President Ronald Reagan created a special presidential exemption for Louis to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which he was the following week.
A year later (1982) Louis was also given the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal bestowed on the finest Americans in history.
Meanwhile, “Sugar Ray:Robinson was born Walker Smith and is regarded as arguably the greatest welterweight and middleweight fighter ever.
Robinson, who was born in Georgia, competed as an amateur and won all 85 of his fights before turning professional in 1940. He would go on to an amazing career run as a welterweight that had 128 wins with only one loss and two draws.
He won a staggering 91 fights in a row from 1943 – 51, which is the third longest streak of any pro boxer ever. Robinson was the World Welterweight champion from 1946 – 51.
However, Robinson gained his most notoriety by moving up to Middleweight, where he defeated Jake LaMotta for the final time of their six matchups by 13th round TKO in February of 1951 to win the World Title.
Robinson went on to win 7 more fights before eventually Randy Turpin defeated him London in July of 1951 this would start a roller coaster of Robinson winning and losing the Middleweight title, at times to the same fighters..
This included, Sugar Ray regaining the title from Turpin but later losing it to Joey Maxim in June 1952.. He also won the title back over Bobo Olson. But lost it to Gene Fullmer before winning it back. He lost the Middleweight title again to Carmen Basilio, but won in an immediate rematch with him in March of 1958.
Robinson incredibly continued to fight sometimes 10 times or more in the same year, and at times, would fight two or more times in the same month. He finally fought for the 198 time in November of 1965 losing a 10-round decision to Joey Archer.
Much like Louis before him, Robinson experienced financial troubles during the late parts of his career that made him continue to fight on into his early 40s. He finished with a 172 – 19 – 6 record with an incredible 109 knockouts.
Unfortunately, all of those bouts took their toll and Robinson began to suffer from Alzheimer’s in the 1980s. And, he was living in poverty in the Los Angeles California late in life having burned through over an estimated $4 million dollars worth of earnings he made in the ring and on his likeness and endorsements outside of it in later years.
Robinson died from Alzheimer’s and heart failure on April 12th 1989, eight years to the day after “The Brown Bomber.”
He was inducted with Louis posthumously, as well in the 1990 International Boxing Hall of Fame ceremony.
Two amazing Hall of Fame fighters during the pre-televised years of boxing in the 1900s both were dominant in their prime and coincidentally, linked forever on the date of their deaths