NEW YORK - Joe Louis probably shouldn't have been fighting. Having won the world heavyweight championship in 1937, he had beaten all challengers since, to the point where it seemed like there was nobody worthy left for him to fight. Plus, his time spent serving in World War II had robbed him of some of his prime fighting years and had left him rusty.
At the same time, though, he owed a lot of money, both to the IRS and to people such as his ex-wife and his manager. He needed the money. And so, instead of retiring, Louis accepted challengers for a few more fights, trying to pad his pocketbooks enough to get out of debt.
One of those challenges came on December 5, 1947, when the 33-year-old Louis fought the 33-year-old Jersey Joe Walcott in Madison Square Garden. It was obvious from the beginning that Louis was rusty, wasn't close to the fighter he had been a decade earlier when he pummelled Max Schmeling. Despite being a 10-1 underdog, Walcott knocked Louis to the canvass twice in the first four rounds.
Louis survived to the 15th round, and despite the appearance that Walcott had dominated the fight, Louis was declared teh winner by split decision. The crowd at Madison Square Garden booed the decision.
Louis knew what the fight meant. He knew his skills were nearly gone, but he was too embarrassed to retire after the Walcott fight. He agreed to a rematch against Walcott for the next year, at Yankee Stadium. There, Louis won by knockout, his last fight before his retirement.