Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1, 1949: The reign ends

NEW YORK - It was June 22, 1937, in Chicago. After an eighth-round knockout of James Braddock, Joe Louis became the heavyweight champion of the world. This was before he won his rematch with Max Schmeling, before he started fighting his "bum of the month."

On March 1, 1949, Joe Louis looked around and saw the truth. He was no longer the fighter he once was, yet there was nobody around who could beat him in his current state. Most importantly, there was nobody around to give him a big enough payday. But he was still the champion.

And so the longest uninterrupted reign as heavyweight champion came to an end, stopped not because somebody beat him, but because Louis stepped away. When he announced his retirement, he had been champion for 140 months and had successfully defended his title 25 times, both records by far. In fact, he held his reign longer than any two fighters combined.

When Louis retired, he was rightfully considered the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. And yet, he was broke. In fact, he was worse than broke, owing more than $500,000 to the IRS. And so he had to come back and fight again, becoming another example of the boxer who can't stay retired. Retiring with a record of 57-1 - with his only loss being the upset to Schmeling - Louis tarnished his record a bit after his return, losing his first comeback fight to Ezzard Charles and losing his final fight to Rocky Marciano.

Still, Louis' career record of 65-3 still stands out, and the records he holds for longest heavyweight reign and most title defenses will likely last forever.

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