Friday, March 20, 2009

REMINISCING ABOUT THE ALABAMA SHARECROPPER'S SON by John A.Bardelli


NOTE; I thought this was a great article by John.  JA (Jim Amato)

Joe Louis was the equal of any heavyweight who ever stepped into the ring. He had it all. Many think that Louis was slow afoot never once realizing that when he first commenced fighting he was a "dancer" employing ring movement and foot speed as an ally. It was only after Jack Blackburn, a Sam Langford era lightweight, was engaged by Louis' brain trust to serve as Louis' trainer, that Louis's style was changed from a runner to that of a methodical pursuing assassin. Blackburn was a great lightweight, standing 5'10" whose opposition in a 150+ fight career extending from 1903 to 1923 included notables Harry Lewis, Jimmy Barry, Mike "Twin" Sullivan, Joe Borrell, Harry Greb, Jack Bonner, Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, Gunboat Smith, Sam Langford 6 times, Joe Gans 3 times, and Kid Norfolk.

Let it be said here and now, Jack Blackburn, who emerged from that era of ring wars, intact, had words of wisdom and physical stepping stones to impart to the Alabama sharecroppers's son, who was eventually raised in Detroit, Michigan, by his mother.

Louis' combined punching speed and power are without equal in the annals of fistiana. His combinations featured five, six and seven punches including double and triple left hooks. He was a master at cutting the ring off on an opponent. One amazing thing about a vintage Joe Louis was that he rarely missed a punch. He didn't turn his punches loose unless there was a need to fire. He didn't punch to cause fear in another fighter. He punched only to destroy with explosive power in both fists. You never saw Louis throw a flurry of meaningless powder puff punches, solely calculated to scare a boxing referee into stopping a fight. Fighting never use to be like that during the 20's, 30's, 40's or 50's. Those were not the times.

Also, there was a time when trainers taught fighters that to miss a punch was a needless depletion of energy or, as the old time trainers might say, "a sapping of strength." The lessons imparted by Blackburn, including the lessons how not to be another Jack Johnson in terms of serving as a symbol of hatred by the white race, Louis mastered. Louis learned his lessons well from one of the greatest, yet still unappreciated, lightweight fighters who ever tread resin .... who went on to an unparalleled career as a trainer following a boxing career and a stint in prison ... in the indefatigable Chappy Jack Blackburn.

In all of Louis' filmed fights that have been preserved for the blessings of posterity, I dare say that you will never see Joe Louis miss two consecutive punches in any fight. He understood distance and rarely was ever out of position to throw punches that were meant to bring a fight to a close in the blink of an eye with the explosive force of a cannonball cascading through the air. Yet, he could make a fighter miss and suffer the terrible retribution of his counterpunches that were nothing short of howitzers being embarked.

If Jack Blackburn ranks, as I believe he does, amongst the top ten lightweight fighters of all time, it was clear that he learned his trade well and became the absolute perfect match for Joe Louis as his trainer. Louis knew it and listened to Blackburn with the fervor of a religious zealot. Blackburn, even at an advanced age, did not fear Louis' fists and took Louis behind closed doors and entered the ring with Louis countless times forcing Louis to go toe to toe with him to prove to his student that, when the teacher was trying to impart a lesson ... employ a fighting method ... Blackburn, as his trainer and teacher, could put his fists where his mouth was and there was a purpose behind the lessons he sought to impart to his neophyte. Louis grew to not only love Jack Blackburn but came to revere and respect him and a deep psychological bond took place between the two.

Inevitably, we would not be boxing fans were the question of how would a vintage Louis have done in matches with a vintage Frazier, Ali, Holmes, Marciano, Dempsey, Lewis, Tyson, Holyfield, and Foreman not be posed. At the outset, to grasp the enormity of just how great a fighter a vintage prime Joe Louis was, if such matches could have been made, Louis would have been better than even money in Las Vegas, New Jersey, or London circles, to not only defeat each of these fighters but to knock each of these champions out. I am not saying that is the bet I or perhaps yourself would make nor that I would pick Louis to even beat, for example, a prime Jack Dempsey. However, I believe the odds makers would have picked Louis by a knockout over every fighter I have named.

When I was a youngster starting to learn to hit a baseball, there was a saying: "Never bet against Joe Louis, the Yankees, or Notre Dame." Times have changed and one way to understand the ashes from which we have emerged is to take nostalgic trips, now and then through to envision the times captured by the pens from gifted writers ... Grantland Rice, Paul Gallico, Damon Runyon, Ed Bang, Jimmy Cannon, W.C. Heinz, Jack Fiske, A.J. Liebling, Tom Egan, Budd Schulberg, and Pierce Egan, as a sampling, only, who have left us a legacy to behold.

Maturity sinks in when one comes to recognize to that the athletic events we are exposed to in 2006, through the magic of video cameras and a myriad of different angled replays, was once upon a time presented only through the eyes of gripping writers who prided themselves on detail in evoking imagination by describing with vivid detail what was transpiring before the writer's eyes, knowing that his assignment was to replicate in black ink that which had just taken place in the ring.

The great writers were supplanted, to a degree, by the lens of a camera which, when it became commonplace, presented reality in stark black and white imagery typically capturing movement in the ring from one viewpoint only, in contrast to the colorful and multi-vantaged angles presented through today's technology and camera placement. Today's fan, erroneously and frequently equates greatness with filming technique, somehow equating reality with color filming which, in their minds somehow makes reality greater than what was captured by either black ink or black and white photography.

Reality, then takes on new meaning when color is added to the equation. Suddenly, black and white, lacking luster, becomes passe and is somehow relegated to the world of fiction and flights of fantasy. In so engaging in this metaphysical realm, those who see reality as only existing in the here and now, have relegated the universe, that is reality, to their own mind and experiences silently contending that nothing worthy or nothing real can exist outside of that singular experience. What I have just described for you is the philosophical concept of "solipsism." The Greek sophist Gorgias is equated with being the father of Solipsism which comes in many kinds and variations with the common root being that one's own experience is the sum total of all reality, past, present or the future.

I raise the philosophical concept of Solipsism only because, tragically, we have impressionable and well intended individuals who subscribe to the belief that bulk, coupled with colored video's is more than what any old time fighter could bargain for were he thrown into the ring with the modern day heavyweights. Ergo, Lennox Lewis would flatten Joe Louis in short order as would the Ukrainian dynamos ... in viewing the world through their distorted myopic lens.

Refocusing, let's look at how did Joe Louis looked at Muhammad Ali, for example, as an opponent? Louis once told a reporter "Clay had a million dollars worth of confidence and a dime's worth of courage. He can't punch; he can't hurt you; and I don't think he takes a good punch."

When asked how he would fight Ali, Louis responded,
"A lot of guys would have beaten him if he was around when I was around. I would have whipped him. He doesn't know a thing about fighting on the ropes, which is where he would be with me. I would go in to out punch him rather than try to out box him. He'd be hit into those ropes as near a corner as I could get him. I'd press him, bang him around, claw him, clobber him with all I got, cut down his speed, belt him around the ribs. I'd punish the body, where the pain comes real bad. He would ache. His mouth would shut tight against the pain, and there would be tears burning his eyes."

In a playful "confrontation" that took place in Las Vegas while Ali was on top of the mountain and Joe Louis was living out the remaining days of his life, Ali bantered to Louis, in espousing Ali's belief that he was a superior fighter to Louis, that "Joe, when you were fighting you defended against those fighters who were considered "bums of the month." In short retort, Louis reminded Ali that had he been fighting in the 1930s and 40's "Clay, you would also have been called one of the bums of the month."

For all we know and all we think we know, keep in mind that Joe Louis just may have been the greatest heavyweight of all time. When Louis speaks, out of pure respect one should listen, and listen intently, even though not being obligated to agree with all that he says.

Consider if your will. In seventeen years as a professional he fought seventy-one times and won sixty-eight of those fights. He knocked out fifty-four opponents, including six (Primo Carnera, Max Baer, Jack Sharkey, James Braddock, Max Schmeling, and Jersey Joe Walcott) who at one time or another held the heavyweight title. His first two defeats were spaced more than fourteen years apart. His only three losses, were, in order, to a former (Schmeling), current (Ezzard Charles), and future (Rocky Marciano) champion. He wore the belt longer and defended it more often and more successfully than anyone else in the history of the division ... indeed, in the history of any division.

Jack Sharkey is the only fighter who fought both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. When he fought Dempsey, Sharkey was in his prime and Dempsey was on the downside of his career following the first Tunney-Dempsey fight. When Louis fought Sharkey, Sharkey was a shell of his former self and Louis was on the upswing of his career. Both Dempsey and Louis knocked Sharkey out. Dempsey took a terrific beating from Sharkey before knocking The Boston Gob out in the 6th round.

In turn, Louis knocked Sharkey into retirement with a frightful knockout. In comparing the two fighters, Dempsey and Louis, Sharkey felt Dempsey the greater fighter. Sharkey added, "Every time Joe Louis hit me, he said ‘Sorry'. Every time Jack Dempsey hit me, he said ‘How come you're not dead yet?'"

In his prime, Joe Louis would have knocked out Frazier, Liston, Foreman, Holmes, and Lewis. Louis would have decisioned a vastly underrated Evander Holyfield.

I cannot get a read on the outcome of a Louis-Ali encounter and don't agree with much that Louis said. However, my eyes are not the eyes of the great Joe Louis and what he saw clearly needs to be listened to because those eyes speak from the vantage of experience, of having been there against all styles of opposition ... his words flow with the confidence a fighter has when he knows what he is capable of doing ... when he is ready.

Let it be said that Louis was a better puncher, a more accurate puncher, had hand speed which was equivalent to Ali in terms of effective punching speed, and had a far superior left hook and right cross than did Ali. Louis' explosive combinations were superior to Ali's as well. As a body puncher, Louis wins hands down when compared to Ali's offerings. Louis most likely by a decision but still a difficult fight for Louis.

Marciano may have been decisioned by a prime Joe Louis in a grueling contest. I question Louis' capacity to keep Marciano on the floor were he ever to deposit him on the canvas. Marciano had too much strength, resolve, endurance, and was the epitome of a Spartan. In truth, he would not have been knocked out by Joe Louis had they fought 10 times.

Just as likely, in a rematch, however, Marciano would knock Joe Louis out. Louis, himself, acknowledged during an interview during his later years, that he did not like to fight fighters who crowded him to the ropes and that Marciano was just such a fighter as I note, hereinafter, in a quoted section of an earlier essay I have submitted concerning a mythical contest between Louis and Marciano.

However, despite the naysayers who like to remind us that Joe Louis was seemingly on his deathbed when Marciano knocked him out in the 8th round, one should remember that the Joe Louis that was knocked out by Marciano that evening was capable of knocking out any fighter who ever stepped into the ring.

Louis was just that dangerous, even at his age, and even though this was his last fight. Marciano knocked out a still great Joe Louis even though Louis had slipped tremendously from the vintage Joe Louis that we recall having destroyed Max Schmeling, Max Baer, Jack Sharkey, Paolino Uzcudun, Primo Carnera, Tony Galento, and John Henry Lewis. The Marciano detractors who scoff at Marciano's knockout of "an old" Joe Louis, fail to remember that Joe Louis was so great that he could have slipped several miles from the mountain top, regain his footing, and still exhibit as a mighty great and still dangerous fighter and puncher, as he was the night he climbed into the ring with the Brockton Blockbuster. I have witnessed that fight many times during the past 15 years. I am mindful of seeing Louis' right hand ... so snakelike ... so ferocious ... so fast.

Elsewhere, I have written:

"People think that Marciano waded right through Joe Louis in their October 26, 1951 slugfest and that the fight result was a foregone conclusion ... Marciano by an easy knockout. How wrong they were and are! They are deceived by the 20/20 hindsight cadence to the march of history. Let me ask you to go watch this fight again, again, and again. When you do, you will see that it was a brutal war and Joe Louis' punching power is evident throughout. He was a threat to knock Marciano out in every round from the first through the seventh before Marciano caught up to Louis and ended matters in the eighth.

I implore you to watch the tremendous speed of Louis' right hand in exchanges with Marciano. I for one, have never seen the right hand speed of any fighter, the equal of the speed of Louis' right hand as he fires shots at Marciano this particular evening despite the fact of his age. There are times when the watching eye cannot follow Louis' right hand as captured by the camera!!! That is not exaggeration!!! Conclusion: The Louis fight, in itself, offered, on a comparative basis, more competition to Marciano to anything that Larry Holmes could have brought to the table."

* * *

"Keep in mind that Louis was 37 years old when he fought Marciano. Marciano was 27. Louis was past his prime but Marciano had not yet reached his prime. Louis, on a comeback, had won 8 victories in a row and his over-all record stood at 56-2 with 50 KOs to Marciano's 37-0 with 32 KOs."

"When you say that Marciano is never listed above Louis in any "all time" top ten poll, have you considered Joe Louis' own "poll?" Louis said, "I had a bad weakness I kept hid throughout my career. I didn't like to be crowded, and Marciano always crowded his opponents. That's why I say I could never have beaten him." Now some of you might say that is a humble Joe Louis speaking. Yet, when Louis addressed Muhammad Ali in an exchange some years later in Las Vegas and Ali reminded Louis that he fought a bunch of bums who were called the "bum of the month" club, Louis shot back to Ali, "if you'd been fighting at that time you would have been called one of the bum of the month fighters as well." I submit that also was a humble Joe Louis speaking as well. The truth is always humble."

Enter the room, Mike Tyson, and we all sit up and are quiet wondering what volatile explosion might be about to take place. Tyson had the talent, ferociousness, speed, cunning, and style to knock out any fighter he stepped into the ring with on any given night during the zenith of his career. He has slipped, not miles from the top of the mountain as had Louis when he fought Marciano, but, to the contrary, Tyson has slid all the way from the top of Mount Everest to the base of elevated majesty.

In retrospect, as great as Joe Louis was, I see Mike Tyson stopping Louis within 5 rounds were they matched and that Louis who was laying Baer, Carnera and Schmeling low engaged the Tyson that was doing the same to Berbick, Thomas, Biggs, Spinks and Bruno. However, if Louis survived Tyson's onslaught and got past the 5th round, even that prime Tyson would get knocked out by Louis.

At the apex of his career, the explosive Jack Dempsey would have knocked out Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Mike Tyson. I am not talking about the 1926-27 shell of a fighter we saw when Jack Dempsey lost his title and the rematch to Gene Tunney. I am speaking of the raging 1918 - 1924 Jack Dempsey. Dempsey's firepower was too much for Louis and, in fact, with rare exception, too much for virtually any heavyweight who ever fought. Simply put, Dempsey was too rugged, too skilled, and too explosive. It took Max Schmeling 12 rounds to bring a young Louis to the canvas. It would have taken Dempsey less than 3 rounds to do the same.

When it is all added up and thrown into the boiling pot of analysis, however, Joe Louis has to be strongly considered for honors as the greatest of all the heavyweight champions when you factor in delineated factors including those of (1) punching power, (2) longevity, (3) impact on boxing, (4) ring prowess, (5) caliber of opposition, (6) over all boxing record, and (7) knockout ratio.

If you've ever watched Louis' fights, the thing that never ceases to amaze are the incredible combinations with which he explodes and his explosive power which literally causes opponents to change directions, propelling bodies and heads backward, sideways and downward ... converting his opposition from fighters into grotesque contortionists. His punching power literally moves these opponents as though they've been hit by a cannon shell.

If I could have had the good fortune to speak to Joe Louis, I imagine, in one conversation, I would said to him, "Mr. Louis, all things considered, I question whether you would have not embarked on a boxing career rather than having pursued an education complete with mastery of the violin as your good mother desired, if you were faced with having to trod down that path, again, choosing that you chose when the boxing opportunity presented itself to you as an impressionable young man. I've read where you've said as much and lamented your lack of a formal education. However, we, of this later generation, can never begin to fathom your impact on boxing, nor on sports in general, but we can only thank you for your generous contributions you made to this nation as an entity and to the world of sport even though this country, as a nation, itself, shamefully failed in its own right to recognize all that you did contribute and sacrifice in the name and interests of humanity and decency and abandoned you during your hour of need. There will never be another who walks this good earth such as you, Joe Louis."

No comments:

Remembering the Greatest on His Birthday.

The Greatest Paying My Respect  ·  Happy Birthday to the "Greatest" Muhammad Ali. There will ...