SEVENTEEN years separated Joe Louis’ defeat to Max Marek in the 1934 national amateur championships and Rocky Marciano rampaging through the last remnants of “The Brown Bomber”. Between those two ugly bookends, Louis crafted a handsome story that transcended sport and changed the pale face of the world.
Before Joe landed on the coarse heavyweight landscape, only John L. Sullivan – the great bareknuckle king – and Jack Dempsey enjoyed similar popularity to that which Louis would subsequently experience. The fact the colour of his skin didn’t match those previous heroes made his impact all the more sensational in a time of grotesque racial prejudice.
In 1914, when the only previous black heavyweight champion and deeply unpopular Jack Johnson’s reign was coming to an end, Joseph Louis Barrow was born – weighing a hefty 11lbs – in the Alabama cotton belt. He would stay for the first 12 years of his life, before his father, Munroe (“Mun”) Barrow, moved the family to Detroit after an altercation with the Ku Klux Klan. It was there that Louis’ fists first became weapons as he spurned violin lessons his mother paid for and used the cash for boxing classes instead.