Before there was Joe Frazier, George Foreman or even Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis paved the way for all of them.
Known as the “Brown Bomber” in the boxing ring, Louis is one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. He held the heavyweight title from 1937 to 1949. He was successful in 25 title defenses. His reign and consecutive titles defenses are still records in the heavyweight division.
Establishing a reputation as an honest hardworking fighter, Louis helped bring boxing out of corruption at a time when the sport was dominated by gambling and fixed matches. Louis was 69-3 with 57 knockouts.
His momentum was only interrupted when he voluntarily enlisted as a private in the Army in 1942 during World War II. Louis never saw combat, but shared pleasantries with would-be legends Jackie Robinson and Sugar Ray Robinson while in the military. Louis was a popular figure in the army and would be used in its recruiting campaigns. By the time he was released from service in 1945, he was a Sargeant.
Louis returned from service and fought 15 more bouts; he went 13-2 in those fights and finally retired from boxing in 1951. He died in 1981 of a heart attack at the age of 66.
Though he was born in Alabama, he was considered the pride of Detroit, where he spent most of his life. The iconic Monument to Joe Louis (a large sculpture of Louis fist) was dedicated in 1986. And the Joe Louis Arena, home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, was dedicated in 1979.
In 1982, Louis was posthumously approved for the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to civilians by the U.S. legislative branch. And in 1993, Louis became the first boxer to be honored on a postage stamp.
Although Muhammad Ali is considered by many the greatest of all time, Ali named Louis as one of his biggest influences growing up.