Few athletes, indeed few others in any field, are so identified with Detroit as Joe Louis.
The Brown Bomber, who held the world heavyweight title from 1937-1949, is still considered among the greatest fighters in history. He would have turned 100-years-old today.
Louis was born in Chambers County, Alabama on May 13, 1914 as Joe Louis Barrow. His family moved to Detroit in 1926 as part of the Great Migration.
Learning to fight at the Brewster Recreation Center, he fought under the name Joe Louis supposedly because "Joe Louis Barrow" wouldn't fit on an entry form for an amateur bout.
He won the heavyweight championship on June 22, 1937, knocking out James J. Braddock in the eighth round. He became only the second African-American heavyweight champion after Jack Johnson.
However, it was exactly one year later when Louis would score a first-round knockout against Max Schmeling in the fight that would define his legacy.
Two years earlier, Schmeling delivered Louis the only loss of his career until that point and Louis had said he wouldn't consider himself the legitimate champ until he avenged the loss.
With World War II looming, Louis was perceived as a symbol for all that was right with the United States against the German Schmeling. President Franklin Roosevelt allegedly told Louis he was "the muscles we need to beat Germany."
Meanwhile, Nazi propagandists hyped Schmeling as a symbol of their Aryan ideals--though Schmeling was anti-Nazi and had hid his Jewish manager's children in his Berlin hotel suite during Kristallnacht.
In the rematch with political as well as pugilistic implications, Louis dominated his German opponent before a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium. The fight didn't even last two minutes.
Louis would hold the title until his first retirement in 1949. He would only lose two more fights in his career, to Ezzard Charles Charles in 1950 and Rocky Marciano in 1951, during a comeback effort. Louis finished with a 68-3 (54 KO) pro record.
After retiring for good from the ring, Louis again assumed the role as a racial trailblazer becoming the first African-American to play in a PGA-sanctioned golf tournament.
But on that historic night almost 77 years ago, it was Louis who showed he was the best in the world.Joe Louis-Max Schmeling II
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