7. Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn. June 18, 1941. New York. Result: Louis KO 13.
Billy Conn is a fighter who is vastly under-rated today. He was an exceptionally gifted light-heavyweight champion before he challenged the great Joe Louis for the biggest prize in sports. Conn defeated 3 former world champions by the time he was 19. Conn never lost a light-heavyweight championship fight. Bert Sugar noted that Billy was “Never fed a schedule of stiffs, Conn took them all on, beating them with his speed of foot, his agility of hand and the balls of a cat burglar.” The qualities that Conn carried into the ring against Louis, according to Sugar were, “his consummate boxing skill, his flashy left hand the center piece, (that) made him a lineal descendant of Gentleman Jim Corbett, the first of the great scientific boxers” and a great defense, “Conn could block punches with his arms, elbows and gloves, and further nullify his opponent’s punches by ‘rolling’ with them” as well as “remarkable recuperative powers, having been knocked down only twice in his career and having gotten up both times.”
Louis for his part had under-estimated the light-heavyweight standout. Louis said in his autobiography, “I made a mistake going into that fight. I knew Conn was kinda small and I didn’t want them to say in the papers that I beat up on some little guy so the day before the fight I did a little roadwork to break a sweat and drank as little water as possible so I could weigh in under 200 pounds. Chappie was as mad as hell. But Conn was a clever fighter, he was like a mosquito, he’d sting and move.” Conn proved to be quite troublesome indeed sticking and moving and using his quick hands and feet to dart in and out and using his good classic defense to thwart Louis at every move. Joe had his moments drawing blood from Conns nose in the 3rd round with his jab, stunning Conn in the 5th with a left hook, and cutting his eye and nose. In the 8th round dehydration had set in and Louis began to tire badly. By the 12th round Louis was completely exhausted and Conn was ahead on two of the three official scorecards by two and three rounds respectively. In the 13th Conn told Louis “Joseph your in for a tough fight tonight.” Then Louis recalled that “he started that long left hook I had been waiting for. I thought “Yea your right” and they counted him out.” Louis saved his championship with a crushing picturesque combination. Conn had to be helped back to his corner. When asked why he didn’t try to box and stay away form Louis the last two rounds Billy replied, “What’s the use of being Irish if you can’t be thick?” They would meet once more. When asked how he would deal with Conn this time Joe deadpanned, “He can run but he can’t hide.” And so it was.