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Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Louis

Updated on October 9, 2015

Who was the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time? There's been a lot of prominent professional heavyweight fighters over the decades: names like Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano certainly have not been forgotten by the International Boxing Hall of Fame, as well as in the minds of devoted boxing fans. However, considering overall statistics, displayed boxing talent, as well as the ability to defeat high ranking opponents, there are but two that most experts today wouldn't deny stand out in the rankings amongst the rest. These two fighters are none other than Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis: two fighters with careers in the ring that were nothing short of astonishing. But there can only be one greatest heavyweight boxer, and deciding which of these two fighters can claim the modern day crown as the one and only all-time best has been one of the most widely debated topics in recent history of professional boxing.

A BBC Sports poll from 2004 placed Muhammad Ali at #1, with Louis ranked #2 on their list. However, an ESPN poll from 2007 ranked these two prominent athletes the other way around. Older critics, like the late Bert Sugar, have had mixed views on the subject, but have typically sided with Joe Louis, whereas the relatively younger critics, like Steve Farhood, have typically sided with Muhammad Ali. The following article summarizes these two fighters' careers, and thereafter provides you with the option to decide.

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Joe Louis

Joe Louis, (1914-1981), also known as The Brown Bomber, was the undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion for an incredible twelve years, from 1937-1949, during which time he defended his title a record of twenty-five times, which included twenty-two wins by knockout. His most noteworthy fight, still regarded by many boxing experts as the most famous boxing match of all time, was his fourth title defense, which took place in June of 1938 against a former heavyweight champion from Germany named Max Schmeling. As the only boxer Louis had lost to during his professional career two years earlier, Schmeling was considered a national hero in his country following his first fight with Louis in 1936. As for Louis, despite having won the title following his upset loss to Schmeling, he refused to consider himself the champion until he had the opportunity to defeat Schmeling in a rematch. With a nation on the verge of going to war against Germany behind him, and a crowd of over 70,000 observers at Yankee Stadium, the rematch could not have resulted in a sweeter victory for the Brown Bomber, defeating Schmeling by a convincing knockout in the first round. Louis thereafter became an American hero, and the fight was later regarded as one of the greatest athletic events of the Twentieth Century.

As for other noteworthy opponents Louis defeated, most of the high-ranked fighters he triumphed over throughout his career involved fights that occurred before he became champion. Achieving victories by knockout against three former heavyweight champions: Primo Carnera, Max Baer, and Jack Sharkey, before finally winning the title by knocking out heavyweight champion, James Braddock, the majority of Louis's most impressive fights may have occurred during his long and colorful road to the throne of heavyweight boxing. Most of his victories while champion were against less noteworthy, yet fully qualified opponents, whom oftentimes earned the nickname before fighting Louis as the bum of the month.

A hard puncher, and an athlete loved by many, Louis lost the heavyweight title by decision, following a fifteen round fight, to Ezzard Charles in 1950. In a comeback effort thereafter, his boxing career ended in 1951 after losing by an eighth round knockout to soon-to-become heavyweight champion, Rocky Marciano. Louis was thirty-seven years old when he retired from boxing following this fight.

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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali, (1942-present), won the undisputed heavyweight title in 1964 from heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston, an opponent against whom he was considered a 7 to 1 underdog. Despite the odds stacked up against him, a confident Muhammad Ali, (who went by his birth name of Cassius Clay at this time, but changed his name to Muhammad Ali shortly after winning the title), accomplished a round seven TKO against the larger fighter, who earlier in his career had twice knocked out famous former heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson, both knockouts occurring in the first round. His first title defense was a rematch against Sonny Liston in 1965. In this fight Ali knocked out Liston in the first round.

Known more for his speed, and maneuvering abilities in the ring, Ali defended his title eight more times, following his rematch with Liston, before he was stripped of the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles, and had his license to fight suspended, in 1967 for his refusal to accept induction into the United States Army. Ali did not fight again until 1970, when in response to declining public support for the United States' military involvement in Vietnam, the Atlanta Athletic Commission granted him a license to fight in the city of Atlanta. Ali, still undefeated in his professional boxing career, thereafter defended The Ring and the Heavyweight boxing titles twice when, shortly after being acquitted on all charges for his failure to accept induction by the United States Supreme Court, he finally lost his first professional boxing match in 1971. The loss was by decision, after a fifteen round fight, to another undefeated boxer: WBC and WBA heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier.

After losing his first ever professional fight, Ali fought fourteen more times, winning all but one close decision in 1973 to Ken Norton, (who he beat six months later in a rematch), before finally receiving an opportunity in 1974 to regain the undisputed heavyweight title. The fight was nicknamed "The Rumble in the Jungle," and it was against a hard punching undefeated, (40-0), opponent, seven years younger than Ali, who had knocked out Joe Frazier in the second round in 1973, and had knocked out his eight prior opponents in less than two rounds. This opponent was none other than George Foreman. An 8 to 1 underdog, Ali delivered arguably his most stunning performance ever in the ring against Foreman during this highly anticipated fight in Zaire, Africa. In the end, he regained the undisputed heavyweight title by convincingly knocking out the bigger fighter in the eighth round.

After regaining the title, Ali defended it ten more times, including one brutal and unforgettable 1975 rematch with Joe Frazier in the Philippines, nicknamed The Thrilla in Manila, which was stopped by Frazier's trainer in the fifteenth round. Overall, Ali racked up a combined total of nineteen heavyweight title defenses, before finally losing a split decision to Leon Spinks in 1978, when he was 36 years old. Ali, however, wasn't finished. A rematch with Spinks seven months later lead to a victory by Ali by unanimous decision, making Ali the first heavyweight fighter ever to win the undisputed title three times. He lost the title in his next fight, however, to Larry Holmes by TKO in the tenth round. He was three months away from 39 years old at the time. He fought one more time after that, a non-title fight against Trevor Berbick. Losing to Berbick by unanimous decision, Ali thereafter retired from boxing. In his career, he defeated three fighters who are currently considered by most boxing critics to be amongst the ten greatest heavyweight boxers of all time: Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, and George Foreman.

Which One Was the Greatest?

Which of These Two Fighters Was the Greatest Heavyweight Boxer of All-time?

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    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 

      5 years ago from Missouri

      While I love Louis, I would have to give the nod to Ali. He was the smartest fighter I've ever seen, and his reach and speed may have been unmatched in any era. Good article.

    • profile image

      lesliebyars 

      5 years ago

      They were the top two heavyweights ever without a doubt. Ali faced and beat more hall of fame fighters.

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