- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2014


There was a new heavyweight champion crowned Saturday night.

Bermane Stiverne knocked out Chris Arreola in the sixth round to win the vacant World Boxing Council heavyweight title.

PHOTOS: Joe Louis at 100: A life in pictures

But it was a lightweight event, with only about 4,000 on hand to watch at USC’s Galen Center in Los Angeles.

It’s a good bet that more people on any given day will visit the grave of Joe Louis at Arlington National Cemetery.

Joe Louis raises his right arm as he reaches the peak of his career after he knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round at  Yankee Stadium June 22, 1938 in New York.  This was the second fight between the two heavyweights, a rematch that created world wide interest.   Schmeling was sent to the canvas several times with referee Arthur Donovan making Louis the winner, by a knockout, two minutes and four seconds into the first round.      (AP Photo)
Joe Louis raises his right arm as he reaches the peak of ... more >

That’s because when Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion, they held title fights in ballparks, with 70,000 people on hand, and the heavyweight championship was the most important title in the world.

Louis was more than heavyweight champion. He was an American icon, a black man who won the hearts and minds of white America as heavyweight champion from 1938 to 1949. In between, he served in the U.S. Army in World War II in special services, boxing exhibitions and speaking out about conditions for African-American soldiers in a segregated military.

Tuesday, May 13, would have been Joe Louis‘ 100th birthday. It is a milestone we should take note of, far more important and significant than a diluted heavyweight championship.

There is a generation of Americans who may believe that Muhammad Ali was the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. He was great, among the best ever. But for those who have studied the sport, it is Louis who is the greatest heavyweight champion.

“No heavyweight champion — and probably no sports figure — ever captured the imagination of the public, fan and non-fan alike, as the smooth, deadly puncher with the purposeful advance who, at his peak, represented the epitome of pugilistic efficiency,” wrote the late boxing historian Bert Sugar, who ranked Louis as the best heavyweight of all time. “And no man was so admired and revered as this son of an Alabama sharecropper who carried his crown and himself with dignity, carrying the hopes of millions on his sturdy twin shoulders.”

It’s Joe Louis‘ 100th birthday — let’s admire and revere him one more time.

He grew up in Detroit — the arena there is named Joe Louis Arena — and won the heavyweight championship by stopping “Cinderella Man” James Braddock in 1937 in eight rounds, becoming the first black man to hold the title since the controversial reign of Jack Johnson.

It was a significant moment in 20th century America.

“Each time Joe Louis won a fight in those depression years, even before he became champion, thousands of black Americans on relief or W.P.A., and poor, would throng out in the streets all across the land to march and cheer and yell and cry because of Joe’s one-man triumphs,” author and poet Langston Hughes said. “No one else in the United States has ever had such an effect on Negro emotions — or on mine. I marched and cheered and yelled and cried, too.”

He built on that milestone to the moment that was truly the “Fight of the Century” — his rematch with German heavyweight Max Schmeling.

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