Born on May 13, 1914, near Lafayette, Alabama, Joseph "Joe" Louis did odd jobs as a teen, and attended Bronson Vocational School as a cabinetmaker before talking up amateur boxing. He lost his first bout to Johnny Miller, but in 1934, he won the Amateur Athletic Union Light Heavyweight championship. His record as an amateur was 43 knockout victories in 54 fights. He fought his first professional fight on July 4, 1934, winning over Jack Kraken with a knockout (KO) in the first round. He had 25 more fights in 1934-1935. Among his fallen opponents were ex-champs Primo Camera and Max Baer. In 1936, he fought Max Schmeling, whom Adolf Hitler touted as an example of Aryan superiority. Schmeling KO'd Louis in 12 rounds, taking advantage of a habitual flaw in Louis' defenses. A rematch was scheduled for June 22, 1938. In the meanwhile, he KO'd the existing champ, Jimmy Braddock, in 1937. When Schmeling met Louis the second time, he was fighting the Heavyweight Champion â€” who had patched the chink in his defenses. Louis pounded Schmeling so fiercely in the two minutes and four seconds the fight lasted, that the crushed Schmeling had to spend time in a local hospital before going back to Germany. He was an unobtrusive, polite man, which was reflected by his plodding style in the ring. Fighters with a lot of footwork and technical brilliance didn't bother him. As he said before defeating the speedy Billy Conn on June 18, 1941, "He can run but he can't hide." Louis was a slugger â€” one of the best that had ever lived. His 11-year, eight month (1937-1949) reign as World Heavyweight Champion remains the longest in the history of his division. His professional record was 63 wins, three losses with 49 knockouts â€” five of these KOs in the first round. Louis became known as "the Brown Bomber" during World War II, reflecting his status as a national figure. He defended his title 25 times, and only three of these bouts went the full 15 rounds. In 1940-1941, he defended his title once per month â€” a sustained rate that no other fighter has attempted. This came to be known as Louis's "Bum of the Month" campaign. He won them all. Joe Louis joined the US Army in 1942, staging boxing exhibitions for the soldiers until 1945. In all, he travelled 21,000 miles on the troop entertainment trail, staging 96 exhibitions during this time.
He came back after the war to beat Billy Conn a second time, on June 19, 1946, in eight rounds. He defended his title three more times, including twice against Jersey Joe Walcott, and then retired as undefeated champion on March 1, 1949. He tried a comeback two years later, lost two bouts (one to Rocky Marciano), and gave up the gloves. His later years were sometimes tumultuous, including a scrape with the Internal Revenue Service, three marriages and serving as an advisor to Muhammad Ali. He died on April 12, 1981.