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On This Date in Sports June 25, 1948: Joe Louis' Last Defense

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Trailing on all judges' scorecards, Joe Louis rallies to knock out Jersey Joe Walcott to retain the heavyweight championship at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It was the 26th successful defense of the belt won 11 years earlier against James Braddock. It was also the final defense of Joe Louis's title reign. Louis had announced that it would be his final fight, finishing 58-1. However, financial and tax problems forced a diminished Joe Louis to fight again, never regaining the title that helped him become the biggest boxer in the world. 

Joe Louis was born May 13, 1914, in Lafayette, Alabama. After a clash with the Klan, Louis moved with his family to Detroit in 1926. Louis made his professional debut in 1934 and quickly moved up the ladder as a title contender, winning his first 24 fights. Joe Louis suffered his first loss, a 12th round knockout on June 19, 1936, to Max Schmeling, a former heavyweight champion. However, Louis quickly recovered and won his next seven fights before winning the heavyweight title on June 22, 1937, against James Braddock with an eighth-round knockout.

Joe Louis beat Tommy Farr in a unanimous decision for his first title defense and began a string of knockouts that included a first-round win against Max Schmelling. Louis fought often, defending his title 21 times before military service but his championship boxing career on hold. During World War II, Joe Louis was enlisted in the army but participated mostly in recruiting African Americans into the service while participating in exhibitions to raise money for the war effort. 

After the war, Joe Louis began to show wear and tear from his ring career but continued to defend the crown successfully. This included a controversial split decision against Jersey Joe Walcott at Madison Square Garden in 1947. Most observers felt that Walcott outboxed the champion and should have won, leading to a rematch.

Like the first match, Jersey Joe, a journeyman who had a record of 44-12-2, took control of the fight early. However, through most of the fight, Walcott had the champion off balance and was well ahead on the scorecards. Joe Louis had planned to retire following the match, announcing that his decade-long reign would end in winning or losing the fight. Going into the latter stages of the 15-round fight, Louis was in the position that he needed a lockout to retain the title. In the 11th round, Joe Louis made his move with a series of left-right-left combinations to floor Jersey Joe Walcott and score the knockout.