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On This Date in Sports October 26, 1951: The Last Fight

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Joe Louis sees his legendary career come to an end with a knockout as he goes down in the eighth round against Rocky Marciano at New York's Madison Square Garden. Louis had planned to retire in 1948 with a record of 58-1, after holding the heavyweight championship for 11 years. However, tax issues forced him to return to the ring in 1950, when he suffered a loss to Ezzard Charles. Joe Louis won his next eight fights and was moving in line for a title shot when he was floored by Marciano in the eighth round of a ten-round fight. 

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, which Louis won in the 11th round. 

Joe Louis had planned to retire and vacated his title, but a tax bill of $500,000 forced him back in the ring in 1950. Louis lost a unanimous decision to Ezzard Charles in a fight for the title. After just his second loss, Joe Louis won the next eight fights before taking on Rocky Marciano. Marciano was the rising star of the heavyweight division, holding a record of 37-0 as he was set to fight the boxer he idolized. The fight was not much of a match as the younger Marciano unleashed a beating that was the worst of Louis' career. Joe Louis had been the betting favorite, but most boxing insiders knew that he would not do well against Rocky Marciano.  Louis was receiving a savage beating but refused to go down until the eighth round. After getting to his feet, Louis was knocked through the ropes ending the fight. 

After the fight, there was a somber feeling in New York, as even Rocky Marciano was not happy with the fight, as he went to console Joe Louis after the knockout. Joe Louis retired with a record of 66-3, and Marciano went on to become heavyweight champion and retired undefeated at 49-0.