On June 25, 1948, Joe Louis defeats Jersey Joe Walcott to retain the heavyweight championship.
Louis’ challenger, Jersey Joe Walcott, was a veteran fighter who was finally getting a shot at the title. Born Arnold Cream, he started his boxing career at the age of 16 in his native New Jersey, taking the name “Jersey Joe Walcott” after the boxer Joe Walcott from Barbados. As a young fighter, Walcott was invited to train with Joe Louis in Chicago, but a bout of typhoid fever forced him to remain at home and miss his first opportunity to spar with the champ. Because of pervasive prejudice in boxing in the 1930s and 40s, the African-American Walcott struggled to book the fights with established boxers that would advance his career. Despite his impressive talent, he wasn’t able to achieve a top 10 ranking until he was 31.
Walcott and Louis first fought in December 1947, when Louis won a 15-round decision in which he struggled to counter Walcott’s unorthodox style. Louis was knocked down in the first and fourth rounds, and many in the 18,000-strong Madison Square Garden crowd believed he had lost the fight. The public demanded a rematch.
Louis was two pounds heavier for the rematch, which he said would be his last go-round in the ring. Again, he struggled with Walcott’s style, unable to punish him as he had the lesser fighters of his so-called “bum of the month” club in the early 1940s. As the match entered its final rounds, Louis was trailing in points, and needed a knockout punch to retain the title he had held since 1937. To the surprise of many in the audience, the champ was able once again to summon his legendary power and hit Walcott with a right to the jaw that knocked him unconscious. It was the 25th and final time that Louis successfully defended his belt. Louis announced his retirement in March 1949, and with it, vacated his heavyweight belts.
Jersey Joe Walcott fought Ezzard Charles for the vacant heavyweight title on June 22, 1949, and lost a 15-round decision. Walcott again lost to Charles on March 7, 1951, but finally won the belt in his fifth chance, when he knocked out Charles on July 18, 1951. Walcott’s first fight and only win as champion was a fourth fight against Charles on June 5, 1952. He lost his belt for good in his second defense to Rocky Marciano on September 23, 1952. The next year, Rocky Marciano knocked out Walcott in the first round of their rematch.
Louis returned to fight for the heavyweight title on September 27, 1950, but lost to then-champion Ezzard Charles in a 15-round decision.