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Conn, ahead on the cards, goes down for the count against Louis

Classy, clever and cocky,
an undersized Billy Conn
was KO'd late by a desperate Joe Louis

Billy Conn was a very clever, classy fighter who was immensely underrated. The Pittsburgh-born southpaw turned pro on January 28th, 1934 at  17, but his professional career got off to a slow start: He lost six of his first fourteen fights. Then, in September of 1935, Billy won a fight against George Leggins that, besides one draw, would be the first of 26 victories in a row. By age 19 Conn had defeated three former world champions, and in July of 1939 he won the vacated light heavyweight championship of the world by beating Melio Bettina. During the 26-fight win streak of his light heavyweight career, Conn beat fistic greats Fritzie Zivic, Babe Risko, Vince Dundee and Teddy Yarosz.
Billy Conn always fought the best competition he could find, exemplified by back non-title fights victories over reigning world middleweight cham Fred Apostoli just five months before winning his light heavyweight title. A month after securing the light heavyweight crown, Billy Conn kayoed future heavyweight title challenger, Gus Dorazio, in eight rounds while still retaining the light heavyweight belt.
Billy Conn had clearly proven himself as one of the greatest light heavyweights of all time. Brilliant and flashy, Conn had been consistently enjoying success against bigger fighters. His constant clamoring for a chance to fight heavyweight king Joe Louis was motivated by a 13th-round knockout of Bob Pastor, a 183-pound man who gave Louis a tough fight. That victory convinced Conn of his ability to take on Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship.
In May of 1941 Billy Conn vacated the light heavyweight title to fight Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship of the world. Louis wanted a June fight, and since Billy Conn looked to be the only possible opponent, the fight was scheduled for June 18th, 1941.
On the night of June 18th, 1941 Louis made his 18th successful title defense against Conn at The Polo Grounds in New York City. The crowd of 54,487 “wildly excited fans” paid $450,000 to see the Brown Bomber stop Conn in the 13th round of a scheduled 15-round battle.
 But Louis had never been closer to being dethroned. Conn led on the scorecards until he collapsed under the paralyzing power of one of Louis’ nerve-deadening punches.
Outweighed by 25½ pounds, the doughty Pittsburgher looked frail by comparison to "The Brown Bomber" as he entered the ring, Despite having little heavyweight experience, he started strong through the early rounds managing to win frames more easily than expected. With the fight clearly in the hands of the challenger, fans yelled themselves horse encouraging Conn as he seemed about ready to succeed where few had given him a chance.
In his autobiography, Joe Louis recalled the fight: “I made a mistake going into the fight. I knew Conn was kinda small and I didn’t want them to say in the papers that I beat up on some little guy, so the day before the fight I did a little roadwork to break a sweat and drank as little water as possible so I could weigh in under 200 pounds. Chappie was as mad as hell. But Conn was a cleaver fighter. He was like a mosquito -- he’d sting and move.”
For the better part of 13 rounds, the beautiful jabbing, feinting, and maneuvering of Conn gave him the advantage. Louis had his moments when he stunned Conn with a left hook in the fifth, cutting his eye and nose. By the eighth round, dehydration set in on Louis and he began to tire badly. By the 12th, he was completely exhausted, with Conn ahead on two of the three scorecards.

"What's the use of being Irish
if you can't be stupid?"

-- Billy Conn,
after his loss to Joe Louis

But Conn got cocky and overconfident when he realized he was winning on points. He decided to trade punches with the heavy-hitting Louis.
The fight ended as it had been predicted it would end: Conn left himself open for one of Louis’ paralyzing punches that landed on his jaw.
Finding himself behind on points, a desperate, hurried Louis, fighting with savage fury, landed the punch that ended the fight.
Billy Conn was within two rounds of what appeared to be a clear victory. Actually, the fight had only six minutes and two seconds left. And the way Conn had performed, there was every reason to believe a new champion would be crowded.
Possibly it was Conn’s own contempt for the punching prowess of the champion that led him into the fatal error. Conn had felt several of Louis’ punches and survived. Moreover, he had outboxed and outslugged the devastating puncher, who was regarded as the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Observers of the fight said it’s possible that Conn came to the end of his endurance. His energy may have been burned up with the battle he fought with the champion through the eighth, and up to and including the 12th round, when the challenger treated the amazed onlookers to the spectacle of Louis being pounded steadily around the ring by the fearless, lighter challenger.
Whatever it was, the fight started the way it was predicted to start and ended the way it was predicted to end. It was said before the fight that Conn would have to rely on his speed if he were to survive. It was also said that Conn would go down the first time Louis connected with a solid shot to the head.



More columns
by Sam Gregory:

Graziano & Zale are forever linked by trilogy





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Boxing historian Sam Gregory with Hall of Famer Larry Holmes

Sam Gregory has been a professional boxing writer since 2002 for publications such as BoxingTalk.com, Boxing Digest, EastsideBoxing.com The Cyberboxing Zone, StraightJab.com, boxingnews24.com and TheSweetScience.com. He has covered numerous fights and has interviewed some of the biggest names in the sport.

As a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, Gregory specializes in boxing history, and contributes regularly to that organization's quarterly publication. He is the author of numerous biographical articles about legendary fighters, classic match-ups, memorable boxing trilogies and other subjects.

CLICK HERE to contact Sam Gregory


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