No one spent more time as the heavyweight champion of the world than Joseph Louis Barrow. Reigning from June 22, 1937, when he beat James Braddock, until 1949, Joe Louis defended the title an astonishing 25 times.
None of those fights had as big an impact on the mythology of Louis’ career as his 1938 rematch with Max Schmeling in front of a rabid Yankee Stadium crowd.
Schmeling, the German, was a favorite of Hitler’s (though would himself oppose the Nazis) and handed Louis his first loss two years earlier.
The rematch was seen as a proxy for the brewing war, and Louis demolished Schmeling, sending the German to the canvas three times in the first round for a technical knockout.
The win, coupled with Louis wartime service, elevated him to the position of national hero.
Louis’ retirement was short-lived. He fought Ezzard Charles to try to reclaim the belt in 1950, but the titleholder sent Louis to his second-ever loss.
Louis reeled off eight wins through the end of 1950 and ’51, but his defeat at the hands of Rocky Marciano on October 26, 1951, ended Louis’ career for good.
Later in life, the Brown Bomber worked as a Caesars Palace greeter. He died in 1981 in Las Vegas.
President Ronald Reagan helped ensure Louis was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors.