How much was Joe Louis worth?

Net Worth:$1 Million
Profession:Professional Boxer
Date of Birth:May 13, 1914
Country:United States of America
1.88 m

Who Is Joe Louis

“Listen to this buddy, for it comes from a guy whose palms are still wet, whose throat is still dry, and whose jaw is still agape from the utter shock of watching Joe Louis knock out Max Schmeling. It was a shocking thing, that knockout – short, sharp, merciless, complete,” so wrote a young Bob Considine on a warm New York June night in 1938.

June 22nd, 1938 was the night that Joe Louis took his perch atop the sport world, a perch he would enjoy for the next decade. Even before that he had enjoyed legendary status as he cut a swath through the heavyweight rankings beginning on the 4th of July in his debut when Louis knocked out one Jack Kracken in one round. Even in his professional debut Louis was breaking records (To this day Joe Louis is the only heavyweight champion of the world to debut as a Main Event fighter). With a start like that, why slow down was apparently the motto of Louis’ out of the ring team, for before 1934 was finished Louis was in the ring with his first top 10 opponent, Lee Ramage. The bout ended in three and after six months of fighting for money Louis was 12-0 with 10 knockouts. The learning curve continued upwards in 1935, a mere three weeks after fighting Ramage, as Louis would rid the heavyweight division of another top-ten contender when he decisioned Patsy Perroni in 10 rounds. A month later Ramage gave Louis another try and was even less successful than he was two months earlier, this time going in two. A month later, Louis won a decision over contender Natie Brown. While a W10 on Louis’ record didn’t look as good as the KO 1’s and KO 2’s, sandwiched between the Brown fight, it was probably the most crucial bout of his young career for it was immediately after the Brown fight that Louis and his team met Mike Jacobs.

Who knows how far Louis would have progressed without Mike Jacobs and who would have known on that March night in 1935 how much money they were going to make one another. Louis and Jacobs signed a three-year contract with an option for a fourth. Jacobs guaranteed Louis a then unheard of 37 1/2% of the gate even though up until then the industry standard between a fighter and his promoter was 12 1/2%. But more importantly, Jacobs offered him the Carnera fight in New York for later that year. That was music to Louis and his team’s ears, because they knew that if it’s one thing a black heavyweight needed in what was still the post-Jack Johnson-era was a break, and with Mike Jacobs aboard that break became a springboard. As promised, Louis got Carnera in the ring in June of 1935 and disposed of him in six. A quick visit to Chicago then saw him stop the ever polite King Levinsky in one round. Levinsky was so polite that after a Louis volley of punches separated him from his senses, he turned to the referee and said, “Please sir, don’t let that man hit me again.” A month later it was back to New York and Max Baer fell in four. Louis finished 1935 with a four round knockout of Paulino Uzscudun who had failed in a bid for Carnera’s title a couple of years prior. The Uzcudun fight was noteworthy for two reasons. After the fight Whitey Bimstein who was in Uzcudun’s corner, described the punches Louis used to stop Uzcudun as the hardest he had ever seen a heavyweight land, and secondly Louis drew an interested spectator to his training camp, the former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Max Schmeling.

Louis-Schmeling I was signed for June 18th, 1936, but was postponed one day due to rain. On June 19th, 1936, Max Schmeling, eight years Louis’ senior, did the unthinkable and knocked out Louis in twelve rounds. It was a fight that is steeped in rumor and innuendo as to how exactly Schmeling beat Louis. Among the most popular stories tended was that Louis spent too much time on the golf course. Others point to a punch that Schmeling landed at or after the bell to end the third round, or it was just a case as Schmeling said after watching Louis train in preparation for Uzcudun. “I see something. He hasn’t forgotten his amateur mistakes”.

Personally, I have another theory as to why Louis didn’t look like the Louis we had seen before. Going into the Schmeling fight Louis had been an extremely active fighter engaging in close to thirty fights before signing to fight Schmeling. Contracts were signed in December of 1935 to fight Schmeling and one of the clauses that Schmeling’s people wanted inserted into the contract was that neither fighter was to engage in a fight before June. Louis had already signed to fight in January and Schmeling’s people conceded that to go ahead. After that January fight against Charley Retzlaff, Louis had to contend with something he had never had to contend with in his short career as a professional fighter, inactivity. Run a car everyday for 18 months and it runs like a charm and starts at the first turn of the key. Walk away from it for six months and then come back and turn the key and it may take a second or two for it to turn over. Whatever the reason, there was the first blemish on Louis’ record, a blemish he would have to wait two years almost to the day to get rid of. Stung by the loss but hardly discouraged Louis was back in the ring two months later kayoing former heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey in three rounds and would remain active at a clip of a fight a month until signing to fight James Braddock for the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

While Louis was doing what Louis did best inside the ring, outside of the ring managers and promoters were doing what they do best. And it can be safely said that seeing Louis do what he did best was certainly prettier to watch. When Jimmy Braddock defeated Max Baer, he signed a contract with Madison Square Garden to have them promote his first defense of the title. Schmeling defeated Louis and signed to fight Braddock in September 1936. Thankfully for Louis, that fight was postponed with Braddock claiming arthritis in his left hand and the fight was put off until June 1937. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Braddock had no interest in fighting Max Schmeling, so obvious in fact that Madison Square Garden ordered Braddock and Schmeling to put up $5,000 a piece to guarantee that their fight would go through. That may have been the best $5,000 Braddock ever parted with in his life for not long after Braddock signed to fight Louis. The Garden balked and tried to enforce their contract for Braddock-Schmeling. In fact, Schmeling had already opened up a training camp for his upcoming title fight with Braddock. The dispute wound its way through the legal system all the way to the Court Of Appeals where the court ruled that the Garden had no right to enforce the contract of Braddock-Schmeling. Schmeling himself took the case to the Supreme Court and they in turn told Schemling in their judgment, “It appears Mr. Schmeling, you have been training for a phantom fight”.

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Whilst on the subject of Braddock-Louis, let’s clear up once and for all the issue of Jimmy Braddock getting 10% of Louis’ ring earnings for the remainder of his championship reign. The whole story is this. One evening John Roxborough who was Louis’ manager was “abducted” and asked to go for a ride and that ride ended up at a nightclub where he was met by Joe Gould, the manager of Braddock. Gould laid it out plain and simple. Braddock wasn’t going to beat Louis and that to get the fight Roxborough would have to give up 50% of Louis. Roxborough didn’t budge and the offer after a few stops whittled its way down to 20%. Roxborough again wasn’t biting and told Gould it might be a good idea to go see Mike Jacobs. With that, Roxborough turned and left leaving an incredulous Gould to ask him, “Where in the hell do you think you’re going?” To which, Roxborough replied, “Uptown and get a double scotch on the rocks.”

Gould took his advice and went to see Jacobs. Gould wanted 10% of Louis, but Jacobs said no can do but promised 10% of himself and so it was. Braddock would get 10% of Mike Jacobs’ profits from heavyweight title fights that Jacobs promoted. With that out of the way Louis-Braddock was signed on February 19, 1937. As heavyweight fights go, Louis-Braddock was a good one. A short right uppercut from Braddock dropped Joe in the first and it was even up after the fourth. Louis began to pick it up in the fifth until Braddock was finally knocked out in the eighth. Louis would write years later in his autobiography that after referee Tommy Thomas counted Braddock out until the time he left the stadium everything was a blur, but he could remember saying one thing over and over again, “Bring on Max Schmeling, Bring him on.”

“Bring on Max Schmeling, bring him on.” From the moment that Referee Tommy Thomas counted out James J. Braddock until he left Comiskey Park and walked out into the Chicago night, that was all Joe Louis remembered saying. He would have to wait one year, and what happened in that one year when studied closely is as fine as an example that one would find into how dirty and cut throat the business of boxing was some 70 years ago, and I dare say little has changed since.

When Schmeling kayoed Louis in the summer of 1936, Louis wanted to have an immediate rematch and more importantly so did Mike Jacobs. In July of 1936, not even a month after their fight, Jacobs offered Schmeling $300,000 to step back in the ring with Joe. Feeling he was in the catbird’s seat, Shmeling said he wanted double that, $600,000. After all, Schmeling had a signed agreement in principle contract to fight James J. Braddock for the title, and if Mike Jacobs and Louis wanted in it was going to cost them. We now know from Part 1 that Joe got the title shot instead of Max, and it was Joe Louis who now occupied the catbird’s seat. “Bring on Max Schmeling, bring him on.” It was now Mike Jacobs’ turn to deal with Max and let me tell you it wasn’t pretty. Jacobs offered Max 20% of the gate, but Max asked for 30%. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Max effectively told Jacobs that he didn’t need a Louis fight right now as he was going to fight Tommy Farr in his next fight. The meeting came to a close, and Schmeling left with the feeling that he had Mike Jacobs exactly where he wanted him. In reality it was just the opposite. Schmeling set sail for Germany and the Farr fight.

By the time Schmeling got to Germany, he was in for a big surprise. Mike Jacobs got to Farr, offered him $60,000 plus 25% of the radio and movie profits, and Farr jumped at it, thus, Louis-Farr was signed for August 26th 1937. In what would become commonplace during Louis’ reign, the fight was delayed four days because of rain, and Louis broke his hand in the 4th round which led to a less than scintillating Louis performance in his first title defense. Louis wasn’t a happy camper coming off a so-so effort, and with his hand in a cast but 3 days later he was on cloud nine. Jacobs had got Schmeling to meet him the following June. However, this time Jacobs called the shots. And although there wouldn’t be a no-fights-in-between clause, Max would get 20% of the gate and 20% of the radio and movie profits. Every time Max balked, Jacobs threatened to make him wait even longer. Max signed.

Louis and his management had no intention of sitting around waiting for next June to come around with no fights in between and on February 27th, 1938, he defended his title against Nathan ”Natie” Mann and kayoed him in 3. In December 1937, Schmeling fought fringe contender Harry Thomas and stopped him in 8 rounds, and as if to plant a further seed of doubt in Schmeling’s mind, Louis defended his title on April 1st, 1938, against the same Harry Thomas and stopped him in 5. The message of the press the next day wasn’t on how good Louis looked or the details of the fight but they all had one prevailing theme, it took Louis 3 less rounds to get rid of Thomas than it had taken Schmeling. The world could hardly wait for June 22nd to roll around and neither could Louis. In his autobiography Louis would say that after the Thomas fight he felt perfect, an absolutely perfect fighter and was finally the fighting machine that Jack Blackburn had promised to turn him into 4 years earlier. Shortly after the Thomas fight, Louis and Schmeling would come face to face when they met at the Boxing Commissioner’s office to sign the official contracts for June 22nd, 1938. No words were exchanged between the two, only a slight nod and the obligatory smile and handshake for the cameras.

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It wasn’t smooth sailing for the fight to take place. The Anti-Nazi League and The American Jewish Committee threatened boycotts and picketed Jacobs’ office, Madison Square Garden, and Yankee Stadium in an effort to have the fight cancelled. This was all too much for Jacobs and he sat down with all parties concerned and promised that Louis would beat Schmeling. The promise worked and the threatened boycott was called off, and the very next day $100,000 worth of advance tickets were sold. Jacobs sat down with Joe not long after and gave him all the gory details, explaining to Louis that if he lost to Schmeling both their careers would be over. “Murder that bum, and don’t make an asshole out of me,” said Jacobs. “Don’t worry about a thing Mike. I ain’t going back to work for Ford and you ain’t going back to selling lemon drops on the Staten Island Ferry,” assured Louis. While Louis’ career may have been over had he lost to Schmeling, Jacobs’ wouldn’t have been, since unbeknownst to Louis, Jacobs had already signed Schmeling in the event that he were to defeat Louis again. Like I said in the first paragraph, there was a lot of dirty business leading up to Louis-Schmeling II.

We often read and have heard that sometimes training camps can descend into a circus and the bigger the fight sometimes the bigger the circus, Louis-Schmeling II was no exception. Bundists would show up at Louis’ training camp in Pompton Lakes day after day wearing swastikas on their arms whilst generally making an ass of themselves. Max Machon, who was Schmeling’s trainer would parade around in a Nazi uniform babbling on about the superior race. Word from Germany came that Schmeling would be the Third Reich’s Minister of Sport upon his triumphant return home, and from Germany not only did Schmeling have to battle Louis but also the Jewish governor of New York, Herbert Lehman who was doing everything in his power to assure a Louis victory in his home state. The opening line in Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem reads, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” could very well have been written with Louis and Schmeling in mind, because no matter how low the circus descended around them, Max and Joe never uttered a word in disrespect to the other. In the days leading up to June 22nd, fight fever swept the United States, Buick paid an unheard sum of $47,000 to air advertisements during the fight, and even though the fight only lasted 2:04 and Buick only aired two ads, Buicks CEO called it the best $47,000 that Buick had ever spent up to then. My, how times have changed. NBC would broadcast the fight on close to 150 radio stations and you could buy a brand new Zenith radio for only $14.95 which you could take home with a $1.50 deposit. “Bring on Max Schmeling, bring him on.”

A lot has been written about Louis-Schmeling II in the almost 70 years since it took place, and to go over it in detail here would maybe be a tad counter-productive. Louis and Schmeling would meet face to face only one more time before they stepped in the ring that night and that was at the weigh-in the morning of the fight. Again no words were spoken between the two, only a slight nod. Schmeling weighed in at 193, Louis at 198 1/2. After the weigh-in Louis had a meal of steak, black eyed peas, and salad and went for a walk along the Harlem River with Blackburn and Freddie Wilson the trainer of Light Heavyweight Champion, John Henry Lewis. They walked in silence for a long while and finally Wilson broke the silence and asked Louis how he felt. “Scared,” was Joe’s reply. “Scared?” Wilson asked. “Yea Scared I might kill Schmeling tonight.” They walked the rest of the way in silence. Louis arrived at Yankee Stadium at 7PM and promptly fell asleep.

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I’m going to leave the story for a moment and pardon the pun which will soon be revealed. I’m going to go off on a different track. Anyone who knows me, knows that besides an affection for boxing, I have a soft spot in my heart for the big red chestnut, Secretariat. And with that affection in mind allow me to quote from an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1990 following the death of Secretariat entitled Pure Heart written by William Nack. It describes Secretariat the morning he captured the Triple Crown. “I awoke to the crowing of a cock and watched as the stable workers showed up. At 6:07 Hoeffner strode into the shed, looked at Secretariat and called out to Sweat. ‘Get the big horse ready! Let’s walk him for about 15 minutes’. Sweat slipped into the stall, put the lead shank on Secretariat and handed it to Davis, who led the colt to the outdoor walking ring. In a small stable thirty feet away, pony girl, Robin Edelstein, knocked a water bucket against the wall. Secretariat, normally a docile colt on a shank, rose up on his hind legs, pawing at the sky, and started walking in circles. Davis cowered below, as if beneath a thunderclap, snatching at the chain begging the horse to come down. Secretariat floated back down to earth. He danced around the ring as if on springs, his nostrils flared and snorting his eyes rimmed in white. Unaware of the scene she was causing, Edelstein rattled the bucket again and Secretariat spun in a circle, bucked and leaped in the air, kicking and spraying cinders along the walls of the pony barns. In a panic, Davis tugged at the shank, and the horse went up again, higher and higher and Davis bent back yelling, ‘Come on down! Come on Down!’ I stood in awe, I had never seen a horse so fit. The Derby and Preakness had wound him as tight as a watch, and he seemed about to burst out of his coat. I had no idea what to expect that day in the Belmont, with him going a mile and a half, but I sensed we would see more of him than we had ever seen before.”

Blackburn woke Louis at 9PM and got him ready to go to the ring. Normally Louis would shadow box for 10 minutes but on this night he would shadow box for a full half hour. Those that were their swear that they could hear Louis’ punches blasting the air. On the way to the ring Louis’ manager John Roxborough nervously took a cigar out of his pocket and bit the end off it. He normally had a stash of 20 with him, but this time Louis reached into Roxborough’s pocket grabbed the rest and threw them on the floor and said quietly, “You will only need one in your mouth tonight John.” In his autobiography Louis would say, “Before the bell rang, I felt like a racehorse in the starting gate. Chappie kept me moving, kept me dancing, the sweat was pouring, but my body was warm. The muscles were dancing too. I was rarin’ to go.” 2:04 later the fight was over. In that time frame, there was a standing 8 count, three knockdowns, 50 punches were landed and Louis had landed 49 of them. There were claims of a foul from Schmeling’s manager Max Machon alluding to a crushing blow that Louis landed on Schemling’s lower back as Schmeling tried to twist out of the way causing so much pain that Freddie Guinyard a close friend of Louis who was in Schmeling’s corner as an observer described Schmeling’s cry of pain as “sounding like a stuck pig” and referee Arthur Donovan, many years later said it was the most terrifying sound he had ever heard in his life. For his part Louis put it into perspective. ”But I remember when I was giving him my all, he’d turned when I hadn’t expected him to, and I landed that punch on his back because his body wasn’t where it was supposed to be. That’s perfectly legal: I feel no guilt about it.” Thus ended a fight that would become the most written about, most read and most talked about fight in the history of this sport, and what better way to put it to bed than to repeat the words of that young reporter Bob Considine. “Listen to this buddy, for it comes from a guy whose palms are still wet whose throat is still dry and whose jaw is still agape from the utter shock of watching Joe Louis knock out Max Schmeling. It was a shocking thing, that knockout—short, sharp, merciless, complete.”

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