View Full Version : Sometimes A Great Notion: Pittsburgh's Billy The Kid

05-18-2006, 02:05 PM
Yet another gem of an article by Mike Casey!


Sometimes a Great Notion: Pittsburgh’s Billy The Kid

By Mike Casey from Boxing Scene

We all have great ideas. The perfect excuse to pinch a day off work that loses its credibility the second when we get on the phone to the boss. The get-rich-quick scheme that melts into reality as soon as we’ve mailed the letter and sobered up.

Billy Conn had a far grander notion. He got it into his head that he could knock out Joe Louis. And as ace announcer Don Dunphy famously said, “He was a cocky young kid from Pittsburgh who very nearly did.”

Now we see Billy Conn trotting down a staircase in a rare old photograph, looking handsome and dapper in one of the snazzy, snappy outfits of the day. The striking face beams contentedly, the lean and muscular body tapers down into an almost womanly waist, the great and wide shoulders bust out east and west like Jimmy Caan as Sonny Corleone.

As a pin-up, Billy knocked Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt into the proverbial cocked hat. Fighters aren’t supposed to look that good, but when Billy hung ‘em up after 77 fights against some of the toughest guys on the block, that mischievous matinee idol face was still intact. That achievement had a lot to do with the fact that Conn, at his sublime and evasive best, was near impossible to hit. Some achievement indeed for a guy who was born in Pittsburgh in the rough old days of 1917 and got into scraps virtually from the time he could stand up.

Billy never did stop swinging. At the age of seventy-two, three years before his premature death from pneumonia, the Pittsburgh Kid was taking a coffee and glancing at the newspaper stand at his local convenience store in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill area. When a robber suddenly punched the store manager, Conn answered the clang of the bell and did his bit. He slugged and wrestled the young robber to the floor and was still giving a pretty decent account of himself when the invader thought better of mixing it any further with the old timer and made his escape.

Oh well, you can’t take the Irish out of an Irishman. Joe Louis tried his best on that famous night at the Polo Grounds, but telling Billy Conn not to be brave or reckless was akin to telling Stuart ‘The Kid’ Ungar not to play cards.


It is too bad that the only film ever shown of Billy Conn in compilation clips these days is of the Brown Bomber rifling him to the deck with that series of deadly shots that sent Billy into dreamland in slow and almost theatrical fashion.

Conn was an unbeatable light-heavyweight at his glorious peak. Folks in the know will also tell you that he could have been one of the great middleweights if fate and biology hadn’t shaped a different destiny for him.

It was nigh impossible for Billy to follow any other path than that of a professional boxer. Before beginning to ply his trade in the more traditional roped square, he had fought and scrapped in the biggest ring of all, a sprawling ring of irony whose ethnical boundary lines served as irresistible challenges for every fighting young tough who wanted to test his fists and his mettle against opponents of every colour and creed. This was the ring of Pittsburgh and Conn was an Irish-American with the usual fiery tendencies. The backdrop was tailor-made, the script was perfect.

Billy, by his own modest admission, couldn’t even fight when he started brawling for the first time. But he enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of a good battle and was eager to learn more. He also possessed the curiously loveable logic of a fighting man. Why work for a living when you could grind and sweat in the toughest game of all?

Conn didn’t want to spend his life sitting in an office or toiling for a pittance in a factory. He wanted to become the best boxer he could possibly be and move himself into the far distant world of big money, nice clothes and all the other pleasant luxuries that come from success.

Billy wanted it fast too and regarded amateur boxing as nothing more than an inconvenient roadblock. He bypassed it completely after trying out at his local gym and making the decision to commit to a professional career.

Billy quite literally made it up as he went along in his virgin soldier years. He was sixteen when he joined the paid ranks and was playing a brave game of bluff against older and tougher opponents. He knew that he needed experience and would have to take some hard knocks before breaking free from the launch pad.

He dropped a decision in his pro debut to Dick Woodward at Fairmont in West Virginia, a place of poor people living in quiet desperation. Conn was determined not to be knocked off the ladder and settle for that kind of life. He knew he would improve if he kept punching and learning and mixing with the best opponents his manager and trainer Johnny Ray could find. Ray coached Billy constantly on the road and was well qualified to do so. Born Harold Pitler, Johnny had been a good class Pittsburgh lightweight who had engaged in nearly 140 professional battles and crossed swords with such titans of the game as Johnny Dundee, George (KO) Chaney and Johnny Kilbane.

Conn lost seven of his first fifteen fights as he soaked up Johnny Ray’s wisdom and tried to transfer the knowledge into fluid and instinctive moves. But Billy was getting noticed as a skilful and willing youngster who couldn’t hit with great force but could fight like a tiger when the going got tough. He won a decision over Johnny Birek in a cracking six rounder at the Motor Square Garden in Pittsburgh in January 1935, the year in which Conn really began to take off.

Like a prisoner busting free of his chains, Billy shrugged off his novice’s garb and suddenly became a consistent winner. In 1936, he won a couple of thrilling decisions over Louis Cook at the Northside Arena and followed up with another quality win over General Burrows, which drew the attention of the local media. Conn was beginning to be hailed as a genuine talent who would go far. He was maturing into a very clever boxer, who could move quickly and adroitly, possessed a fine repertoire of moves and punches and had an excellent defence. He was speedy with his fists and a very adept sharpshooter at his best. When Billy scored the first of five career victories over the tough Honey Boy Jones at Greenlee Park, he seemed to come of age as a fighter and was moving rapidly into the major league.

Playing the piano with Fritzie

Fritzie Zivic, future welterweight champion and a fellow Pittsburgher of Conn, Harry Greb and a few other famous gents from that town, once famously said, “I used to bang ‘em pretty good. You’re not playing the piano.”

In 1936, Fritzie was already banging ‘em pretty good, even though he was still five years away from dethroning the great Henry Armstrong. When Zivic met Conn at Duquesne Gardens in Pittsburgh, eighteen-year old Billy was introduced to one of life’s classic individuals. With that wry affection that old fighters reserve for each other, Conn would later recall that Zivic did everything but kick him. Fritzie, one of the all-time great tough nuts, certainly saw nothing untoward in taking the handsome youngster’s face and creatively smashing it in. Zivic also re-arranged any other part of Conn that he could reach with the assorted implements of his mischievous toolbox. In thirty frenetic minutes, Billy was given an entire university course on boxing by an old-fashioned lecturer who worked to the theory that students learned much faster if they were repeatedly beaten about the head and verbally abused.

Amazingly, Conn retained enough of his vital parts to win a split decision.

Billy was moving up fast and now mixing with the cream of a truly golden age in boxing. He posted a couple of close but important decisions over Vince Dundee and the wonderfully talented Teddy Yarosz, but the going got tougher as the quality of opposition became richer. Billy always had trouble with Yarosz. He pipped Teddy in a return match over fifteen rounds at Duquesne Gardens, rallying strongly over the last three rounds, but the fans didn’t appreciate the decision. Teddy got his own back, winning a twelve-rounder at Forbes Field in the final encounter between the two men.

The deep waters of a mightily impressive ocean of talent were providing Conn with a tough but priceless boxing education. Billy was decked and outpointed by the sorely underrated Young Corbett III in August 1937, but the Pittsburgh Kid learned from his mistakes and clearly mastered Corbett in a return.

Then came another wise, bruising ring mechanic in Solly Krieger, who knocked Billy down in the eighth round and won a wide decision in the first match of their trilogy. Billy was always annoyed with himself over that one. He wasn’t in shape and Krieger just banged on The Kid all night long. Solly could take a shot as well as he could give one, and Conn could only take his punishment and chalk it up to experience.

But Billy was almost there. He was knocking at the door loudly and he wouldn’t be kept out for much longer. From November 1938 to May 1939, he impressively won a quartet of fights that would lead to a bout with Melio Bettina for the vacant NBA light-heavyweight championship.

Conn avenged the loss to Krieger by winning a comfortable decision and then engaged in two successive fights with the man he rated as his toughest opponent: the clever boxing bell hop from San Francisco, Fred Apostoli. The fights were staged at Madison Square Garden and Billy won them both by decision, but these are only the bare and respectable facts.

Conn had all the time in the world for Apostoli. He saw a man in clever Freddie who could box, punch and do it all. After their second fight, a bruising fifteen rounder, Billy needed five days in hospital to recuperate.

In the gloriously rich and candid language of more innocent and democratic times, Conn described that battle to writer Peter Heller: “The thing I remember with Apostoli, in the second fight I got in an argument with him. We stepped back and called each other all the names. I said, ‘Listen, you dago bastard, keep your thumb out of my eye!’. He says, ‘Listen, you Irish son of a bitch, quit beefin’ and c’mon and fight!’ We were hot at one another. I had two paisans in my corner and a drunken Jew. So Apostoli hit me a left hook in the stomach just before the bell, and I go back to the corner. They start hollering at me for calling Apostoli names. The put the microphone under the ring because they could hear us swearing for nineteen rows back. It was being short-waved around the world. I says, ‘Hey, listen. This dago just broke my spine. Do me a favour.

Take this drunken Jew and the whole three of you go over to that bastard’s corner and let me alone’. Oh boy, he (Apostoli) beat the piss out of me. He could really fight!”

Billy Conn was the complete fighter by the time he completed his next assignment by notching his second victory over Solly Krieger. Conn gave a brilliant exhibition of boxing as he did pretty much as he pleased and almost pitched a shutout. The Pittsburgh Kid was about to wear the crown.


It seems hard to believe that the battle hardened Billy Conn was still only twenty-one years of age when he ruled the light-heavyweight roost after outpointing the tough Melio Bettina. But there was no money to be made in the graveyard of that division and Billy knew it. He also knew that he was in the form of his life and might as well go fishing for the sharks. And he wanted the biggest shark out there in the mighty Joe Louis.

Conn was very confident of his chances against the heavyweights and he continued on his merry way, a fighter on a roll. He decisioned Bettina again, made two defences against the tough Gus Lesnevich, then moved up to tackle the dreadnoughts.

Billy moved within the Brown Bomber’s sights with a thirteenth round knockout of speedy Bob Pastor and an emphatic points win over Lee Savold. All the hard work had paid off. Now there was only one clear and tempting target on the horizon, one simple and impudent ambition. Billy would take down the man himself and rock the boxing world.

There is a gorgeous precocity to youth. We have all felt its wonderful rush at the time, yet we see its frightening danger as older men. A kid at the wheel of a car plays chicken with a truck coming the other way and only the worldly can see the imminent crash.

When Billy Conn climbed into the ring at the Polo Grounds on June 18 1941, he saw only one winner and it wasn’t the truck. The truck was too slow, too methodical. Cocky Billy had said it many times in his training, taunting Louis with predictions about how the fight would go. He would tire Joe and then he would knock him out. Louis took it all with his typical and ominous stoicism. Pretty boy Billy may have had his boxing and his silky skills, but Joe had been gifted with a pair of fists that could devastatingly cancel out most inconveniences.

The Fight

For all his youthful gung-ho, Billy Conn was not a foolish man in his judgement of fellow fighters, most especially the great Joe Louis. Billy had the utmost respect for Joe, which was clearly apparent in the early going. The popular misconception of the fight is that Conn sailed away from Joe from the opening bell and was a country mile ahead when the guillotine dropped in the fateful thirteenth. This was not the case. It is also a myth that Louis could not have won the fight on points.

Billy was ahead by scores of 7-5, 7-4-1 and 6-6 at the finish. A Louis sweep of the last three rounds would have got Joe home by 8-7, 9-6 and 7-7-1.

In the first two rounds, it seemed that Conn might not get through five sessions. Billy could always move, but how he moved in those opening six minutes. For all the reports that Joe had looked sluggish in his training, the Bomber was all business as he forced Conn to beat a hasty retreat. A big right from Louis at the end of the first round seemed to be a harbinger of imminent doom for the challenger.

In the second, Billy’s nimble footwork couldn’t keep him away from Joe’s left hook, but it was a right to the stomach from Louis that brought a gasp from the ringsiders. It was a painful, perfectly placed punch, and Conn bent from its terrific force. Trainer Johnny Ray was urging Billy to stick to his boxing, but the fancy stuff was getting the kid nowhere. Catching fire from his frustration, Conn rattled Joe with a quick combination. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but thereafter the pattern of the fight shifted dramatically in the brave challenger’s favour.

Billy was through with running. It simply hadn’t worked. In the following rounds, he stood his ground more and placed his faith in his reflexes and quick punching. In effect, he became the aggressor, but with careful thought and intelligence.

Conn brought a very effective uppercut into play, which repeatedly caught Joe and clearly threw him off his course. The champion realised the seriousness of his situation and knew that he couldn’t afford to allow Billy too much more slack. Joe attacked earnestly in the sixth, bringing out the heavy artillery to cut Conn and kept him under pressure. Noticeably, however, the cocky Pittsburgh Kid was not only standing up to the punishment but also making Louis look ponderous and awkward. Joe was missing widely at times and being out-fought on the inside. It was a wonderfully intriguing and exciting battle, all action and effort from two very contrasting craftsmen.

The crowd was seeing what every crowd loves to see. David was beating Goliath and edging his way ever more tantalisingly towards the finishing line. He was doing it in style too. Conn was fearless. It was as if the gods themselves had given him the green light and told him that nothing could go wrong.

In the eleventh and twelfth rounds, Louis seemed to be doubting his ability to lasso the cheeky kid who was threatening to bump him off the throne. Joe was hesitant and unsure, anything but the punching machine that had blasted and chopped its way through a succession of other hopefuls. Billy just kept scoring with his stream of educated shots as the crowd’s approval thundered around the Polo Grounds.

When Conn came out for the thirteenth, it was with three simple words from Johnny Ray in his ears: “Don’t get careless.” And if course Billy Conn did get careless. He simply couldn’t help himself. He had been punching prudently, but suddenly he was just punching, convinced he could take out one of the greats.

Louis, whether alert or snoozing, could always sniff out a man in distress. Billy had strayed out of safe distance and Joe took the incoming fire and awaited his moment. He drove Conn back with a powerful left hook and the final act began to play out. What normal people don’t see, fighters do. Louis had seen the suddenly uncertain look in Billy’s eyes, the uncertain little jig of his legs as he retreated.

Joe opened up and Conn responded with one last defiant burst of fighting courage. But it was over for Billy. He had stumbled into the minefield and he could no longer tiptoe around the sleeping explosions. Suddenly, he wavered and wobbled, hit by a paralysing left to the stomach. He seemed to hang there forever until Louis snapped his strings and put him to sleep with a thunderous right to the jaw.

Years later, Billy Conn reflected on the curtain coming down on his great dream. Older, wiser and more philosophical, he could even manage a chuckle as he spread his hands and said, “I was doing it until wise guy me got fresh and tried to knock him out.”

* Mike Casey is a boxing journalist and historian and a staff writer with Boxing Scene. He is a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO) and founder and editor of the Grand Slam Premium Boxing Service for historians and fans (www.grandslampage.net).

05-18-2006, 02:09 PM

Billy Conn

Born: William David Conn,
Oct. 8, 1917, Pittsburgh, PA
Died: May 29, 1993

Pro Record: 63-11-1 (14 kayos)

28 Jun Dick Woodward Fairmont, WV L4
20 Jul Johnny Lewis Charleston, SC KO 3
30 Aug Bob Dronan Parkersburg, WV W6
27 Sep Paddy Gray Pittsburgh, PA W4
12 Nov Pete Leone Wheeling, WV LK 3

29 Jan Johnny Birek Pittsburgh, PA W6
25 Feb Ray Eberle Pittsburgh, PA L6
13 Mar Stanley Nagy Wheeling, WV W4
8 Apr George Schlee Pittsburgh, PA KO1
25 Apr Ralph Gizzy Pittsburgh, PA L4
3 Jun Ray Eberle Millvale, PA W6
10 Jun Ralph Gizzy Millvale, PA L6
9 Jul Ray Eberle Millvale, PA W6
19 Aug Teddy Movan Millvale, PA L4
9 Sep George Leggins Pittsburgh, PA W4
10 Sep Johnny Yurcini Washington, PA W6
7 Oct Johnny Yurcini Johnstown, PA W6
14 Oct Teddy Movan Pittsburgh, PA D6
18 Nov Steve Walters Pittsburgh, PA W6

27 Jan Johnny Yurcini Pittsburgh, PA KO4
3 Feb Kid Cook Pittsburgh, PA W6
17 Feb Kid Cook Pittsburgh, PA W8
16 Mar Steve Nickleash Pittsburgh, PA W6
13 Apr Steve Nickleash Pittsburgh, PA W6
27 Apr General Burrows Pittsburgh, PA W6
19 May Dick Ambrose Pittsburgh, PA W6
27 May Honeyboy Jones Pittsburgh, PA W8
3 Jun Honeyboy Jones Pittsburgh, PA W10
15 Jun General Burrows Pittsburgh, PA W8
30 Jul Teddy Movan Pittsburgh, PA W8
10 Aug Teddy Movan Pittsburgh, PA W8
8 Sep Honeyboy Jones Pittsburgh, PA W10
21 Sep Roscoe Manning Pittsburgh, PA KO5
19 Oct Charlie Weise Pittsburgh, PA W10
22 Oct Ralph Chong Pittsburgh, PA W10
2 Dec Jimmy Brown Pittsburgh, PA KO9
28 Dec Fritzie Zivic Pittsburgh, PA W10

11 Mar Babe Risko Pittsburgh, PA W10
3 May Vince Dundee Pittsburgh, PA W10
27 May Oscar Rankins Pittsburgh, PA W10
30 Jun Teddy Yarosz Pittsburgh, PA W12
13 Aug Young Corbett III San Francisco, CA L10
30 Sep Teddy Yarosz Pittsburgh, PA W15
8 Nov Young Corbett III Pittsburgh, PA W10
16 Dec Solly Kreiger Pittsburgh, PA L12

24 Jan Honeyboy Jones Pittsburgh, PA W12
4 Apr Domenic Ceccarelli Pittsburgh, PA W10
10 May Eric Seelig Pittsburgh, PA W10
25 Jul Teddy Yarosz Pittsburgh, PA L12
14 Sep Ray Actis San Francisco, CA KO8
27 Oct Honeyboy Jones Pittsburgh, PA W10
28 Nov Solly Krieger Pittsburgh, PA W12

6 Jan Fred Apostoli New York, NY W10
10 Feb Fred Apostoli New York, NY W15
12 May Solly Krieger New York, NY W12
13 Jul Melio Bettina New York, NY W15
(Won World Light-Heavyweight Championship)
14 Aug Gus Dorazio Philadelphia, PA KO8
25 Sep Melio Bettina Pittsburgh, PA W15
(Retained World Light-Heavyweight Championship)
17 Nov Gus Lesnivich New York, NY W15
(Retained World Light-Heavyweight Championship)

10 Jan Henry Cooper New York, NY W12
5 Jun Gus Lesnivich Detroit, MI W15
(Retained World Light-Heavyweight Championship)
6 Sep Bob Pastor New York, NY KO13
18 Oct Al McCoy Boston, MA W10
29 Nov Lee Savold New York, NY W12

27 Feb Ira Hughes Clarksburg, WV KO4
6 Mar Dan Hassett Washington, DC KO5
4 Apr Gunnar Barlund Chicago, IL KO8
26 May Buddy Knox Pittsburgh, PA KO8

May Gave Up World Light-Heavyweight Championship

18 Jun Joe Louis New York, NY LK 13
(For World Heavyweight Championship)

12 Jan Henry Cooper Toledo, OH W12
28 Jan J.D. Turner St. Louis, MO W10
13 Feb Tony Zale New York, NY W12
12 Oct Joe Louis New York, NY Sch-x

1942-1946. In the armed forces.

19 Jun Joe Louis New York, NY LK 8
(For World Heavyweight Championship)

15 Nov Mike O' Dowd Macon, GA KO9
25 Nov Jackie Lyons Dallas, TX KO9
10 Dec Joe Louis Chicago, IL Exh 6

05-18-2006, 02:27 PM
Joe Louis' Greatest Fights: Louis-Conn
By Bert Randolph Sugar
Boxing Historian

Joe Louis was heavyweight champion from 1937-49.
Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn
June 18, 1941

It was a scenario that had been repeated many times before, a good little man versus a good big man: Corbett versus Sullivan, Dempsey versus Willard, and the classic, David versus Goliath. Now it was to be Billy Conn, the former light heavyweight champion who had given up his lighter crown to take on the heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis. The fight was to be Conn's 174 ½ pounds vs. Louis' 199 -- their announced weight, although their actual weight was really 169 and 204 -- boxer versus puncher, machine gun versus howitzer.

Many believed that it was not merely a case of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog. They conceded that Conn had a chance, a greater one than any challenger since Max Schmeling, and made him the shortest-priced underdog against Louis in three years, an 18-5 dog.

Conn had all the credentials to make this a fight, more so than any of Louis' previous 17 challengers, most of whom charitably fit into the disparaging class known as "Bums of the Month." Billy the kid had gone into battle 67 times before, winning 58 and losing only eight, all by decision. And although he had only twelve KO's to his credit, six of those had come in his last eight outings against the bigger boys -- men like Bob Pastor and Gus Dorazio, both of whom were past victims of Louis.

Watch 6 hours of classic fights on Ringside: Joe Louis with analysis from George Foreman, Angelo Dundee and Bert Sugar Saturday at Noon ET on ESPN Classic.

Conn's adherents also pointed out that Louis was no longer the murderous puncher of a few years before when he had destroyed Max Schmeling in 124 seconds. His last three opponents -- Buddy Baer, Tony Musto, and Abe Simon -- had gone an average of almost 10 rounds. Louis' age, 27, and his recent susceptibility to injury -- he was cut under the left eye in his most recent fight, which took place just three weeks before, against Baer -- gave further proof of his "slippage." Or so it was argued.

Conn's consummate boxing skill, with his flashy left hand serving as the centerpiece, made him a lineal descendant of Jim Corbett, the first of the great scientific boxers. Further, Conn could block his opponents' punches by "rolling" with them. It was argued that even when hit Conn had remarkable recuperative powers, having been knocked down only twice in his career, once by Oscar Rankins and once by Solly Krieger, and gotten up to finish both fights, beating Rankins in the process. Sweet William had always used his ring craftsmanship and speed to defuse his opponent's power, something his followers thought he could easily do against the slower-moving Louis.

If there was any rap against Conn, it was that he was headstrong, often trading punches when stung rather than moving away. Against the powerful Louis, this was seen as Conn's potential Achilles' Heel. However, he was determined not to let that happen in this, his big chance.

"I know I have lost my temper in some fights," the strong-willed Irish challenger said before the fight, "but you can't bet I won't this time." And bet his fans did, bringing the last-minute odds down to 11-5, Louis.

Many in the crowd of 54,487 who jammed into the Polo Grounds that Wednesday night, June 18, 1941, believed Conn could do it. Members of the press, including Hype Igoe and Willard Mullin, had gone out on a limb for Conn. So had several members of the boxing fraternity, including champions James J. Braddock, Fred Apostoli, Gus Lesnevich, Lew Jenkins, and Fritzie Zivic.

Of course Zivic could be excused for his favoritism; he was a "homer" rooting for a fellow Pittsburgher. But he was just one of more than 6,000 fight fans who had journeyed from the Steel City hoping that Conn could catch lightning in a bottle and do something that four previous light heavyweight champions had failed to do, win the heavyweight championship.

Louis finished his career with a 68-3 record, including 54 knockouts.
But most of those in attendance just wanted to see the much ballyhooed fight. One of those was Pete Herman, the former bantamweight champion. Now blind, Herman had come all the way from New Orleans to "see" the action. Herman, like the other 54, 486 fans in attendance, hoped the Louis-Conn to-do would match the excitement of the last title bout held at the Polo Grounds, the Jack Dempsey-Luis Firpo classic. Neither group, boxing's faithful nor Billy's fans, would be disappointed.

After two rounds both the Conn faithful and the boxing fans were wondering if Billy's build-up wasn't merely that, a build-up, as Louis pursued Conn across the ring, landing some heavy punches without more than a few token returns. From the opening bell, when Louis advanced immediately over to Conn's corner to "get at" the challenger, through the next six minutes of fighting, it was all Louis as he kept up a steady tattoo on Conn's body, staggering him with two rights in second, and controlling the action Conn made a great effort to evade the oncoming Louis and stay continually on the move. But that was all.

The third round was different. Although retreating, Conn was able to connect several times with his left, even stopping to hook his left into Louis' face and follow up with a left-right that forced Louis to hold on, something he hadn't had to do in his previous 17 defenses. Conn's sudden success gave heart to his adherents and credence to the rumor that Conn was a slow starter because of an unusually slow heartbeat which required a warm-up period.

Conn started Round 4 in characteristic retreat and then suddenly stopped and threw a straight left which connected with the oncoming right to the jaw, buckling Louis' knees. On the attack for the first time, Conn threw several short shots at Louis, most of which connected. Then Conn landed a hard left to the head and a right to the jaw. This was the Conn everyone had been promised. It also was the fight they had come to see.

Just as the momentum had swung to Conn, however, it swung back again to Louis. The champion hurt Bill with a left to the stomach, then, in close quarters, landed a vicious left hook to the jaw which staggered the challenger, who fell in against Louis. Louis followed up with a torrent of punches to the unprotected flanks of the challenger who, at the bell, staggered to the wrong corner.

Revived by smelling slats, Conn resumed his dancing in Round 6. But Louis, moving in on his target, dragging his back foot as if he were wiping it off a door mat, found his elusive target and pounded his body, buckling the challenge's knees with a vicious left hook to the pit of the stomach. Miraculously, Conn came back to score with a flurry to Louis' head, but Louis found Conn again to the body and head, opening a small cut over Billy's right eye.

Conn continued his dancing in Round 7, staying out of Louis' reach and even landing a few flurries of his own for good measure. Round 8 found Conn moving in for the first time since the fourth, jarring Louis with repeated one-twos, once when pinned against the ropes. The round ended with Conn swarming all over a suddenly bewildered Louis, rattling rights and lefts to the vulnerable head of the champion.

Brimming with confidence, the suddenly laughing challenger moved in on Louis, telling him as he pulled the champion into a clinch, "You've got a fight on your hands, Joe." And Joe knew it as Conn punctuated his remark by banging both hands to the head, following up with a left to Louis' face and a right that landed squarely on Louis' jaw, which hung open in amazement and pain. Shuffling forward, a newly-frustrated Louis resorted to pushing Conn into the ropes and throwing one right as the quicker challenger retaliated with a right and a left to the head and a right to the body. Suddenly the fight was all Conn.

Unable to land any effective blows to Conn's continually bobbing head, Louis followed Sam Langford's old adage to "kill the body and the head will follow," digging a left and right into Conn's stomach and then following with another left which he sunk into the pit of the challenger's midsection and a left to the head. All of a sudden the challenger was on the floor. But referee Eddie Joseph ruled it a slip, the second slip by Conn. And Louis, ever the sportsman, stepped back and allowed his momentarily defenseless foe to regain his footing.

Conn came back in the 11th, dashing out of difficulty whenever the steadily advancing champion forced him into the ropes. He also tied up Louis or held on whenever "The Brown Bomber" attempted to force the action. Then the handsome Irishman would launch his own attack to the head, forcing Louis to hold on to avoid Conn's seemingly endless stream of punches.

The 12th was a revelation as Conn danced less and punched more, connecting time and again with rights and lefts to the head of Louis. Then, toward the end of the round, Conn staggered Louis with a left hook to the jaw. The hunter had now become the hunted. Conn pursued Louis who was clinging on for dear life. The man who had Primo Carnera cowering, Max Baer frozen with fear, and Max Schmeling screaming in pain was in desperate trouble for the first time since his loss to Schmeling five years earlier. At the bell the crowd was on its collective feet, cheering frantically, assured now that they were witnessing the sequel to Dempsey-Firpo.

With the reviving smell of ammonia stinging his nostrils and the ringing words of his trainer, Jack Blackburn -- that Louis "had to knock him out to win" -- stinging his ears, Louis came out of his corner for the thirteenth hell-bent upon finding his quarry and bringing him to bay. Conn greeted the now purposeful champion with a right and a left to get his attention, the right cutting Louis' ear. As Conn waded in with a left to the stomach followed by a right that missed Louis' chin, the champion landed a hard right of his own. It caught Conn flush on the jaw, snapping his head violently back. Louis followed with three more hard rights to the chin, but, untrue to his preflight statement that he would run away to stay another day, Conn fought back, out slugging the champion at close quarters in a savage exchange. A right uppercut by Louis staggered Conn. Louis, now sensing the moment he had been waiting for the past 38 minutes, landed a volley of rights and lefts to Conn's head. Another right to the head spun Conn part way around and he fell as if he were filmed in slow motion. Referee Eddie Joseph picked up the count over the inert form that had almost been the heavyweight champion of the world.

Conn tried to regain his feet, leaving his haunches at the count of 10, but it was a split second too late. Referee Joseph signaled "the end" at 2:58 of the 13th.

The fight itself was memorable. It was magic, and it was one of the greatest ever seen in this or any other era. Joe Louis, the man who had been just six minutes and two seconds away from losing his crown to the man he called "the slickest" he had ever faced, had come back to reclaim and retain his title. And lay claim to his legacy as the greatest heavyweight of all time.

As he left the ring Louis spied his manager, Julian Roxbury, smoking a cigar. "How many of those you swallow tonight?" asked "The Brown Bomber." He needn't have bothered. Everyone who had seen the fight, Roxbury included, had swallowed. And swallowed hard.

From "The Great Fights, A Pictorial History of Boxing's Greatest Bouts," By Bert Randolph Sugar.

05-18-2006, 02:32 PM
Knowing alot of the guys Billy Conn hung around with, and listening to stories about him, Billy was not only a great champion and a pound for pound elite, but he also had alot of "con" in him. What a guy!

05-18-2006, 04:06 PM
who is this mike casey-another great article!

05-18-2006, 04:19 PM
Mike Casey is a very well repected boxing historian who writes for boxingscene.com, who also happens to be a terrific writer. Those two talents don't necessarily go hand in hand. There's lots of good to excellent writers that are crap historians.

There's also a lot of excellent historians that are just not very good writers. In Mike Casey we have the best of both worlds.


05-18-2006, 04:39 PM
Mike Casey is a very well repected boxing historian who writes for boxingscene.com, who also happens to be a terrific writer. Those two talents don't necessarily go hand in hand. There's lots of good to excellent writers that are crap historians.

There's also a lot of excellent historians that are just not very good writers. In Mike Casey we have the best of both worlds.

GorDoom gd got that RIGHT! what a writer-what a historian-- what an intellect--and what boxing insticts!! hes a wonder!!

05-18-2006, 05:04 PM
I have read that Dick Woodward, Billy Conn's first opponent, was
actually Frank Woodward, who later became a resident of
my hometown of Ventura, California.

- Chuck Johnston

05-18-2006, 10:23 PM
You know something, Mike always picks out the old fighters that i love like Billy Conn to write about. Your a treasure Mike and i love reading your storys. Guys like Billy Conn who i always consider one great fighter must never be forgot. Thanks Mike for another great article.

mike casey
05-19-2006, 09:27 AM
Chuck, I'm pretty sure you are right in your comments about Dick Woodward. He is sometimes listed as Frank Woodward on Billy's record.