Thomas Sowell

In those days, you didn't have to act like a lout to try to show that you were black. Acting like a gentleman was something admired by blacks and whites alike.

Louis engaged in none of the cheap, show-off antics that have become all too common among boxers of a later era. He came to the ring to do a job, and he did it professionally, skillfully and with devastating results. He still holds the record for the most one-round knockouts in heavyweight championship fights.

With all his fine qualities, Joe Louis also had his flaws as both a man and a boxer. Author Randy Roberts covers both the good and the bad, and clearly sees the good as far more predominant.

The central boxing dramas of Joe Louis' career were his two fights with Max Schmeling. In the first fight, when Louis was a new young sensation bursting onto the boxing scene, and clearly headed toward a championship fight, he still had both defensive vulnerabilities and an over-confidence born of his unbroken string of victories.

The older and canny Schmeling studied Louis' fights, spotted his flaws and took advantage of them to score an upset knockout. As Louis' own manager said at the time, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to a young Joe Louis.

That defeat got Louis' full attention, focused his mind, and dominated his work. So intense was Louis' focus on vindication that, before the second fight, he confessed to an astonished friend that he was scared -- scared that he might kill Schmeling.

As it turned out, he sent Schmeling to the hospital, after a devastating one-round knockout that shocked the boxing audience.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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