Ali Would Have Beaten Louis

By Don Colgan

35 years ago, in 1966 when Muhammad Ali was in the glow of his marvelous prime and in the midst of nine spellbinding championship defenses that served as a showcase for his dazzling and unmatched skills he became engaged in a war of words with the great Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. Joe, being a Patriot of the first rank, never care for the Muslim Titleholder and the great Champion held Ali/Clay in enormous disgard for his vitriolic rhetoric, his allegiance with the Black Muslims and ultimately his refusal to step over the line as Joe had a generation earlier and serve the nation that had provided him with the opportunity to achieve the greatness that was so unquestionably his.

Yet Joe’s judgment was seriously clouded when it came to drawing a distinction between Ali’s racial and political viewpoints and his enormous skills within the roped square. Time and time again he ventured opinions that Ali would meet defeat as he rose through the formidable ranks of the heavyweight division during the early 1960’s. When Ali prepared for his championship quest against Liston as an 8 to 1 shortender Joe ventured the Clay was horribly unqualified to step into the ring against the powerful Liston and was certain to be knockout out. Anyone who viewed the old closed circuit TNT TV broadcast of the bout, with Louis working the mike with Mike Ellis had to cringe as Joe seemed to be the last person in the Miami Convention Hall to grasp what was so graphically unfolding. Clay was dominating, punishing Sonny nearly at will and, with the exception of the fifth round when the challenger’s eyes were burning from Monsell solution smeared across his eyes during a fourth round clinch with Sonny and briefly it appeared that Liston may have been taking control of the bout, it was clear that the championship was going to change hands.

Joe ventured the opinion that Ali couldn’t punch, couldn’t take a punch, lacked heart and was matched with second and third tier heavyweights to bolster his undefeated mark. That wasn’t all! Joe also opined that Ali/Clay would fall to many of the heavyweight contenders of his title era, even going as far as to suggest that Johnny Paycheck, a ghost of a challenger that Louis slaughtered in two rounds, would have taken the measure of Ali.

As far as Louis’ views as to a hypothetical match up with Ali, the respectful humility and soft-spoken respect Joe held for his defeated opponents was nowhere to be found. “I would hurt him in the body, bad. Tears would well up in his eyes and they would shut tight from the pain”. The great champion left no doubt about it. He felt he would have knocked out Clay with little difficulty.

Clay/Ali’s feelings towards Joe were acerbic. Annoyed by Louis’ constant picking of Ali’s opponents and the Bomber’s miniscule view of his talents, the Champion was particularly stung by Joe’s opinion that he would punish Ali badly. Muhammad’s tongue, as brutal as his punishing combinations and rapier jab, dismantled Joe’s legend in two paragraphs. “Joe say that”, he snapped. “Slow, plodding Joe Louis knock me out!. Does he think I’d stand still that night and let him hit me? Does he think I’d stop dancing that night”?

Ali and Louis eventually mended fences and truthfully Ali had always held Joe and his historic championship reign in the highest regard. Grudgingly Louis admitted Ali was a skillful, dominant Champion yet he never placed Ali in the upper echelon’s of great Heavyweight Champions, always considering his punch second rate, as well as the era in which he reigned.

An analysis of Ali three title reigns and 17 championship defenses in comparison with Louis dozen years at the helm of the heavyweight division offer contrasts that lend solid credence to the argument that Ali would have been Joe’s superior, probably by a comfortable margin, had they met. Joe’s argument that Ali was a weak puncher looks pale in retrospect considering that Ali twice halted Sonny Liston, knocked out George Foreman, both of whom were counted out; whipped Joe Frazier twice, once by a technical stoppage and easily battered rugged Jerry Quarry twice while holding off knockout artist Earnie Shavers in his final successful championship defense.

Many purists contend that it would have been only a matter of time before Joe cut the ring off on Muhammad, slowed him down with his thunderbolt left jabs and finally connected with that powerful short right that would have ended Ali’s night safely inside of the distance.

Yet at some point in this debate reality has to take over. It is unimaginable that Muhammad Ali, in his prime, trailing 172 lb Light Heavyweight Champion Billy Conn so badly after a dozen heats that Ali would have needed a knockout to prevail. It is equally unimaginable that Ali, even before his prime, being halted by a 30 year old Max Schmeling. No disrespect to the legendary German former titleholder yet Ali’s blinding speed, blistering jab and sharp punching with have shredded Max. I cannot conceive of Two Ton Tony Galento, potent left hook notwithstanding, sending Ali to the canvas. Galento wouldn’t have gotten off of the stool against Muhammad. Granted, Ali/Clay was troubled by the less than spectacular Karl Mildenberger and near a KO defeat vs. Henry Cooper yet he would have devoured the Arturo Godoy’s and Jersey Joe Walcott’s who troubled Louis terribly, particularly in their initial encounters.

Louis, on the other hand, would have had his work cut out for him against Liston’s equally thunderous left jab and clubbing right hand leads. Frazier at his very best would have been a difficult proposition for Joe whose chin was solid yet not undentable. A classic Frazier left hook to the jaw would have decked Joe yet the Brown Bomber would have had a bit too much for the Philly slugger in the long run. Foreman, powerful and dangerous, would have been cut down by Louis and stopped inside of ten heats and it is not inconceivable that Holmes would have lasted the route with Joe and made it very close to boot.

Objectively, and realistically, the Ali model of 1967 would have blinded Louis with his speed, blistering jab, blinding combinations and stunning right hand leads. Muhammad’s chin was perhaps the greatest in the history of the heavyweight class and he would have avoided Joe for most of the fifteen rounds, cut and closed his eyes and administered a thorough battering to the Detroit Bomber. Louis would hurt Ali when he connected squarely and his thumping left jab would often find its mark. Yet Joe lacked the ring generalship and mobility to cope with Ali. Could he stop Muhammad? Yes, if he caught him, trapped him and finished him. However, he would never find Ali. One look at Joe in rounds ten through twelve against Conn and you know Ali , the night he stopped Foley, would have taken a minimum of nine rounds

8-6-1, 10-4-1, 9-5-1. The winner, by unanimous decision, Muhammad Ali!

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