These kind of discussions over the internet tend to favor moderns who are want to express opinions without context or factual basis as to why their hero is is #1.
Bert Sugar perhaps infamously chose Cleveland fullback Jim Brown for his all time greatest athlete. Never mind that teammate Marion Motley has a higher career rushing average and did it basketball hightops because no football cleats could be found then to fit his monstrous feet. Motley could also clear out the defense in support of his running back and quarterback, hard, gritty work that was beneath Brown, and Motley also pulled fulltime duty as linebacker, a two way, 60 minute player, something the coddled Brown was never good for. But of course Brown was also such a great lacrosse player, never mind that Wilt Chamberlain proved in two footraces that he was significantly faster than Brown and could turn him upside down to shake all his change loose at will not to mention being a collegiate, multi-event track and field star during his down time from basketball. Wilt a world class volleyball player in his retirement, the best in his day. Wilt didn’t even like basketball because of it’s stupid rules and the stupid media always pestering him, but it was the most lucrative option for him, so he made the best of it as a record setter both on offense and defense. Even did a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters before his NBA career, damned hard to top that.
Now modern media “experts” claim Michel Jordan is the best athlete ever, never mind he wasn’t even a mediocre division B minor league baseball player and only a modestly endowed golfer. Jim Thorpe, fresh off an Indian reservation, won both Pentathlon and Decathlon Olympic gold medals in Sweden, then played major league baseball for several years before co-founding and becoming the first ever star of the National Football League. It don’t get any better than that as an athlete, but moderns just shrug and say, Jim Who?
So, here we go, Bobby Mac’s Facts Update, just the facts ma’am, so:
What are the career records of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali?
Joe 66-3, 52 KO vs Ali 56-5, 37 KO
OK, clearly Joe is vastly superior, but there are records and then there are RECORDS, so let’s delve deeper.
Joe, age 20 yrs, 1 month, 22 days, coming off winning the United States National AAU tournament with a final record of 50-4, 43 KO, debuted @ 181 lbs against Jack Kracken, 27-7-3, in the “city of the big shoulders,” Chicago, July 4th, 1934, US Independence Day. Drops Kracken in the opening seconds and then blasts him through the ropes into the lap of the shocked Illinois commish to formally announce to the world the transformation from Joe Barrow to Joe Louis. Has there ever been a better boxing debut than that? Prior he was no more than a po’ sharecropper’s boy from Podunk, Alabama. The $59 depression purse went a long ways in those days, the most money he had ever earned in his life.
Ali, age 18 yrs, 9 months and 12 days, coming off Olympic Lightheavy Gold glory with a multitude of final ama record claims, debuts @ 192 lbs, October 29th, 1960, in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky against Tunney Hunsaker, 16-9-1, a Sunday School teacher and police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia. Ali touched up Hunsaker some with a bloody nose and cut eye for a 6 round unanimous decision and a healthy $2000 purse for the day. Solid hometown pro debut for such a young kid, but no comparison to the spectacular 4th of July fireworks set off by Joe.
Longest Title reign and record:
Joe 11 years, 252 days, 26-0, 23 KOs vs Ali three combined title runs of 3 years, 63 days + 3 years, 108 days + 284 days = 7 years, 90 days, 22-2. OK, but Joe had three more title fights, 1 competitive decision loss to Charles in his comeback and a knockout of Lee Savold who held the BBBC version of the split title + the last white heavy belt, and a competitive KO loss to Marciano for a final title record of 27-2 vs Ali’s humiliation KO loss to Holmes for a final title record of 22-3.
Now, if we extend out the Ali years up to the first Frazier fight, they’d be just short of Joe, but, remember, Ali also relinquished his Ring belt early so his good buddy Jimmy Ellis could fight for it. Ring never awarded the belt to Ellis yet kept Ali as Champion through 1969. Joe is still superior.
First and last Ring Top 10 ratings:
Joe #1 in his first year of eligibility, age 20 vs Ali #9 in his first year of eligibility, age 19.
Joe #1 when he challenged Champion Charles in 1950, age 36, and #6 against #2 Marciano in 1951, age 37. Ali was last ranked as Champion in 1978, age 36.
Joe clearly superior though Ali managed to slide into Ring ratings a year earlier than Joe because of his earlier debut.
Joe 13 such fights, 10-3 9 KO vs Ali 14 such fights, 11-3, 8 KO. Joe with 2 KO losses vs Ali with 1 KO loss.
Joe earliest HOFer and win @ age 21 yr, 4 month, 11 days over Baer vs Ali earliest HOFer and win @ age 20 yr, 9 months, 28 days over Moore.
Joe last HOF win @ age 37 yr, 3 month and a day over Blivins vs Ali last HOF win @ age 34 yr, 8 months, 11 days over Ken Norton, a hotly disputed decision.
Ali with tiny edge in total HOF fight, Joe with KOs, and Ali with one less KO loss. Joe a few months older for first HOF fight vs Ali a bit younger, but Joe considerably older for last HOF win than Ali. They both lost their last HOF fights by KO, but Joe in his 8th fight over 10 months in his 37th year gave Marciano all he could handle for 8 rounds vs Ali out of retirement carried mercifully by Holmes trying to get the fight stopped with no damage to Ali. Joe definitely finished the stronger fighter overall.
Joe only had two, the first Buddy Baer and JJ Walcott fights which he quickly avenged with savage KOs in the rematches vs far too many controversial fights for Ali, really too embarrassing to mention that he always benefited from every controversy. Big advantage Joe who consistently took care of business in a more professional way than did Ali who needed a lot of help from the suits.
Unified America behind him:
Split up America over him:
Won a Supreme Court Decision:
Ali, of course, major props and maybe the highlight of his life.
Summoned to the White House by the President for consultation on impending military desegregation policy:
Joe, the one and only.
Inspiration for the two most prominent black civil rights spokesmen in history:
Both Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela count Joe Louis as providing the inspiration for a higher dignity and purpose of what their people people might achieve if allowed their civil rights.
Who loses to Leon?
Ali, of course. Joe on his worst day in shackles and blindfolded could never lose to Leon.
Now, lest this take on a wholly one sided analysis, in general most fans would agree that Joe Frazier and George Foreman are better than the best Joe took on, but Ali never really showed he was better than Frazier. Most can finally admit Joe whooped the holy jinn out of him the first fight, and did it in spite of referee Mercante near poking out his only good eye midway through the fight. The second fight was competitive and close, and the third a happenstance of incredible good fortune when Frazier’s scout couldn’t make it from Ali’s corner to Frazier’s corner to tell them Ali was quitting. Joe was on his feet bouncing around like a rubber ball waiting to be unleashed when Eddie Futch pulled the plug as Ali stood up and collapsed. Nor could the terribly grievous conditions in Zaire that all favored Ali ever be replicated, thus no rematch with George who only spent 9 seconds on the canvas in his first career knockdown, yet was counted out. Compare to Ali who collapsed seconds later for a 30 count that took his legions to elevate him over to his corner.
Yeah, and maybe Sonny Liston was better than Joe’s best too, but Joe could easily beat a fighter who quit on his stool and take a dive as well as the next guy, so let’s keep it real…over and out.