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A Conn Game that Collapsed
Frank Graham Jr.
September 12, 1966
Light Heavyweight Billy Conn (right) had Joe Louis beaten and the championship won—for 12 rounds
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September 12, 1966

A Conn Game That Collapsed

Light Heavyweight Billy Conn (right) had Joe Louis beaten and the championship won—for 12 rounds

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"No matter who he is fighting," Ray said, "Billy lets everybody know he is boss of the ring, even before the fight starts. Just the way he walks out there to get his instructions from the referee lets you know he isn't afraid of anybody."

Certainly no challenger ever entered the ring against Louis with more confidence. Billy started slowly that evening, but this was his habit. Louis hurt him with a right hand in the third round, but Conn fought back, peppering Louis with short lefts and rights. He walked cockily to his corner at the bell, the crowd's delighted cheers ringing dangerously loud in his ears.

Having taken Louis' best punch and come back to win the round, Conn felt he was now the boss. He stood up under more punishment in the fifth and sixth rounds, holding or circling Louis until he had recovered from the champion's heavy body punches. Now Conn began to set his own pace. He boxed out of range of Louis' long punches to the head and kept his swift left hand in Louis' face.

"Box him, Billy," Johnny Ray and his handlers, Manny Seamon and Freddy Fierro, cautioned him between rounds. "Box him!"

Louis was stung repeatedly by Conn's combinations. For the first time in his career he appeared clumsy, aiming punches at his moving, dancing opponent and missing badly. Conn piled up points. His best round was the 12th, when he befuddled Louis with his speed, then hammered him into the ropes. Fans and reporters both felt Conn had only to stay out of danger during the next three rounds to win the championship on a decision.

Conn moved out briskly for the 13th round, the crowd's wild roar of anticipation drowning out his cautious handlers' advice. He jabbed Louis and hooked him. For a moment the champion appeared dazed. Then, as Conn moved again to the attack, Louis threw a right uppercut, which landed on Conn's chin.

"Move, Billy, move!" Ray and Fierro screamed from the corner, while Billy wobbled on his suddenly unmanageable legs.

But Conn no longer heard. Louis smashed him across the ring, throwing punches with all his old speed into a defenseless target. Billy sagged into the ropes, and a right cross finished him. He fell on his side in Louis' corner, his face in the resin. Referee Eddie Joseph completed the count only a moment before the stricken Conn struggled to his feet and only two seconds before the bell would have ended the round and given him a full minute's rest.

The time was 2:58 of the 13th round. The limp crowd tumbled into the aisles, groaning at Conn's foolish gamble while marveling at his fearlessness before Louis. Even veteran reporters babbled. Hype Igoe, the dean of boxing writers, was beside himself. "Gorgeous audacity!" he exclaimed in the New York Journal-American. "Cruel overconfidence!"

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the end of that year canceled a rematch planned for the following summer, and it was five years before a puffed-up Conn, his reflexes gone, climbed through the ropes for his second shot at Louis. After seven listless rounds, Louis ended the fiasco with three thunderous punches to Billy's chin.

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