When Louis stepped on the scale at the weigh-in the morning of June 19, 1946, his hair was thin, but his stomach was flat. He weighed 207, slightly over his best fighting weight. Conn was 187, a soft 13 pounds heavier than their first fight. Only 45,000 fans showed up at Yankee Stadium, far below Jacobs's prediction of 70,000. The long-awaited rematch was a stinker. Conn simply ran away from Louis for seven rounds. Finally, in the eighth Louis got close enough to land a flurry of hard punches that put Conn on his back for a knockout. After the fight Louis was asked whether he was as good as he had been before the war, and he answered with sober honesty, "I don't know. I wasn't tested."
Jacobs had predicted a $3 million gate, but the fight drew only $2 million. Still, this was the most profitable fight of Louis's career, his share coming to almost $600,000. His managers got $140,000, his ex-wife $66,000 and the state of New York $30,000 in taxes. With his share Louis paid his debts to Jacobs and Roxborough as well as his bill for federal back taxes from 1941.
Taxes had always mystified Louis, and he had let Jacobs prepare all of his returns. Now Jacobs took cynical advantage of this. He told Louis that he didn't have to pay federal tax on the entire Conn purse because the champion could offset it by deducting all of the spending he did during the war as business expenses. This was illegal because nearly all of Louis's wartime spending had been personal. However, it would take years before the IRS caught up with Louis. So the promoter greedily accepted Louis's payment of the $170,000 he owed him, knowing full well that the boxer would eventually sink in a quicksand of accelerating debts.
Not long before the Conn fight, Marva had reentered Louis's life. Despite their divorce, there was a powerful attraction between them, and they were remarried a month after the fight. The honeymoon was brief, for Louis had to fight Tami Mauriello, a tough contender, on Sept. 18, 1946. Louis's weight was up to 211¼, but he easily KO'd Mauriello in 2:09 of the first round. It was to be his last good fight. The purse for Louis was only $100,000.
Louis then went on another exhibition tour, which drew well, but he was paying expenses for a large entourage. Marva Louis wisely kept her share of his money in a trust fund for their daughter, Jacqueline, who had been born in 1943. On May 24, 1947, she gave birth to another child, Joseph Louis Barrow Jr. Now Louis was under more financial pressure than ever.
He desperately needed a large gate, but no legitimate contenders had emerged. Finally a match was arranged for Dec. 5, 1947 with Jersey Joe Walcott, a 33-year-old veteran who had lost to several bad fighters. Walcott went into the fight a 10-to-l underdog. To everyone's amazement, he floored Louis twice in the first four rounds. He then toyed with the slow, tired champion for the rest of the 15-round fight. Walcott was certain that he was far ahead on points, and most fans in the Garden thought so, too. When Louis was declared the winner in a split decision, the crowd booed.
Louis had no delusions about the sorry state of his boxing skills. Yet he was too embarrassed to quit after the Walcott fight. Determined to win and retire with his title intact, he signed for a rematch. On June 25, 1948, about 42,000 people came to Yankee Stadium to see the paunchy, tired champion who weighed 213½, his most ever for a fight. Walcott dumped him in the third round, but Louis scrambled up quickly. The fight was uneventful until the 11th round, when Louis suddenly drove Walcott into the ropes and began to pound him with all he had. No longer quick or accurate, Louis had to throw a lot of punches before he put Walcott down for the count. The crowd cheered, and a happy Louis announced that he would never fight again.
But he fought some exhibitions, and almost a year passed before he officially retired. Then Walcott and Ezzard Charles, the two top heavyweights, fought for the vacated title in June of 1949, and Charles won.
In the meantime, Marva quietly divorced Louis again in Mexico. And tax trouble continued to trail him. In May 1950 the IRS finished a full audit of his past returns and announced that, with interest and penalties, Louis owed the government more than $500,000.
He had no choice but to return to the ring. Louis agreed to fight Charles in late September 1950. Charles was a natural light heavyweight, and he did not have much of a punch. Because the public had never accepted him as champion, he was forced to take a challenger's cut of 20% while Louis got 35%.