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Page 12 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, DECEMBER 5, 2014 1 JOE LOUIS VS. BILLY CONN Polo Grounds, June 18, 1941 What Really Happened? Conn lands right hook on louis. easier targets for his shots. In the title fight Louis' weight was announced as 199V2 (Joe worked hard to get below 200 for the weigh in as he didn't want to seem to be a lot bigger then Billy). Conn's came in officially at 174. It is believed by many that when they stepped into the ring their weights were 204 and 169 respectively. Giving Louis an advantage of over thirty pounds. Now to the fight itself. Did Conn actually dance circles around Louis" while sticking him with repeated jabs? No. Billy knew from the outset that it would be suicide to trade jabs with Joe, as the champion possessed the best left jab in heavyweight his- tory. On top of this, Louis was also a genius at slipping and countering his opponent's jab, and Joe had a great reach advantage over Conn. So, what was Conn to do? Billy kept moving on his feet while feinting, but he didn't stay that far away from the champion. Instead, he would move in and out. He would begin a jab, but then as Louis would start to counter it, Conn would turn it into a leR hook, and rids is known as hooking off the jab. Billy would also get in close and throw left and right hooks to the body and head along with uppercuts, and then he would tie up the champ. He was very fast and accurate, and he threw very few jabs throughout the fight. Of course, during all of this Louis wasn't just standing there. Joe was having a lot of trouble dealing with Billy, but he never lost his cool. The very hard punching champion was landing a lot of solid shots to Conn's body. These punches began to take a toll in the later rounds as Billy's legs began to weaken and he was losing strength. In the eighth round Conn shook Joe with a left hook. Billy had a very good round in the eleventh and shook his fist in the air after the bell rang as if to say, "The title wm soon be mind." Even though the eleventh round saw Conn landing solid blows on Joe, he was paying a price for it as Louis continued pun- ishing him to the body. Things became very inter- esting in the twelfth round. Conn came out on fire at the bell. His hands were still moving very fast, but his legs had slowed down just a bit. He continued mixing it up in- side, even staggering the champion a couple of times. On one of these occasions as Joe was sent reeling, he threw his weight onto Billy. Billy pushed him off, but expended a lot of energy in doing so. Now, and this is some- thing you have to look very carefully to see be- cause of the camera angle, just before the bell rang ending the round, Louis hit Conn with a very hard right hand. Billy's knees buckled, and after the bell sounded he seemed disori- entated and was confused as to where his comer was. His seconds seemed to notice this as they jumped into the ring and started splashing water on his face. This was the beginning of the end. At the bell for the fatal thir- teenth round, Conn came out and tried to continue with his strategy of slipping inside and throwing hooks, but he was weaker now. He seemed to be going all out with what little he had left in him, but Joe could smell blood. Billy got off a couple of great combos, but then Joe went to work. He started connecting with uppercuts. Conn was hurt, and he was in with a guy who knew how to finish a fight. Louis ended the bout with a right uppercut and devastat- ing left hook. Conn valiantly tried to get to his feet, but his legs would not respond. He had given it his all. The narrative after the bout that has lived on is that Conn had the title and only had to dance around for the last three rounds in order to gain the decision. Then instead, he got cocky and decided to slug with the champ. I believe Conn did not changed his tactics, that he had been worn down by Louis' superior strength and body punches, and that he had no choice but to make a last stand and try to win by a knockout. It should aIso be noted that, while Conn was lead- ing on the scorecards, he did not have the fight in the bag. The scores through twelve were 5-7, 4-7-1 even, and 6-6. He had a good lead but Louis still could have won on points by taking the last rounds. None of this is meant to take anything away from Billy Conn. He fought a bril- liant fight against a man considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight cham- pion of all time. He showed guts, speed, power, and amazing skill, but Louis showed the patience that is the mark of a great cham- pion and never lost his cool. This is a fight that should be studied by all boxing aficio- nados. It is one of the great fights of all time, and there is much to be learned by watching it. Over my lifetime in boxing I have heard the story of the first Louis- Conn fight countless times. Most followers of the Art of Boxing are familiar with it. Conn was boxing rings around Joe Louis for twelve rounds and leading on all the scorecards. All he had to do was keep dancing and jabbing and he would win the fifteen round decision, but instead, the former light heavyweight champ got cocky in the thirteenth round and went for the knockout and ended up getting kayoed himself. I recently noticed that ESPN Classic was going to show the fight and I began to real- ize, even though I was sure I knew just what happened during the match, that I had never seen more than some highlights from the bout. The memory I had of it was from what I had heard from box- ing people throughout the years. I made some calls to a number of people well versed in the sport and asked each one how they believe the fight went, specifically, what punch did Conn rely on the most. With one exception, I was told that Conn had used his jab extensively and danced around Joe keeping himself at a safe distance from the champion's power. It was until he decided to knock out Louis that he got close and Joe was able to end the fight. I also remembered a bit different version of the bout that was related to me by my trainer many years ago. I decided I was going to record the ESPN showing of the fight and see for myself how it went. They did show all the rounds, but many of them were not complete. Though I would llke to see the fight in its entirety, I do believe I saw enough to un- derstand Billy's strategy against Louis. A couple of background notes first. Billy Conn was taken seriously as a chal- lenger to Joe Louis. Conn had given up his light heavy- weight title a year before in order to campaign full time as a heavyweight. He de- feated a number of leading contenders including Bob Pastor {KO 13}, m McCoy (UD I0}, Lee Savold {UD 12}, and Gunnar Barland [TKO 8), so he had earned his chance at the championship. It is also interesting to note that in his seven bouts against the big men he scored kayos in five of them. That is almost half of the knockouts he scored in his entire career. Conn is not remembered as a big puncher, but he did show power against larger opponents. It was not be- cause Conn had bulked up, as he did not. I would argue it was because the bigger op- ponents were slower and It was a memorable game, perhaps the most memo- rable hockey game of the 20  century. But what is it about it that we remember? The upset of upsets, the celebration on the ice, the waving of the American flag. ABC Broad- caster AI Michaels asking the all time question: *Do you believe in miracles?" Yes, it was the Miracle on Ice -- for the U.S. Hockey Team in 1980. But to have a big victory one needs to have a worthy opponent, one that matches you in skills, strength, dedi- cation and desire. After all, what glory is there in defeat- ing an opponent that is in- ferior to you? We thought about that a lot over the last few days when word came of the Novem- ber 24 th passing of Viktor Tikhonov at age 84, a man whose fate was to be cast as the leader of the villains in that famous showdown at Lake Placid almost 35 years ago. As much as U.S. Coach Herb Brooks and his band of collegiate all-stars captured the imaginations of people throughout North America, so too was Tikhonov and the squad he led equated with the negative in geo-political terms. Just as the U.S. team was swathed in red, white and blue and everything positive, it was the Soviets who de- noted communism, totali- tarianism and lack of per- sonal freedoms. The fact the Tikhonov and his players spoke a language (Russian) that few Americans under- stood, came from an area of the world that was rarely pre- sented in geography class and were felt by many to be representing a government that had invaded Afghani- stan only added to the mileu that enveloped the historic game. All that overshadowed the great hockey mind that pa- trolled behind the bench of the Soviet team, a squad that was acknowledged as being the best in the world at that time. Many veteran observ- ers of hockey felt that if the Soviet national team had been allowed to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that team would have won the title many times over. After all, many of the play- ers had been together for over a decade, the Soviets had the world's best goalie in Vadislav Tretiak and yes, the world's best coach in Tikhonov. A star defenseman as a player, he had been on four teams that captured the So- viet national championship. As a coach he assumed a dictatorial style over his players, not unlike Herb Brooks did over the Ameri- can squad. Tikhonov won 12 straight Soviet national titles as a coach of CSKA Moscow, in re- ality the fabled Red Army team that played on the in- ternational stage. His team won eight world champion- ships and three Olympic Gold medals (1984, 1988 and 1992). But the one that got away is the one that is remem- bered the most -- at least here in the United States. A perfectionist, he perhaps made one tactical error dur- ing the game with the U.S. team, pulling Tretiak after the U.S. scored a goal that tied the game at 2-2 as the first period expired. Later, after the U.S. had won 4-3, Tikhonov would reflect on his decision, "calling it the turning point of the game." But the bond between the coach and goalie continued far into the future, despite the decision of the moment. After the final call came, it fell to Tretiak to convey the thoughts of the Russian hockey community con- cerning the passing of the great mentor. "The entire global hockey community has lost a great coach," Tretiak told media outlets. The famous netminder, who is now the head of the Russian Hockey Federation, added that his coach "devoted his entire life to hockey until the last sec- ond. Even while I was with him in the hospital, we were discussing what needed to be done and how, in order to raise the Russian national team to the very highest level." Now the two great coaches who molded the players that participated in the most memorable hockey game ever played are gone (Brooks died in 2003) -- but still im- mortal since the aura of that game will surely live forever. POST-GAZETTE EAST BOSTON SATELLITE OFFICE Is NOW OPEN MARIE MATARESE 35 Bennington Street, East Boston 617.227.8929 TUES. 10:00 A.M. - 3.00 P.M. THURS. 11:00 A.M.- 2:00 P.M.