Scar Tissue Part 1: Louis vs. Ali
By Jess E. Trail (January 14, 2005) 
The old generation thinks Joe Louis was the greatest heavyweight of all time. There are still a few from the post-larval generation that cling to the idea that Mike Tyson was the baddest of them all. My generation believes that it was Ali. And, pathetically, since the movie with Will Smith, some of the young generation are coming around to Ali. Oh well.

Eliminating Tyson via quick logic, today I will, with the precision and accuracy that stems from an unerring objectivity, totally unclouded by any predispositions of personal preference, tell you exactly what would happen in a bout between Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. Seniors, pull up a chair. Larvae, grab a beanbag and pop a pill so your attention doesn’t wander. I have had a clear vision since my teens, and I am about to share it with you all. As Nostradamus stared into a bowl of water balanced on a tripod, these visions came to me while in my entranced state, focusing on a singular frosted cherry pop tart. Tossing aside conceit, it is really the pop tart that is to be credited. All of my prognostications and predictions of what will be and what would have been have been communicated to me by this same pop tart.

When I was in college, I had the opportunity in computer class to work with an expert system called Exsys, if memory serves me. I was somewhat bored with it until the idea hit me, as an avid boxing fan, to create an expert system relative to boxing strategy. I plugged in every imaginable characteristic – effectiveness of the jab, cross, hook, uppercut, to power, speed, resistance to cuts, chin, guts, and defense. You name it, it was in this system. All that you had to do was plug in the features of the pug you were preparing to war with and the system would tell you exactly what to do. If you have fight knowledge, you don’t need it. Enough of the Expert System. On with Ali-Louis.

In order to predict a real bout between contemporaries, OR a dream match up, you first must look at how their strengths and weaknesses match up. Remember also that in a dream match, overall greatness doesn’t necessarily factor into who would win. Greatness is a generic term having to do with perception of accomplishments. All we are interested in is who would kick whose fanny.

Ali’s most obvious strength was his hand and foot speed. He was much faster than the average heavyweight, and the fastest heavyweight champion in history, excluding the partial titles held by Chris Byrd and in the early 80’s, Michael Dokes. Not often discussed regarding Ali’s strengths is his incredible chin. There was no one tougher, physically or mentally, including Rocky Marciano. Rounding out his best tools was a stinging jab around which his whole show gravitated. He was also a master of the mind game. His games inside the ring most often achieved their desired effect. Whether to make his opponent angry, thereby sloppy, or to create a moment of pause when he was stunned as he did in the first Frazier bout, he was consistently able to breach the skulls of his opponents.

Louis’ greatest strength was mind-numbing punching power. The clips of Louis in his prime are highly entertaining simply due to the incredible effect his punches had on his opponents. It appeared as a cartoon-style exaggeration. He was quick. I distinguish "quick" from "fast". He could deliver single punches with speed. He wasn’t a fast puncher in combination. He delivered every punch with textbook form and accuracy.

Some like to say that Ali had no weaknesses. Not true. His punching power was at best average for a heavyweight. He sometimes slapped with his punches and I challenge ANY of you to show me an Ali body punch. I happen to know where one instance can be found if you look through enough film. We’ll save that for later or for possible discussion. Ali’s less than one punch power led his bouts with his toughest opposition to become savage battles in which both warriors dropped a bit of themselves in ring center. His six total bouts with Ken Norton and Joe Frazier left almost nothing for him to fall back on when he entered the ring in his final significant matchup (no, I don’t consider the Berbick fight significant) with Larry Holmes.

Louis’ biggest weaknesses were slow feet, a stationary fighting style, and a propensity to get tagged with lead right hands. His first fight with Max Schmeling in ’36 serves as an absolute clinic for any fighter to see the results of a low left. He actually had the tendency to go into a defensive lapse while stalking opponents. Billy Conn had Louis out on his feet while Joe stood awkwardly in front of him. He landed a combination, including right crosses and left hooks.

Do you know how this match goes yet? You should. Look at the strengths and weaknesses and factor in some of your own observations. Here is the result of the matchup. Ali wins by technical knockout in 8. If you correctly analyzed the strengths and weaknesses, you would take note of the fact that Louis was pretty stationary and not that great at cutting off the ring. He was susceptible to Ali’s bread and butter punch, the right cross, and your own knowledge of Joe Louis should have brought up a light bulb that said Ali’s lack of super punching power would be somewhat neutralized by the size difference. Louis was hurt and knocked down by men who weighed less than 190 pounds. Schmeling was far from a brutal puncher. Billy Conn hurt Louis more with the speed and volume of his punches than with power. There’s another clincher. Ali’s combinations would’ve been pretty overwhelming. Depending who you believe, Conn was either just over or just under 170 pounds. Ali’s best fighting weight was around 210.

In this fight, I could see Louis landing just a few right crosses, but none flush and with very little effect on Ali. His hook would often fall short, as Louis rarely committed his body to it like Frazier did. It would be an extremely frustrating and downright gut-wrenching night for Louis fans. Ali would toy with him. He would land combinations at will. Louis would plod forward, trying to land his thunder, but by the 5th round would be shy about that as well, having tasted many punishing jabs and combinations. After a couple knockdowns, the referee would rescue the Brown Bomber in ring center.

As you Louis fans (I am also one) read this, remember what I stated earlier. It doesn’t remove Louis’ greatness. His 25 successful defenses of the title are arguably more impressive than Marciano’s retiring as undefeated heavyweight champ. He took on all comers and destroyed nearly all of them. He avenged his defeat to Schmeling in famous fashion. He avenged his later career defeat to Jersey Joe Walcott. He even avenged his near-defeat to Billy Conn. He was classy inside and outside of the ring and an overall great memento of the sport. He belongs to true boxing fans like a prized jewel that is kept in a double locked safe in the heart of a rich family mansion.

The result of this dream matchup is unarguable and scientific. It is also spiritual because of the pop tart. If you violently disagree with me, drop me a line. Pull up a beer and a chair and curse at me. I love those kinds of debates. Oh, and those of you who agree with my inspired wisdom should obviously write me too, so I feel as if I’m part of a big group hug.

Your comments and threats to my personal well-being will be selectively, and as space permits, included in future installments. You can address your comments, including what you would like to see in future issues to (if typing it out, don’t forget the underscore).

As if that weren’t enough, here are my picks for the top 5 heavyweight champions of all time.

1. Muhammad Ali
2. Joe Louis
3. Rocky Marciano
4. Larry Holmes
5. Jack Dempsey

Some may raise an eyebrow at the name of Larry Holmes so high on the list. I believe that some are begrudging of recognition of Larry Holmes for personal reasons. Holmes would never make the top five based on personality or popularity. However, an honest look at his record and a review of his tapes would say otherwise. Some point to Alfredo Evangelista and Ossie Ocasio and say he didn’t fight anyone. Baloney. Every champ had their Evangelistas and Ocasios. Look at the names on the record. Norton. Shavers (twice). Spinks. Ali (even though over the hill at the time). Weaver. Cooney. Often the matchup was discredited after the fight. He had a ramrod jab that was harder than the average power punch. He was tough as they come. (Remember the Shavers right hand in Holmes-Shavers II? This was the Holmes version of Ali’s receipt of Joe Frazier’s hook in their first meeting.) His punch was more than adequate to knock most men out. His frequent no-shows on all-time lists go beyond the reality of his skills, ability and greatness.

The ghost of Muhammad Ali and the presence of Sugar Ray Leonard overshadowed Larry Holmes. Ali and Leonard made boxing popular and brought the masses to watch beyond the typical boxing fan. Holmes was a bit sour, a bit reactive, and a bit angry. Similarly to George Foreman, his popularity dramatically increased, but very late in his career, as he demonstrated amazing skills at an advanced boxing age.

Digest the top 5, and by all means, tell me why you may think that I am being silly. As mentioned before, these types of comments will be included, as space permits, in future issues of Scar Tissue.

Once again, send your comments to I would love to hear from you. Now, I gotta go. It’s time to pop in my tape of Foreman-Lyle for about the 100th time…Yeehaaw!!
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