(Joseph Louis Barrow) His father, a sharecropper, died when Louis was four years old, and in 1926 his stepfather took the family to Detroit, where Louis became interested in boxing. At 18 he began an amateur career in the ring.
After winning (1934) the National Amateur Athletic Union light heavyweight title, Louis immediately turned professional. In an unprecedented meteoric rise in professional boxing, Louis—with magnificent physique, lightning punches, and stolid calmness—fought his way from the ranks of beginners to become (1937) the world heavyweight champion by knocking out James J. Braddock in the eighth round at Chicago. In 1938 he knocked out Max Schmeling—who had been the only man ever to defeat Louis (by a 12-round knockout in 1936) in professional boxing—in the first round in New York City.
By the time he announced his retirement from the ring in 1949, Louis, often called the “Brown Bomber” by his admirers, had defended his title a record 25 times, scoring 21 knockouts. Louis came out of retirement in 1950, lost a decision to Ezzard Charles, and was knocked out (1951) by Rocky Marciano, after which he finally retired. In 71 professional bouts Louis was defeated only three times.
See his autobiography (1947).