Joe Louis is often considered to be the best heavyweight in history. He was a classic boxer-puncher, someone who uses his boxing skills to set up his power shots. By all accounts, he didn't like to fight much, but did it because he was very good at it, and it paid the bills rather nicely.
His money problems were legendary. He couldn't say no to anyone, and would often give slight aquaintances money just because they asked. He was a gambler, betting on all kinds of things. He helped uncounted numbers of down-and-out fighters. He bought family members, wives (there were 3 of them), and business associates expensive presents. Contrary to popular opinion, he had many girlfriends and affairs, claiming Lena Horne and Sonja Henne (the skater) among them. In spite of these things, his legacy is assured. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetary.
As a fighter, Louis combined efficiency, sound fundamentals, tremendously fast hands, and crushing power in both hands. He had a heavy, accurate jab that one opponent described as like 'having a lightbulb smashed in your face.' He had a tremendously powerful left hook, and one of the hardest right crosses ever. He could also fight well inside using the 'six-inch punch', in which he punched quickly, accurately, and hard using his bodyweight while his hands travelled a very short distance.
Those that saw him fight, however, remember his patience, his expressionless relentlessness, and his efficiency
. He wasted little movement in the ring. Everything he did was done with a purpose.
His best known win was his first-round knockout of Max Schmeling. In 1936, Schmeling defeated Louis, knocking him out in the 12th round. Schmeling and his trainer had spotted a weakness in Louis' style, in which he dropped his left shoulder whenever he was going to throw his left hand. Schmeling, who was a very respectable 48-7-4 at the time, and an excellent fighter, timed his punches, and caught Louis time and again. The 1938 rematch was made much of by the press of both Germany and the United States, but Louis wanted most to prove that he could beat Schmeling decisively. This he did, in one of the most devastating knockouts in ring history. The left hook that dropped Schmeling, crying out in pain, was so powerful that it reportedly fractured Schmeling's vertebra.
Joe Louis had other memorable fights as well, including his first against former light-heavyweight champion Billy Conn (considered by many to be one of the two or three top light-heavyweights ever), in which Louis injured his right hand early in the fight, and in which master boxer Conn was doing very well indeed before being knocked out in the 13th round. Many consider this to be one of the most thrilling fights in boxing history.