HBO are the masters of the documentary world, and this special about Joe Louis is a remarkable look at this great boxer. The first Black sportsman to gain fame with both the white and black community. However he was not without controversy, and he certainly did not start like as the grand master of the boxing ring. In his first amateur bout he managed to get knocked to the floor seven times eliciting a rather sting rebuke from his trainer “I thought you was an elevator, up down, up down”. Of course this losing streak did not last long, after 50 amateur bouts, Joe Louis turned pro and there was no stopping this powerhouse of the boxing ring.

Using archival film footage, stills, and commentary from people who remember the events, or who has studied the history of Joe Louis fill out this great documentary.

Alas the US was was still a very racially driven culture in the 30’s, 40’s and even the 50’s. Joe Louis might be a fabulous boxer, he was black. This caused a rift and a problem within the press and indeed his personal life. The predominantly white press had to acknowledge his prowess, but did it grudgingly.

The period 1936 to 1938 were maybe the pivotal year for Joe Louis, 36 saw him blow his chance to gain easy access to the heavy weight title route, he lost a bout to German Max Schmeling, this loss was primarily due to lack of training and over confidence. As with any ‘industry’ it is not what you know, but who you know, and Joe Louis found himself with a chance at the title against James J. Braddock. Joe captured the title in a nail biting fight, that had Joe on the ropes in the early rounds.

1938 though was the most crucial period of all time in Joe Louis’s career. Although the second world war had not yet broken out, the Nazi machine was on the move. Max Schmelling had become a poster child for the Hitler movement, and a title bout was scheduled for New York. Without doubt this was the most important fight in Joe Louis’s career. It was not about boxing, this was about pride in your country.

Clearly the Rocky movie franchise got the idea for Rocky IV from Joe Louis.

There is much more to this rich story, and my suggestion is that you tune in to HBO on Saturday the 23rd of February at 8pm Eastern, that way you to will know all about the great Joe Louis. There is also a web page worth checking out.

Simon Barrett

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