Saturday, June 30, 2007

Louis in Newport, Marciano in Swansea

Exactly 63 years ago today, in 1944, the great Joe Louis fought an exhibition bout in Newport. The event took place at the Newport Athletic Club ground (Rodney Parade). Basically the Brown Bomber did a bit of sparring with a Golden Gloves winner called Keen Simmons. Refereeing the bout was Corporal Jackie Wilson, himself a former welter-weight world champion.

At the time Louis was serving in the US army. Most of his stint in the military was spent travelling around Europe taking part in morale boosting exhibition fights and meeting the troops. Although he was a sporting superstar at the time purses for his shows (including the Newport one) were handed straight over to the US government.

Whilst Louis was putting on an exhibition in Newport further down the coast in Swansea was stationed a young Rocky Marciano. Marciano had yet to embark upon his equally glorious pugilistic career. Legend has it that after getting into a scrap in Swansea's Wind Street Marciano was given a choice by military police of going to prison or stepping into the ring. He wisely chose the latter.

So in 1944 for a brief spell two of the greatest boxers in history were on Welsh soil at the same time. A nice coincidence. Joe Louis, of course, knew nothing of Marciano's existence back then. However their paths would eventually cross. In 1951 when Louis was well past his prime he fought the up-and-coming Italian-American. Marciano destroyed him in 8 rounds and Louis quit the ring immediately afterwards.