Originally Posted by cross_trainer
There are two schools of thought on Joe Louis's opposition: Either it was poor (no standout fighters), or that it was good, but Louis's dominance PREVENTED any standout fighters from emerging because he destroyed everyone with ease.
I ascribe to the second school of thought. Think about this for a moment--some of Louis's most highly rated opponents (Schmeling, Baer, Walcott, Braddock, even Carnera) made their careers before or after Louis's prime years. I doubt very much that new talent simply disappeared circa 1937 and reemerged in 1949, even accounting for the effects of the war. There must have been a "would have been" ATG heavyweight somewhere in the mix during Louis's prime.
Question: Did Louis have significantly more trouble with his most highly rated opponents (aside from the first Schmeling loss) than he did with the top contenders during his peak? Again, mostly not. Carnera was annihilated, Baer was annihilated, Schmeling was annihilated once Joe corrected his mistake, and Braddock was (gamely) beaten up after a smidgeon of early success. Only Walcott did well, and it was at the tail end of Louis's career (Walcott lost twice anyway, once by brutal knockout).
Now ask yourself: What if Baer, Schmeling, Carnera, Braddock, and Walcott had come into their primes during Louis's peak years...say, in 1940 or 1941? If that was the case, they would never have made their marks as champions or dominant contenders, and we would dismiss them (just like we dismiss many of Louis's peak opponents) as bums of the month that Louis destroyed...even if you keep the fight results identical.
Most fighters are very lucky they live in competitive, Louis-free eras. Ironically, the harder you struggle against your opposition, the better your opposition is rated.
There is a lot to ponder here. My first thoughts are Louis opposition as a whole is average by championship standards. The best fighters Louis meet in the Ring were Schmeling, Walcott, Charles, and Marciano, and each one of these men defeated Louis except for Walcott who was robbed of a decision in Madison Square Garden. Louis managers of course had a speical contract with Madison Square Garden. While age had a lot to do with Louis' defeats to Charles and Marciano, the point here was looking at the best fighters Louis meet.
The next best group of fighters Louis fought was B Baer, Godoy, Farr, and Conn. Each fighter had there share of moments vs Louis. Baer floored him, Godoy might have won the first fight via decision, Farr vs Louis was rather close, and if the Conn fight was 12 rounds, the Pittsburgh kid would have been a heavyweight champion at 168 pounds.
We don't know how Louis would have done vs Liston, Ali, Holmes or Tyson, but in my opinion Liston, Ali, Holmes, and Tyson would not struggle to defeat Baer, Godoy, Farr, and Conn. I beleive Liston, Ali, Holmes or Tyson were far better than Schmeling, Baer, Walcott, Braddock, and Carnera. So I would say Louis was well suited to fight in the time line he did.
The early 1930's were the graveyard years of heavyweight boxing. Nat Fleischer wrote that heavyweight boxing was on life support when Carnera was champion.
If Schmeling, Baer, Walcott, Braddock, or Carnera made their careers before or after Louis's prime years, I doubt they would be viewed as special fighters simply because they were not consistent enough in the ring. I can't see Schmeling, Baer, Walcott, Braddock, or Carnera beating the better champions before or after them. While an upset is possible, their ring records in a weak 1930's / 1940's heavyweight division was too inconstant to suggest they would be great in other era's.