Deontay Wilder ended a drought of American heavyweight champions when he won the WBC belt in 2015 – eight years on from the country’s last belt holder, Shannon Briggs.
For that, and his exceptional punching power, Wilder will be remembered in the sport. His achievements, however, will live in the shadow of the legacy of another heavyweight from the state of Alabama – Joe Louis.
Wilder actually took inspiration for his ring monicker – ‘The Bronze Bomber’ – from Louis – ‘The Brown Bomber’ – and recently told ES News that the man who reigned as heavyweight champ from 1937 until 1949 was the one legend he’d like to share the ring with.
“When that question’s asked I’m always gonna say the same thing. I’m always gonna say Joe Louis. Because he was an Alabama native. He was the Brown Bomber, I’m the Bronze Bomber.
Solely because of that reason – the bomber relations, Alabama connections and what he did in his career although they did him wrong. They did him dirty.”
Born in 1914, Joseph Lewis Barrow would go down as one of the most influential sportsmen of all time. With 66 wins from 69 fights – 52 knockouts – the man from LaFayette, Alabama transcended boxing and was one of the first African American athletes to be accepted nationwide.
His career trajectory playing out alongside World War II culminated in a rematch with German, Max Schmeling, whom he knocked out in the first round at Yankee Stadium, New York City. Despite the bigger meaning added to the fight from fans, Schmeling would go on to contribute to Louis’ funeral costs after years of friendship.
As Wilder references, Louis’ life after retirement was marred by issues including drugs, financial issues and paranoia. He died in 1981, with the recorded last words of ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’