Louis was floored by huge debts

Boxing managers blessed with the
ability to turn paupers into millionaires are worth their weight in gold.

But those who hit the true heights
possess one key ingredient – low cunning.

Joe Gould, who managed ‘Cinderella
Man’ James J Braddock in the 1930s, struck the most incredible, lucrative and
safest deal of all.

After Braddock had defied the odds
to outpoint Max Baer and become world heavyweight king, it was clear he would
have to make his first defence against Joe Louis.

In the racially segregated USA of
the period, no black man since the reviled Jack Johnson had been allowed to
fight for the richest prize in sport for 22 years.

Mike Jacobs, Louis’ promoter,
guaranteed Braddock $500,000 – around $15million in today’s money – to give
Louis his shot.

Gould was aware Braddock had no
chance against Louis but knew that he was in an extremely strong bargaining

So he turned down the offer and
demanded 50 per cent of Louis’ future earnings. That had John Roxborough,
Louis’ manager, spluttering: “50 per cent? Not even 50 cents.”

But Gould was a friend of notorious
Manhattan gangster Owney Madden.

He arranged for two of Madden’s
heavies to take Roxborough for an hour-long car ride to try to scare him into

Gould reduced his demand to 20 per
cent but Roxborough held firm despite the implied threat to his health. When
Gould suggested he and Braddock take just 10 per cent of Louis if he became champion,
Roxborough finally succumbed. He feared Joe might never get his shot.

Gould may have been very shrewd but
could not have foreseen in his wildest dreams that the Brown Bomber, after
knocking out Braddock, would reign for 11 years and eight months and defend the
title 25 times.

It meant he and Braddock collected
a total of $1.5m from Louis – $45m today – until Joe retired undefeated in

As Braddock rightly said: “Not
a bad little annuity.” It ensured he remained wealthy until he died at 68
in 1974.

Sadly, Louis did not enjoy the huge
purses he generated because he literally fought for nothing, so bad was his
contract. It led to him being hound in retirement for income taxes he could
never possibly pay and he died a broken man haunted by debts having relied on
the generosity of others.

Louis’s bizarre story and many
great insights into the boxing scene centred around Madison Square Garden, New
York has been revived in British boxing writer Kevin Mitchell’s excellent analysis
of the sport and the mob’s involvement in the 1930s-50s in Jacob’s Beach: The
Mobs, The Fights, The Fifties.

It also gives an insight into the
lives and careers of some of the greatest fighters of that era including Sugar
Ray Robinson, Jake La Motta, Kid Gavilan and Willie Pep.

Jacob’s Beach by Kevin
Mitchell. Published by Yellow Jersey. Price: $30, 307pp