At 17 years old, Joe Louis started his amateur boxing career, which concluded with a 50–3 record. Unfortunately, racial issues in America turned a lot of people off to him. Louis eventually won the world championship, but it didn’t come without controversies.

A change of plans

After losing to Max Schmeling on June 19, 1936, Louis saw himself moving further away from the championship. While a loss is a loss, Schmeling, who earned a shot at the belt, was a different case. He was a huge hero over in Nazi Germany. “Blacks all across this country were totally defeated. It was almost like with every blow that Max Schmeling struck to my father, it was a blow to every individual, in particular blacks, listening on the radio,” Louis’ son Joe Louis Barrow Jr. told ESPN.

If Schmeling did win the title, Louis would never get a shot at it. He probably wouldn’t have been able to take a selfie with the championship. With so much negativity surrounding Schmeling, people were fearful for their careers. Joe Gould, who managed world champion, James J. Braddock, knew the bigger potential behind a Braddock/Louis fight. After speaking with Louis’ people, Gould was able to make the switch behind Schmeling’s back.

From NYC to Chicago

Following the switch, another major problem stood in Louis’ way. The New York Commission wanted a Schmeling/Braddock match, and they wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. If they chose to have the Louis/Braddock match at Madison Square Garden, it wouldn’t be for the championship. Fortunately, another change happened as promoters moved the match to Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

Let’s get it on

On June 22, 1937, Braddock and Louis clashed for the championship. Having an African American in the title match was a huge deal for boxing fanatics. At that point, there wasn’t an African American champion since Jack Johnson. 22 years since Johnson lost the title, people were crowding bars across America to witness history. Louis found himself on the floor following a wicked jab from Braddock in the bout’s opening minute. After getting back up, Louis wasted little time going to work on Braddock. In the eighth round, Louis knocked his opponent out cold to be declared the winner. With the championship in his possession,  Louis would successfully defend it for 12 straight years. Louis’ rise to the top influenced every African American boy looking to step into the ring.