Boxer Joe Brown made his professional debut at age seventeen at the Victory Arena in New Orleans.
No boxer in the history of the sport engaged in more bouts than did Joe Brown, a pugilist who became known as “Old Bones” in his later years, when he entered the ring long after most of his peers had retired. Of his 104 victories spanning twenty-seven years, forty-seven were by knockouts.
Born into crushing poverty in Baton Rouge on May 18, 1926, Brown worked a variety of odd jobs as a teenager before he took up boxing. He turned professional at seventeen, making his debut on January 15, 1943, at the Victory Arena in New Orleans against Ringer Thompson, winning the four-round bout on points. Brown had another six fights before he was drafted into the US Navy. During World War II, Brown participated in seven Pacific invasions during his twenty-one months of service. Between landings, he captured the All-Service Lightweight Championship.
Following his discharge in 1945, Brown’s return to boxing was uneven: he won only one out of his first four fights. Like many aspiring boxers of the time, Brown fought for grocery money, frequently as an undercard match for the main event at the Coliseum Arena or Pelican Stadium. Between 1946 and 1955, he fought eighty-eight bouts, an average of nearly nine times per year.
Brown battled his way through the lightweight ranks, finally earning a title shot on August 24, 1956, against Wallace “Bud” Smith at the Municipal Auditorium. Brown’s sharp jabs and stunning right-hand hook earned him the title in a fifteen-round split decision. Smith’s side claimed it was a hometown decision, but Brown settled any doubts during the rematch on February 2, 1957, in Miami, Florida, knocking Smith out in the eleventh round to retain his title. Brown defended his title twelve times, winning eleven of them. On April 12, 1962, the thirty-six-year-old Brown lost to Carlos Ortiz at the Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a fifteen-round decision.
Rather than retire, Brown continued to fight all over the country and the world, traveling to the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Panama, Jamaica, and South Africa. His final fight came on August 24, 1970, at age forty-four, when Brown faced off against twenty-three-year-old Dave Oropeza at the Riverside Ballroom in Phoenix, Arizona. Brown lost the ten-round decision.
Brown was named The Ring magazine’s Fighter of the Year in 1961. He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1978, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.
He died in New Orleans on December 4, 1997.