Billy Conn

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Billy Conn
Statistics
Real name William David Conn
Nickname(s) The Pittsburgh Kid
Rated at Light Heavyweight
Height 6 ft 1 12 in (1.87 m)
Reach 72 12 in (184 cm)
Nationality American
Born (1917-10-08)October 8, 1917
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died May 29, 1993(1993-05-29) (aged 75)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 77
Wins 64
Wins by KO 15
Losses 12
Draws 1
No contests 0

William David "Billy" Conn (October 8, 1917–May 29, 1993) was an American professional boxer and Light Heavyweight Champion famed for his fights with Joe Louis. He had a professional boxing record of 63 wins, 11 losses and 1 draw, with 14 wins by knockout. His nickname, throughout most of his career, was "The Pittsburgh Kid."

Early career[edit]

Conn debuted as a professional boxer on June 28, 1934, losing to Dick Woodward (Frank Colwin Woodward, known as Woody later in his life in California) by a decision in four rounds. His first win came almost a month later, on July 20, against Johnny Lewis, via a knockout in round three.

Conn built a record of 47 wins, 9 losses and 1 draw (tie), with 7 knockout wins, before challenging for the World Light Heavyweight title. Along the way, he beat former or future world champions Fritzie Zivic, Solly Krieger and Fred Apostoli, as well as Teddy Yarosz and Young Corbett III.

On July 13, 1939, he met World Light Heavyweight Champion Melio Bettina in New York, outpointing him in 15 rounds and winning the World LightHeavyweight Championship. Conn defended his title against Bettina and twice against another World Light Heavyweight Champion, Gus Lesnevich, each of those three bouts resulting in 15 round decision wins for Conn. Conn also beat former World Middleweight Champion Al McCoy and heavyweights Bob Pastor, Lee Savold, Gunnar Barlund and Buddy Knox in non-title bouts during his run as World Light Heavyweight Champion.

Personal life[edit]

Billy married Mary Louise Smith, also from Pittsburgh. They have pictures of themselves at the vacation spot Ocean City, New Jersey. Billy did not get along with Mary's father, former MLB champion Greenfield Jimmie Smith. A fight broke out between them in Smith's Squirrel Hill home on Beechwood Boulevard. Conn punched his father-in-law in the head and broke his hand. As a result of the injury, the fight with Joe Louis was postponed. Frank Deford wrote colorfully about the kitchen brawl in his Sports Illustrated story "The Boxer and the Blond".[1]

Joe Louis era[edit]

In May 1941, Conn gave up his Light Heavyweight title to challenge World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis. Conn attempted to become the first World Light Heavyweight Champion in boxing history to win the World Heavyweight Championship when he and Louis met on June 18 of that year, and incredibly, to do so without going up in weight. The fight became part of boxing's lore because Conn held a secure lead on the scorecards leading to round 13. According to many experts and fans who watched the fight, Conn was outmaneuvering Louis up to that point. In a move that Conn would regret for the rest of his life, he tried to go for the knockout in round 13, and instead wound up losing the fight by knockout in that same round himself. Ten minutes after the fight, Conn told reporters, "I lost my head and a million bucks."[2] When asked by a reporter why he went for the knockout, Conn replied famously, "What's the use of being Irish if you can't be thick (i.e. stupid)?" Later he would joke with Louis, "Why couldn't you let me hold the title for a year or so?", to which the Brown Bomber responded, "You had the title for twelve rounds and you couldn't hold on to it."

In 1942, Conn beat Tony Zale and had an exhibition with Louis. World War II was at one of its most important moments, however, and both Conn and Louis were called to serve in the Army. Conn went to war and was away from the ring until 1946.

By then, the public was clamoring for a rematch between him and the still World Heavyweight Champion Louis. This happened, and on June 19, 1946, Conn returned into the ring, straight into a World Heavyweight Championship bout. Before that fight, it was suggested to Louis that Conn might outpoint him because of his hand and foot speed. In a line that would be long-remembered, Louis replied: "He can run, but he can't hide." The fight, at Yankee Stadium, was the first televised World Heavyweight Championship bout ever, and 146,000 people watched it on TV, also setting a record for the most seen world heavyweight bout in history. Most people who saw it agreed that both Conn and Louis' abilities had eroded with their time spent serving in the armed forces, but Louis was able to retain the crown by a knockout in round eight. Conn's career was basically over after this fight, but he still fought two more fights, winning both by knockout in round nine. On December 10, 1948, he and Louis met inside a ring for the last time, this time for a public exhibition in Chicago. Conn would never climb into a ring as a fighter again. He also hung out with Jimmy Ray Devin, brother in law of famous 1954 army boxing champ James Travis Sr. (Boxing record 54-1-1) in Junction City Ks in the 1970 to 1980 era.

Retirement[edit]

Retiring from the ring as a boxer did not mean retiring as a public figure for Conn. Conn, who appeared in a 1941 movie called The Pittsburgh Kid, maintained his boxing skills into his later years. He stepped into the middle of a robbery at a Pittsburgh convenience store in 1990 after the robber punched the store manager. Conn took a swing at the robber and ended up on the floor of the store, scuffling with him. "You always go with your best punch—straight left," Conn told television station WTAE afterward. "I think I interrupted his plans." The robber managed to get away, but not before Conn pulled off his coat, which contained his name and address, making the arrest an easy one. His wife said jumping into the fray was typical of her husband. "My instinct was to get help," she said at the time. "Billy's instinct was to fight."

Conn was a great friend of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney.

As he became an older citizen, he participated in a number of documentaries for HBO and was frequently seen at boxing-related activities until his death in 1993, at the age of 75.

In 1995, Conn's picture appeared on the cover of British pop singer Morrissey's single "Boxers". The photo was taken from an issue of Ring magazine.

Conn is now a member, along with Louis and Zivic, of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

In popular culture[edit]

Billy Conn Boulevard in Pittsburgh, PA
  • Billy Conn was mentioned in the 2006 Hollywood movie, The Black Dahlia.
  • A portion of North Craig Street in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh is named Billy Conn Boulevard.
  • Billy Conn is also mentioned in the classic movie On the Waterfront. In the famous scene in the back of the cab—"I could have been a contender." Rod Steiger (playing Marlon Brando's brother) reflects on Brando's character Terry's early promise as a boxer with the words "You could have been another Billy Conn."
  • London-based band The BibleCode Sundays released an EP of four songs in 2011 titled 'The Pittsburgh kid.' The title track is a tribute to Billy Conn.
  • Billy Conn is also mentioned in the 1966 Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau classic comedy movie The Fortune Cookie. In the apartment scene where Lemmon asks Boom Boom (Ron Rich) "Where'd you learn that? Don't tell me, your father was a Pullman porter", for which Boom Boom replies "He was a fighter, light heavyweight. Once went rounds with Billy Conn."
  • Billy Conn's first fight with Joe Louis is prominently discussed in chapter 42 of Eric Flint's novel 1636: The Eastern Front.

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Current Biography 1941 pp165-166

External links[edit]

Achievements
Vacant
Title last held by
John Henry Lewis
NBA Light Heavyweight Champion
July 13, 1939 – June 5, 1940
Vacated
Succeeded by
Anton Christoforidis
Undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion
July 13, 1939 – June 5, 1940
Vacated
Succeeded by
Gus Lesnevich
Preceded by
Melio Bettina
NYSAC Light Heavyweight Champion
July 13, 1939 - June 5, 1940
Vacated
Awards
Preceded by
Joe Louis
Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year
1940
Succeeded by
Joe Louis
Preceded by
Jack Dempsey
Edward J. Neil Trophy
1939
Succeeded by
Henry Armstrong