Billy Conn

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Billy Conn
BillyConn.jpg
Statistics
Real nameWilliam David Conn
Nickname(s)The Pittsburgh Kid
Weight(s)Light Heavyweight
Height6 ft 1+12 in (187 cm)
Reach72+12 in (184 cm)
Born(1917-10-08)October 8, 1917
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMay 29, 1993(1993-05-29) (aged 75)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
StanceOrthodox
Boxing record
Total fights76
Wins64
Wins by KO15
Losses11
Draws1

William David Conn (October 8, 1917 – May 29, 1993) was an Irish American professional boxer and Light Heavyweight Champion famed for his fights with Joe Louis.[1] 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."[2] He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1990.[3]

Early career[edit]

Conn debuted as a professional boxer winning on July 20, 1934, 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 Light Heavyweight Championship as a result. 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.

Joe Louis Era[edit]

In May 1941, Conn gave up his World 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."[4] 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]?" In his long account in Sports Illustrated of the life and boxing career of Conn, sportswriter Frank Deford wrote that afterwards Conn would joke, "I told Joe later, 'Hey, Joe, why didn't you just let me have the title for six months?' All I ever wanted was to be able to go around the corner where the guys are loafing and say, 'Hey, I'm the heavyweight champeen of the world.' "And you know what Joe said back to me? He said, 'I let you have it for twelve rounds, and you couldn't keep it. How could I let you have it for six months?'"[5]

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.

Personal life[edit]

Billy married Mary Louise Smith, also from Pittsburgh.[5] Billy did not get along with Mary's father, former major league baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds, Jimmy "Greenfield Jimmie" Smith. A fight broke out between them and Conn punched his father-in-law in the head and broke his hand, resulting in postponing the fight with Joe Louis.[which?] Frank Deford wrote colorfully about the kitchen brawl in his Sports Illustrated story "The Boxer and the Blonde".[6]

Retirement[edit]

Conn appeared in a 1941 movie called The Pittsburgh Kid. He maintained his boxing skills into his later years, and at 73 year old 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.

Conn was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

In April 2017 Mary Louise Conn died, at 94.

In popular culture[edit]

Billy Conn Boulevard in Pittsburgh, PA
  • A portion of North Craig Street in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh is named Billy Conn Boulevard.
  • Billy Conn is 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."
  • 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."
  • Conn played a character named Billy Conn in the 1941 film The Pittsburgh Kid, although it was not a biography.

Professional boxing record[edit]

76 fights 64 wins 11 losses
By knockout 15 3
By decision 49 8
Draws 1
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round Date Location Notes
76 Win 64–11–1 Jackie Lyons KO 9 (10) Nov 25, 1948 Sportatorium, Dallas, Texas, U.S.
75 Win 63–11–1 Mike O'Dowd TKO 9 (10) Nov 15, 1948 Macon, Georgia, U.S.
74 Loss 62–11–1 Joe Louis KO 8 (15) Jun 19, 1946 Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York City, New York, U.S. For NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring heavyweight titles
73 Win 62–10–1 Tony Zale UD 12 Feb 13, 1942 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
72 Win 61–10–1 Jay D Turner UD 10 Jan 28, 1942 Municipal Auditorium, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.
71 Win 60–10–1 Henry Cooper UD 12 Jan 12, 1942 Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S.
70 Loss 59–10–1 Joe Louis KO 13 (15) Jun 18, 1941 Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S. For NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring heavyweight titles
69 Win 59–9–1 Buddy Knox TKO 8 (10) May 26, 1941 Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
68 Win 58–9–1 Gunnar Bärlund TKO 8 (10) April 4, 1941 Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
67 Win 57–9–1 Danny Hassett KO 5 (15) Mar 5, 1941 Uline Arena, Washington, D.C., U.S.
66 Win 56–9–1 Ira Hughes TKO 4 (10) Feb 27, 1941 Clarksburg, West Virginia, U.S.
65 Win 55–9–1 Lee Savold UD 10 Nov 29, 1940 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
64 Win 54–9–1 Al McCoy UD 10 Oct 18, 1940 Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Not to be confused with Al McCoy
63 Win 53–9–1 Bob Pastor KO 13 (15) Sep 6, 1940 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
62 Win 52–9–1 Gus Lesnevich UD 15 Jun 5, 1940 Olympia Stadium, Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Retained NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring light heavyweight titles
61 Win 51–9–1 Henry Cooper UD 12 Jan 10, 1940 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
60 Win 50–9–1 Gus Lesnevich UD 15 Nov 17, 1939 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Retained NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring light heavyweight titles
59 Win 49–9–1 Melio Bettina UD 15 Sep 25, 1939 Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Retained NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring light heavyweight titles
58 Win 48–9–1 Gus Dorazio TKO 8 (10) Aug 14, 1939 Shibe Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
57 Win 47–9–1 Melio Bettina UD 15 Jul 15, 1939 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S. Won NYSAC, vacant NBA and The Ring light heavyweight titles
56 Win 46–9–1 Solly Krieger UD 12 May 12, 1939 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
55 Win 45–9–1 Fred Apostoli UD 15 Feb 10, 1939 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
54 Win 44–9–1 Fred Apostoli UD 10 Jan 6, 1939 Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
53 Win 43–9–1 Solly Krieger UD 12 Nov 28, 1938 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
52 Win 42–9–1 Honeyboy Jones PTS 10 Oct 27, 1938 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
51 Win 41–9–1 Ray Actis TKO 8 (10) Sep 14, 1938 Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, California, U.S.
50 Loss 40–9–1 Teddy Yarosz UD 12 Jul 25, 1938 Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
49 Win 40–8–1 Eric Seelig MD 10 May 10, 1938 Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
48 Win 39–8–1 Domenico Ceccarelli PTS 10 April 4, 1938 Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
47 Win 38–8–1 Honeyboy Jones PTS 12 Jan 24, 1938 Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
46 Loss 37–8–1 Solly Krieger UD 12 Dec 16, 1937 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
45 Win 37–7–1 Young Corbett III UD 10 Nov 8, 1937 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
44 Win 36–7–1 Teddy Yarosz SD 15 Sep 30, 1937 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
43 Loss 35–7–1 Young Corbett III PTS 10 Aug 13, 1937 Dreamland Auditorium, San Francisco, California, U.S.
42 Win 35–6–1 Ralph Chong RTD 5 (10) Aug 3, 1937 Idora Park, Youngstown, Ohio, U.S.
41 Win 34–6–1 Teddy Yarosz SD 12 Jun 30, 1937 Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
40 Win 33–6–1 Oscar Rankins SD 10 May 27, 1937 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
39 Win 32–6–1 Vince Dundee UD 10 May 3, 1937 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
38 Win 31–6–1 Eddie Babe Risko UD 10 Mar 11, 1937 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
37 Win 30–6–1 Fritzie Zivic SD 10 Dec 28, 1936 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
36 Win 29–6–1 Jimmy Brown TKO 9 (10) Dec 2, 1936 Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
35 Win 28–6–1 Ralph Chong UD 8 Oct 22, 1936 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
34 Win 27–6–1 Charley Weise UD 10 Oct 19, 1936 Islam Grotto, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
33 Win 26–6–1 Roscoe Manning TKO 5 (10) Sep 21, 1936 Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
32 Win 25–6–1 Honeyboy Jones SD 10 Sep 8, 1936 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
31 Win 24–6–1 Teddy Movan UD 8 Aug 10, 1936 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
30 Win 23–6–1 Teddy Movan UD 8 Jul 30, 1936 Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
29 Win 22–6–1 General Burrows UD 8 Jun 15, 1936 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
28 Win 21–6–1 Honeyboy Jones PTS 10 Jun 3, 1936 Greenlee Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
27 Win 20–6–1 Honeyboy Jones UD 8 May 27, 1936 Greenlee Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
26 Win 19–6–1 Dick Ambrose SD 6 May 19, 1936 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
25 Win 18–6–1 General Burrows PTS 6 April 27, 1936 Moose Lodge, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
24 Win 17–6–1 Steve Nickleash UD 6 April 13, 1936 Moose Lodge, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
23 Win 16–6–1 Steve Nickleash UD 6 Mar 16, 1936 Northside Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
22 Win 15–6–1 Louis Cook UD 8 Feb 17, 1936 Northside Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
21 Win 14–6–1 Louis Cook UD 6 Feb 3, 1936 Northside Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
20 Win 13–6–1 Johnny Yurcini TKO 4 (6) Jan 27, 1936 Northside Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
19 Win 12–6–1 Steve Walters PTS 6 Nov 18, 1935 Northside Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
18 Draw 11–6–1 Teddy Movan PTS 6 Oct 14, 1935 Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
17 Win 11–6 Johnny Yurcini PTS 6 Oct 7, 1935 Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
16 Win 10–6 Johnny Yurcini PTS 6 Sep 10, 1935 Washington, Pennsylvania, U.S.
15 Win 9–6 George Liggins UD 4 Sep 9, 1935 Duquesne Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
14 Loss 8–6 Teddy Movan SD 4 Aug 19, 1935 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
13 Win 8–5 Ray Eberle UD 5 Jul 29, 1935 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
12 Loss 7–5 Teddy Movan PTS 4 Jul 9, 1935 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
11 Loss 7–4 Ralph Gizzy PTS 6 Jun 10, 1935 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
10 Win 7–3 Ray Eberle SD 6 Jun 3, 1935 Hickey Park, Millvale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
9 Loss 6–3 Ralph Gizzy UD 4 April 25, 1935 Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
8 Win 6–2 George Schlee KO 2 (6) April 8, 1935 Moose Lodge, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
7 Win 5–2 Stanley Nagy PTS 4 Mar 13, 1935 Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S.
6 Loss 4–2 Ray Eberle PTS 6 Feb 25, 1935 Moose Lodge, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
5 Win 4–1 Johnny Birek SD 6 Jan 29, 1935 Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
4 Loss 3–1 Pete Leone RTD 3 (6) Nov 12, 1934 Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S.
3 Win 3–0 Paddy Gray PTS 4 Sep 27, 1934 Northside Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
2 Win 2–0 Bob Dorman PTS 6 Aug 30, 1934 Parkersburg, West Virginia, U.S.
1 Win 1–0 Johnny Lewis KO 3 (6) Jul 20, 1934 Valley Bell Park, Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ex-Fighter Billy Conn Dies at 75 : Boxing: He nearly defeated Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship in 1941, but decided to slug it out". Articles.latimes.com. May 30, 1993. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  2. ^ "Billy Conn, 75, an Ex-Champion Famed for His Fights With Louis". NYTimes.com. May 30, 1993. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  3. ^ "Boxing Hall of Fame names first inductees". UPI. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
  4. ^ Current Biography 1941 pp165-166
  5. ^ a b Deford, Frank (June 17, 1985). "The Boxer And The Blonde: Billy Conn won the girl but lost the fight". SI.com. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 30, 2010. Retrieved August 2, 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

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
World Light Heavyweight Champion
July 13, 1939 – June 5, 1940
Vacated
Succeeded by
Preceded by NYSAC Light Heavyweight Champion
July 13, 1939 - June 5, 1940
Vacated