WHEN BILLY Conn turned pro in January 1935, he hardly performed like a future Hall of Famer, losing six of his first 14 fights. But by September of that year, Conn put together a 27-fight unbeaten streak that included victories over Fritzie Zivic, Babe Risko, Vince Dundee and Teddy Yarosz.
Conn won the 175-pound crown in 1939 established himself as an all-time great. He won two non-title fights against reigning world middleweight champion Fred Apostoli, decisioned NBA middleweight king Solly Krieger in another non-title tilt, and then won the vacant world light heavyweight title by beating Melio Bettina. One month after he became champion, he beat future heavyweight title challenger Gus Dorazio, retained his own title in a rematch against Bettina, and outpointed Gus Lesnevich, a future light heavyweight champion.
Conn is clearly one of the greatest light heavyweight champions in boxing history. But he will forever be remembered for his near-upset of heavyweight champion Joe Louis. When Conn fought Louis in 1941, Louis had dispatched every top heavyweight in the division.
Conn employed speed and skill to gain an advantage over Louis. Winning easily, Conn increased his attack in the 13th round and that was ultimately his undoing. Louis knocked out the light heavyweight with two seconds left in the round. At the time, Conn led on the scorecards 7-5 and 7-4-1 in rounds. A third judge had it six rounds each.
Conn would lose the rematch to Louis. But between those fights he managed to beat future Hall of Famer Tony Zale. He retired in 1948.
Born: Oct. 8, 1917
Died: May 29, 1993