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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.

May 30, 1993|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Billy Conn, who nearly dethroned heavyweight champion Joe Louis until his ego got in the way, died Saturday of pneumonia. He was 75.

Conn died at a Veterans Affairs hospital in the city where he grew up. VA spokesman David Cowgill said Conn had lived at the hospital for several years.

Conn held the light-heavyweight title, but it was the fight with Louis in June of 1941 for which he became part of boxing lore.

Conn was leading Louis, eight rounds to four, when he made the mistake that was to haunt him for the rest of his life. He tried to slug it out with the champion.

Louis knocked him out during the 13th round.

"I couldn't knock out anybody," Conn recalled in 1987. "And I tried to knock out Joe Louis."

He was living up to his reputation for being cocky and brash.

A rematch was arranged almost immediately, but before the fight could be held, Conn met another opponent who slowed his return to the ring.

A longstanding feud between Conn and his father-in-law, former boxer Jimmy Smith, flared up when Conn and his wife, Mary Louise, took their newly christened child to the Smith home.

Smith took a swing at Conn and the younger man retaliated with a blow to Smith's head. Conn suffered a broken left hand.

After the hand healed, but before the Louis match could be rescheduled, both Conn and Louis were inducted into the Army during World War II. In a rematch after the war, Louis knocked out Conn during the eighth round.

Conn won 63 fights, lost 11 and fought one draw from 1935 until 1948. He was the light-heavyweight champion from July of 1938 until May of 1941.

It all began when he hung around an East Pittsburgh gym to watch the fighters. He quit school in the fifth grade to become a boxer.

Conn is survived by his wife, Mary Louise; three sons, Timothy, William Jr. and Michael; two sisters, Mary Jane Cunningham and Peggy McKenna, and a brother, Frank. Services will be held Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

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