March 21. This Date in Boxing History: The Brown Bomber Wins the Last 20-Round Title Fight.
On March 21, 1941, Joe Louis retained his title with a 13th round stoppage of Abe Simon in last major fight scheduled for 20 rounds. The venue was Detroit's Olympia Stadium, a facility best known as the home of the Red Wings.
Bouts with a 20-round ceiling were common in some parts of the country prior to World War I and then fell into the dustbin of history. It took an act of the state legislature to install 20-round fights in Michigan. The measure was approved in 1935.
The catalysts were hard times and Joe Louis.
In 1935, Michigan, like the rest of the country, was clawing out of the Great Depression. The 20-round allowance was seen as a useful aid to landing a mega-fight, an event that would goose up the economy.
Those that championed the new law had one particular fight in mind, Joe Louis vs. Max Baer, a surefire blockbuster. Seemingly headed to Detroit, the negotiations hit a snag, diverting the bout to Yankee Stadium where it drew the largest crowd in the sporting life of New York (84,831 paid).
The 20-round "allurement" was still in effect when Louis returned to the city that hewed him for two bouts during the early portion of his title reign. He defeated Bob Pastor (KO 11) in his first 20-round bout.
Abe Simon hailed from Queens, New York. A big hulk of a man, he bore a passing resemblance to Boris Karloff's Frankenstein. Reporters seeking an adjective to cast him in a favorable light were partial to "sturdy." The wise guys said he stood no chance against Joe Louis and predicted a short fight.
Simon muted his detractors with a respectable showing. He trailed 9-2-1, 7-4-1, and 3-1-8 (!) on the scorecards through the completed rounds. That was sufficient to earn him a second shot at the title.
He didn't perform as well in the sequel. The Brown Bomber was lethal in rematches.