Joe Brown – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Joe Brown was an outstanding New Orleans-based boxer for many years. He won the undisputed lightweight championship of the world in 1956 at the age of 30 and made 11 successful defenses of his title. In 1961, he was named The Ring’s “Fighter of the Year.” He posted a 121-47-14 record, including 55 victories by knockout, in his 27 years as a professional.
Born in Baton Rouge on May 18, 1925, Brown had his first professional fight at the age of 17, winning a four-round decision over Ringer Thompson at the Victory Arena in New Orleans.
He served in the United States Navy in World War II, participating in seven Pacific invasions during his twenty-one months of service. He also captured the All-Service Lightweight Championship during his service.
Between 1946 and 1955, he fought eighty-eight times, an average of nearly nine times per year, often for very limited purses. Most of the fights were at Pelican Stadium or Coliseum Arena (an 8,000-seat arena that existed from 1922 to 1960 on North Roman Street on the edge of the Treme) in New Orleans.
In May of 1956, he defeated reigning lightweight champ Wallace “Bud” Smith in a non-title bout in Houston. Three months later, at age 31, he earned his title shot against Smith at New Orleans’s Municipal Auditorium on August 24.
Despite fracturing his right hand on a second round punch, Brown continued on. He resisted using the injured right hand untilt he 14th round when he kncoked Smith down twice with overhand blows. Those knockdowns were key to him earning the 15-round split decision
“I broke the right hand in the second round when I popped him on the chin,” Brown said. “I gambled in the 14th by throwing the first right since the second round and it really hurt. I had to gamble; it was the only way to win.”
Smith’s corner complained about a hometown decision, so on February 2, 1957, Brown went to Miami and left no doubt, knocking Smith out in the 11th round of their rematch.
Brown successfully defended his title 10 more times – for 17 years, that was the record for consecutive lightweight title defenses. On April 12, 1962, the thirty-six-year-old Brown lost to Carlos Ortiz at the Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a fifteen-round decision.
After losing his title, Brown continued to fight all over the country and the world. He traveled to the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Panama, Jamaica and South Africa. His final fight came on August 24, 1970, at age forty-four, when Brown lost a 10-round decision to twenty-three-year-old Dave Oropeza at the Riverside Ballroom in Phoenix.
“I think Joe Brown, once he added that knockout punch, was phenomenal,” said Les Bonano, a longtime New Orleans promoter and manager. “He was a master technician with a great sense of spacing. Call me biased or whatever, but, as a lightweight, I really don’t think Floyd Mayweather would have beaten the best of Joe Brown.”
After his retirement in 1970, he went on to become a trainer of New Orleans fighters.
He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.
He passed away on December 4, 1997, in New Orleans at the age of 71.