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Joe Louis vs Helio Gracie – what if

NB: Authour, Flipside story. I intend to write a series of alternate

history stories featuring great fighters and events

hypothesising on the outcome. In the case of this story I have given

two alternate endings. Please enjoy.

Please note this story is not entirely historically accurate, it is set roughly in 1950–51.

Gene LeBelle did not win the AAU National Judo title until 1954 and 55.

Because it is speculative fiction it is based on perspective, opinion and uncertain facts. There are two ‘outcomes’ as it is hypothetical and the authour wished to illustrate two possibilities in respect to these great legends.

Harold Trenton is a fictitious boxing-sports commentator in the mould of Harold Cosell.

Note: This was inspired by an article that Black belt magazine ran on a Bruce Lee vs Muhammad Ali Boxing match. Hopefully this is a little more realistic and unbiased compared to that piece of fiction.

Harold Trenton “ When the former Heavyweight Champion, Joe Louis visited the South American country of Brazil a family of fighters decided to immortalise themselves and challenge the Brown Bomber to a No-Holds Barred match inside of a Boxing ring. Readers Digest, Time magazine and several firms inside of Brazil and the US all donated to the astronomical purse of one million dollars. “

“ This is the scene that has been set for this Boxer versus Martial Arts event, the martial arts master is a national hero of Brazil, Helio Gracie the co-founder of his family’s art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. A modified hybrid of Judo of Japan and college style wrestling. The Brown Bomber has expressed interest in winning this fight as the purse will do a lot to help him pay of his back taxes accumulated during the war years.”

“ Helio Gracie has etched a name for himself here in Brazil where he has challenged all comers ranging from Boxers, Wrestlers and Judo masters from the Orient. His family of brawlers seem arrogant in their quest to be known as the world’s best fighters. Will the former Heavyweight champion of the world be able to knock out the much smaller yet gamey Jiu Jitsu master in Helio Gracie.”

“ We are ringside and only moments away from the fighter’s entrance, it is a packed open stadium here in Sao Paulo, where a huge crowd has packed out the large venue. Press the world over have come to this, what many inside Boxing specialists have called a mere spectacle. Others have called it a battle of skill and might in the tradition of the ancient Olympics of bi-gone era’s. Whatever the opinion, this event has garnered tremendous coverage and publicity the world over. Even over shadowing recent developments on the Korean peninsula. I am joined ringside with two men who have unique perspectives on this historic match, they are Gene LeBelle the American Judo champion who has had lots of experience in Eastern martial arts as well as Boxing. The other man is the current world Welterweight and Featherweight Champion Sugar Ray Robinson who has achieved a lot in the world of Boxing himself, as well as being a friend of the former Heavyweight Champion.

Sugar Ray Robinson “ I am excited to be here it’s a lovely place here in Brazil, plus I have been fascinated by a fight like this. “

Gene LeBelle “Hello all, it’s a great privilege to be sitting here with the world champion. I’d like to say that while I do not know a great deal about these Gracie’s I am familiar with Judo and the martial arts, and while Boxing is a great sport, it is incomplete, you need to know how to punch, and throw someone so that you can break their arm or choke them out, or do both at once. “

Robinson “Gene, Joe is no average Joe, he is the former world champ and he can throw a punch that will easily knock out anyone before they manage to grab hold of him. I agree, having grown up in rough neighbourhoods, you need more than just boxing, but Boxers are very conditioned sportsmen who are not only strong but also have a developed savvy. And Joe has a lot of that. “

LeBelle “No argument here from me, Champ. But all I am saying unless Joe has been learning how to defend against the grab or throw then I can’t see him doing too well especially if this Helio character takes him to the mat. I know he is capable at that as he beat Kato a very good Judoka.”

Trenton “I’m sorry, but a what?”

LeBelle “A Judoka, meaning Judo player.”

Trenton “ Ok Gene, now the fighters are making their entrances and the crowd here certainly is alive. The best way to describe this atmosphere is..wild.”

Robinson “I’d be surprised if there was not more than one fight in here tonight.”

Trenton “Joe has the current world champion in his corner tonight as well, Ezzard Charles, apparently, Charles has come in prior to this match to help Joe train. The rules are basically no-holds barred, both parties agreed to extended rounds of ten minutes. The Gracie’s tried to get Joe to agree on wearing a Judo top.”

LeBelle “A Gi top, Id imagine they would want that because it would help him greatly with the throws and strangle holds while on the ground. “

Robinson “But a Boxer does not wear a jacket like that when they fight, that would be like asking Helio to wear Boxing gloves. “

Trenton “ Well Louis is not going to wear the jacket, ah..Gi just like Helio will not be wearing gloves. Now Joe was uncertain as to whether or not he would wear gloves and if so what size. He has been training with eight ounces, but only until yesterday he decided on wearing just the hand wraps. This way, as Joe said, in case Helio does come inside and grab him, then he himself would also be able to wrestle easier.”

Robinson “ My man is entering the ring, he looks in good shape, he weighed in at just over two hundred pounds. I think we may see something like his re-match with Schmelling maybe even quicker than that.”

Le Belle “If what I have seen and heard of Gracie I doubt he will give Joe a chance to punch, If I were to say approach a fight like this, I’d try to do everything I could that would stop me from eating that big fist of Joe’s. I mean I like to win and dish out the pain, not receive it.”

Trenton “Now Helio has entered the ring with a rather large entourage, all family members no doubt. Helio is weighing in at one hundred fifty-five pounds, Id imagine a few more with that uniform on.”

Robinson “ He is crazy to fight Joe at such a light weight, I’m heavier than him and I would never face Joe, he is just too heavy and too good. Joe could and most likely will do some serious damage to the Brazilian.”

LeBelle “Definitely a clear weight advantage to Joe, but this is not a Boxing match and this Gracie character may look skinny, but it’s that sinewy kind of build, real wiry and snake like.”

Trenton “Gracie is no stranger to these all-out type of fights, he has fought in countless matches against different types of men heavier and lighter. But the question stands were any of those fighters near the skill level of Joe Louis?”

Robinson “No way”

LeBelle “ I agree, but again this is not Boxing, while a fight and a Boxing match is similar it is like comparing sprinting and the marathon, one is a segment of the other. I hear these types of matches are not only legal here in Brazil but are also extremely popular. The locals call it Vale’ Tudo, which means all out or anything goes.”

Trenton “Moments away from the opening round of this huge event, the referee is giving the final instructions. Joe looks not only taller but much stockier than Helio. Helio has a cold focused look on his face.”

Trenton “The first of the modified rounds is on its way. Helio is in a strange posture his hands held low like an old-style boxer of the Corbet, Sulivan era. Joe has his hands up and is moving towards Helio.”

Robinson “Joe is cutting of the ring, some argue that Joe has slow and awkward foot work, but the man is a magician inside that ring, regardless of rules or opponent.”

LeBelle “ Helio is smart, he is waiting for Joe to lead, he is dropping his lead hand so that Joe might throw an overhand right or a cross, that way he can come in much easier.”

Trenton “So effectively Helio is trying to draw a lead from Joe, getting him to initiate. There is that Louis pawing type Jab. It misses Helio but I’m sure the Brazilian is shocked at how fast the former champ is.”

Robinson “ If Joe hits you with one of his Jabs he can paralyse you, many a fighter has been destroyed that way.”

Trenton “ Joe is moving in he looks determined to get this fight over so that he can collect the purse. Helio is moving backwards, oh, there is a punch from Helio, an awkward type of jab I guess.”

Robinson “Just an arm punch nothing at all. Billy Conn tried twice to run from Joe, but he could punch and Box, I can’t see Helio doing that at all. And we all know what happened when he caught up with Conn.”

LeBelle “ Haha, I love this Brazilians game, he looks like he wants to box, by the way he is flicking out those pitty patty girl punches. None are even in the same ball park as Joe. Joe looks reasonably patient though, not forcing anything or giving Helio any opportunities to crash in and throw. Joe is a real class act.”

Trenton “ Oh, look at that, Joe threw the right hand and immediately Helio swooped in momentarily grabbing Joe by the trunks. Joe is moving out of it well. “

LeBelle “ Close but no banana. Joe has done his homework, he moved laterally and got a nice hook into Helio’s side. Let’s hope for Helio’s sake that his gi is also armoured.”

Robinson “ I think Joe should have followed up straight away, instead of letting Helio get out alive. Joe can easily knock pro boxers out with punches coming from under six inches. A guy like Helio that has no chin all he has to do is move an inch.”

LeBelle “Well it hasn’t happened yet.”

Trenton “ Joe is coming in and wow a nice jab, followed by a cross, its hit Helio, he has fallen to his back. Helio is on his back, he fell backwards immediately as Joe hit him.”

LeBelle “ That is clever, now he is on the mat where he wants to be but without Joe to play with. By going down like that he is doing something Joe is unfamiliar with, he is changing the rules of Joe’s game.”

Robinson “ This is stupid, how long is Helio going to lay on his back, Joe is not going to get on his hands and knees and just wrestle with him. If I were Joe, I’d try to throw punches at his legs which are up in the air.”

Trenton “ Every time Joe comes in Helio kicks his knee or thigh region, one of those kicks landed hard and Joe showed it in his face.”

LeBelle “ A boxer certainly has never been kicked before so It would hurt. I like this style of butt fighting. There is another kick, that one went deep into Joe’s magic place, let’s hope Joe was smart enough to wear a cup.”

Robinson “That’s dishonourable, I don’t care if its no-holds barred you don’t throw low blows.”

LeBelle “ All is fair in love and war, hey, I liked that, the way Helio scooped himself back up to his feet and as he did it he kicked Joe in the knee, that is clever.”

Trenton “But does he want to be up top on his feet with Joe? At least laying on the floor Joe could not hurt him.”

Robinson “Here comes Joe now, nice double jab, one of those caught Helio clean on the eye. But he still managed to slip the second.”

Trenton “ Helio is finally where he wants to be, can he throw the heavy Joe though?”

LeBelle “ He is nice and low, that way Joe cannot hurt him with his hands, Helio looks like he is sliding around to Joe’s back. Luckily for Louis, he is not wearing big heavy gloves. He can hold onto the gi and keep Helio from getting behind him. The ring is really keeping Joe up, he has one arm wrapped around it, let’s see how Helio dislodges him from that corner.”

Robinson “Joe should throw some shots now that he is in close like this.”

LeBelle “Yeah but then he has to let go of the gi top or the ropes and then Helio would be able to drag him down.”

Trenton “ I guess either by laying on the floor or standing behind Louis, Helio would be at his safest.”

Robinson “ Or by not being in the ring at all.”

LeBelle “ Watch now, see Helio getting his leg next to Joe’s here it comes, and down they go, a perfect trip. Now Joe is in trouble.”

Robinson “ Come on Joe, get back up, now I must say as a boxer there is not much he can do, Helio is on top and all. Joe can still punch though”

Trenton “Helio is on top, from a side position, what type of hold is that Gene?”

LeBelle “ It is called I am going to finish the fight hold. From here, Joe has better keep his arms in and not make too many mistakes, if he has done any type of wrestling he can still win this.”

Trenton “ Look at Joe’s strength he pushed the small Helio of and rolled on top what a reversal of positions now he is on top, he is punching wildly at Helio.”

Robinson “This is like Boxing without your legs, Joe is doing a lot of damage, he is banging at the ribs and going for the head, Helio’s legs seem to be getting in the way a lot though, messing up Joe’s shots.”

LeBelle “This kid is laying on the hurt, but Helio is smart, even though he has been hurt, he is using his legs to block and in effect control Joe’s arms. Joe is making a mistake here..”

Trenton “Joe is holding Helio down with his left arm wrapped around Helio’s throat, he is getting his right hand cocked, trying to free it from Helio’s leg.”

Robinson “ For a little guy he knows how to control Joe well, but when Joe lands that punch any minute, what happened?”

LeBelle “ That my friend is the straight arm lock, by having his arm straight Joe gave Helio all that he needed. Joe better tap if he wants to box after this.”

Trenton “ Joe looks to be in pain he is trying to stand up, but Helio is attached to his arm, he is really holding on.”

LeBelle “ He may break it, that juji gatame is on real tight.”

Trenton “ Louis conceded defeat, he said he quits, Joe Louis just submitted to an arm hold. “

Robinson “ Oh my, I hope Joe is alright, that was a nifty move, I will give credit where it is due, that was a clever thing.”

LeBelle “On the ground Joe was a fish out of water, Helio was smart he defended Joe’s punches and waited for an opening much like a Boxer would wait to see a mistake in his opponent’s game. Then by straightening his arm Joe got caught.”

Trenton “ We are here with Joe Louis and after a valiant effort and fight Joe, what are your thoughts?”

Joe Louis “ I was un prepared to fight on the floor like that, he was stronger than he looked. Fighting is fighting and Boxing is boxing. I think if I learnt some wrestling I would be able to fight better. But it was experience and money honestly. I’m still going to be World Champ and this loss will not affect that at all.”

Trenton “ Thank you, Joe and good luck with your trail back to the title.”

Trenton “ The victor and a not surprisingly elated Helio Gracie, what are your thoughts?”

Helio Gracie (through interpreter) “ Joe Louis is a great champion boxer, but in a fight, you need to know more, Gracie Jiu Jitsu techniques are effective for real fighting. I proved that and am willing to prove it time and time again.”

Trenton “ Well there you go.”


LeBelle “ Watch now, see Helio getting his leg next to Joe’s here it comes, and down they go, a perfect trip. Now Joe is in trouble.”

Robinson “ Come on Joe, get back up, now I must say as a boxer there is not much he can do, Helio is on top and all. Joe can still punch though”

LeBelle “ Of course he can still punch but he no longer has anything behind them.”

Trenton “ This is a different world for Joe, but he has rolled Helio onto his back, Helio is still holding on, he has Joe wrapped up.”

LeBelle “ It may seem that Joe is in control because he is on top but that is not the case, Helio is in a sense controlling things from downstairs.”

Robinson “ Joe should start throwing shots to Helio’s ribs, he has perfect angle, there we go, a few more like that and Helio will be in a lot of trouble.”

Trenton “ That big right hook to Helio’s side seemed to rock him and it even unclasped his legs that are tight and secure around Joe’s waist. Look at the way Helio is using his legs to stop those punches.”

LeBelle “ He is like an octopus with four arms, Joe is smart alright he has his head tucked his body low and is controlled with his shots. I’d say Joe has done some preparation for this.”

Robinson “ I think Joe can knock Helio out from here, if he throws a few to the body then one to the head, it may end real soon.”

Trenton “ Joe has his head tucked on Helio’s stomach, Helio is holding Joe with his legs while his right arm drops elbows to the top of Joe’s head.”

LeBelle “ It is anything goes. Joe is one smart cookie, those elbows would hurt the average man, I highly doubt it is even scratching the surface on Joe.”

Robinson “ That is the type of combo’s I am talking about, two to the ribs and one to the face, the one up top missed but Joe is making Helio worry, I reckon”

Trenton “ Joe has fired another, and another, that last one looked painful, he is opening up now, hard shots right into Helio’s body, Helio has unwrapped his legs. Joe is up.”

LeBelle “ Oh my, Joe is on his feet now, Helio is still on the ground putting his ribs back into alignment Id imagine.”

Trenton “ There is that fancy return to your feet scoop that Helio did earlier, this first round must be coming to a close soon.”

Robinson “ Helio looks cocky, but Joe is coming forwards.”

LeBelle “ Helio is confident that he can take Joe down again, let’s hope he controls things better on the floor. There is a feint, Joe reacted quickly with a jab then uppercut.”

Robinson “ Helio would be smart not to be anywhere near Joe when he throws them.:”

Trenton “ Joe is right in front of Helio he is determined to KO him he does not want to go back down to the mat.”

Robinson “ If I were Joe I’d wait for Helio to come in after my jab or right and then catch him with some inside punches like an uppercut and some sharp hooks.”

LeBelle “I agree, though it is easier said than done when the other guy does not want to box it out.”

Trenton “ Wow, and it is all over, Joe Louis has laid out with a fast KO Helio Gracie. Gracie tried to move in for a grab or clinch and Joe met him with a Jab that rocked him followed with a right cross that nearly took his head off.”

Robinson “ That is what I was talking about, I give a lot of credit to Helio for facing Joe, but it was in my opinion a mismatch.”

LeBelle “ That was impressive, Joe always had a punchers chance, Helio was too keen to come in on him and he was met with Joe’s might. Now Helio will be eating through a straw, I just hope he likes soup.”

Trenton “After the riot that broke out around ring side we manage to steal this brief interview with Joe, he seems not surprised that he won.”

Louis “ I’m happy that I won and showed that Boxing is a good style of martial defence, I just think it was a mismatch. I was heavier and stronger, he was brave and tough, but he was not used to being hit. I am after all the former world champ and have a lot of experience inside the ring. I hope he is alright.”

Trenton “ After speaking with Joe, we visited Helio who while suffering a broken jaw and nose was able to give us his post fight thoughts.”

Helio “ I am old, I feel that Joe was very lucky, I made a mistake and rushed in he was smart and hit me well. I still believe that Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the most effective martial art. Yes, you do need to learn how to punch and so on, but when taken to the ground like I did to Joe early in the fight you need to learn how to grapple and that is where Jiu Jitsu comes into play. I would like to challenge Joe again after I recover.”

Trenton “ A re-match, may be in the works, but for now Joe will move on to face another heavyweight Boxer the Brockton Block Buster, Rocky Marciano.”

I hope you enjoyed this fiction.

Kym Robinson, July 1999

Published inCombat Sports and FightingMiscellaneous