Billy Conn (William David Conn)

Billy Conn

Billy Conn

The Conn-Louis fight in 1941 became a part of boxing lore. Conn, who had a reputation for brashness, was leading Louis by a wide margin 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 in the 13th round.

“I couldn’t knock out anybody,” Conn recalled in 1987. “And I tried to knock out Joe Louis.”

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

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

Smith took a swing at Conn, who retaliated with a blow to Smith’s head. Conn was left with 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. In a rematch in June 1946, Louis knocked out Conn in the eighth round.

Before that fight, it was suggested to Louis that Conn might outpoint him because of his speed of hand and foot.

In a line that would be long-remembered, Louis replied: “He can run, but he can’t hide.”

After that bout, Conn retired. He staged a comeback in 1948, winning two bouts by knockout, and then met Louis in a six-round exhibition in Chicago. After Conn lost on a decision, he retired for good.

Conn won 63 fights, lost 11 and fought one draw from 1935 until 1948 and was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1965. He won the light-heavyweight championship in 1939 on a decision over Melio Bettina. After three successful defenses, he gave up the title to compete as a heavyweight.

As a youngster, Conn frequented an East Pittsburgh gym to watch the fighters, and he liked what he saw so much that he quit school in the fifth grade to become a boxer. Still Swinging Away

Conn, who appeared in a 1941 movie called “The Pittsburgh Kid,” maintained his boxing skills into his later years. He stepped into the middle of a robbery at a Pittsburgh convenience store in 1990 after the robber punched the store manager.

Conn took a swing at the robber and ended up on the floor of the store, scuffling with him.

“You always go with your best punch — straight left,” Conn told television station WTAE afterward. “I think I interrupted his plans.”

The robber managed to get away, but not before Conn pulled off his coat, which contained his name and address, making the arrest an easy one.

His wife said jumping into the fray was typical of her husband.

“My instinct was to get help,” she said at the time. “Billy’s instinct was to fight.”

More Images

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  • October, 08, 1917
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


  • May, 29, 1993
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cause of Death

  • pneumonia


  • Calvary Cemetery
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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