Joe Brown (boxer)

Joe Brown (boxer)

Joe Brown (1925–1997) was an accomplished boxer who won the undisputed Lightweight Championship of the World in 1956, making 11 successful defences before losing his crown in his old age to Carlos Ortiz in 1962. Brown was a classic boxer and a knockout puncher. Known as the ‘Creole Clouter’ and Joe ‘Old Bones’ Brown, he was managed by Lou Viscusi and named Ring Magazine’s 'Fighter of the Year' for 1961. Brown was finally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.

Early Life & Career

Born into poverty in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA on 18 May 1926, Joe Brown started work as a grocery assistant, moved into carpentry and then embarked on his professional boxing career at the tender age of seventeen. He recorded only one contest – winning a four round decision against Leonard Caesar on 3 September 1943 – before being called-up for wartime service. During his 21 month stint with the US Navy, Brown took part in seven Pacific invasions and won the All-Service Lightweight Championship. He was honourably discharged from the service in 1945.

The resumption of Brown’s career was initially disappointing. Suffering a third round knock-out by Melvin Bartholomew in July 1945, Brown would not fight again until January 1946, when he dropped a decision over five rounds to Leonard Caesar. Some reward did come a mere seven days later when Brown out-pointed Johnny Monroe, but his career over the following three years would, at best, be chequered.

The impetus for Brown’s ultimate success seems to have been provided by a crushing defeat at the hands of future National Boxing Association Welterweight Champion, Johnny Bratton, late in 1948, immediately followed by a short spell away from the ring. Through 1949, Brown actually went unbeaten and over the next seven years, he steadily climbed the Lightweight rankings, laying claim along the way to such notable scalps as Virgil Akins, Isaac Logart and Teddy ‘Redtop’ Davis.

These fruitful times were not however, without their difficulties. The skilful Brown, standing a lanky 5 feet 7 ½ inches, with a long reach and solid left hand, came to be viewed as dangerous – too dangerous by some astute managers who frequently appeared to steer their charges away from meeting him. Several times, Brown hung up his gloves in despair during his thirteen year wait for a shot at the title. When it came, at the comparatively advanced age of 30, he did not disappoint.

World Champion

Joe Brown earned his crack at the Lightweight Championship of the World by out-pointing reigning champion, Wallace ‘Bud’ Smith in a non-title bout held in Houston, Texas, in May, 1956. Four months later, on 24 August and in front of his home crowd, Brown relieved Smith of his crown by way of split decision over fifteen hard fought rounds. Confirmation of Brown’s superiority came early in the following year when, defending the Championship for the first time, he knocked Smith out in eleven rounds.

Once Champion, Brown hoped that his newly acquired status would confer the riches and popular recognition denied to him for so long. Yet, as George Gainford (manager of the charismatic and handsome Sugar Ray Robinson) noted, the name ‘Joe Brown’ was hardly inspirational. Realising this, Brown attempted to solve his problems by billing himself as Joe ‘Old Bones’ Brown. The gimmick worked and he became something of a draw for the remainder of his Championship career.

In all, Brown made eleven successful defences of his title – a record until Roberto Duran’s arrival in the division – and remained Champion for almost six years. After demolishing Smith, Brown bested Orlando Zulueta, Joey Lopes, Ralph Dupas, Kenny Lane, Johnny Busso, Paolo Rosi, Cisco Andrade, Bert Somodio and Dave Charnley (twice). Brown's re-match with Charnley, was named Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year for 1961.

Nemesis came in the form of the great Carlos Ortiz from Puerto Rico. Ortiz – intelligent, agile and ten years Brown’s junior – stepped down from the Junior Welterweight division where he had been king until out-pointed by Duilio Loi, to focus on the richer pickings to be had amongst the World’s top Lightweights. He met Brown in Las Vegas on 21 April 1962 and relieved the ageing Champion of his title after fifteen enthralling rounds to begin his own lengthy domination of the division.

Beyond Glory

Brown would fight on for another eight years, before retiring in 1970, at the age of 44. His best days long gone, he suffered almost as many defeats as he scored victories. When reflecting on the close of Brown’s career, Henry Cooper has written that there came to be “little pride left in his performances” as he tried to compensate “for all the hungry years when he had been forced to fight for peanuts” (Cooper, 1990).

Joe Brown died in New Orleans, USA on 21 November, 1997.


1. Biographical Information from: (i) Henry Cooper’s 100 Greatest Boxers (Henry Cooper, Queen Anne Press, 1990). See page 32 for the ‘Old Bones’ anecdote and page 33 for Cooper’s reflections on the twilight of Brown’s career. (ii) The Ring Record Book & Boxing Encyclopedia 1959 (Nat Fleischer, The Ring Book Shop Inc., 1959). A cameo of Brown’s life and career, including brief details of his military service may be found on page 5. (iii) The International Boxing Hall of Fame’s online exhibit [] provides a very sketchy account indeed of Brown’s career, but was used to confirm the date of Brown’s induction into that body.

2. Details of Brown’s ring record and Championship fights from: (i) The Ring Record Book & Boxing Encyclopedia 1959 (Nat Fleischer, The Ring Book Shop Inc., 1959), Pages 5, 301 & 896. (ii) The Cyber Boxing Zone [] . (iii) The Boxing Records Archive [] . Unusually, this source lists Brown’s exhibitions dated 17 October 1952 and 7 April 1958 as being official bouts, whilst crediting him with a victory on 10 October 1952, that is recorded elsewhere as a seventh round defeat.

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