Yes, you read that right; on the snowy, damp Friday night of March 16th, 1956 in Washington, D.C., crowds slipped into their seats at the Uline Arena to watch legendary Hall-of-Fame boxer Joe Louis make his wrestling debut against Cowboy Rocky Lee. Quite the interesting change to the standard wrestling card, huh?
But why? Well, after Louis returned to America after serving his country in the Army, he was met with claims of unpaid taxes, as the men he hired to handle his money often only made things worse by borrowing money from his companies and not paying taxes on them. After returning to boxing (past his prime, I remind you) for two fights that did NOT end in his favor, so, on the night in our nation’s capital, a crowd of 4,000 curious fans packed the arena to watch the celebrity, transcendent star and cultural icon bring his famed fists to the carnival that is pro wrestling.
While his initial in-ring charisma was lacking (he was described as robotic, wooden, deadpan), the Brown Bomber flipped Lee onto the canvas and struck him with controlled, half-speed punches. The match’s climax occurred when Louis hit Lee with a held-back blow that Lee sold ten-fold as a powerful haymaker punch by rolling through the ropes, out of the ring and onto a row of folding chairs. Louis would earn a count-out victory and a much-needed paycheck toward his $100,000 tour salary.