Famous Ring Wars: Schmeling vs. Louis 1

By John F. McKenna - 02/16/2024 - Comments

Max Schmeling was born in Germany in 1905 and became the first Heavyweight Champion to win by disqualification against Jack Sharkey in 1930. One year later Schmeling retained his title by scoring a fifteen round knockout over William “Young” Stribling. In 1932 Schmeling lost a very controversial decision to Jack Sharkey, thus losing his Heavyweight Title. When Schmeling lost the title to Sharkey his manager Joe Jacobs, shouted into the microphone the infamous words “We was robbed!” Never the less the decision stood and Schmeling was no longer the champion.

Through his loss to Sharkey, the sympathy of the boxing public went to Schmeling who was perceived to have won the fight by the fans. At this point Max Schmeling became a popular fighter in the United States and most boxing fans thought that he was a superior fighter to Heavyweight Champion Jack Sharkey.

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Meanwhile in Detroit, Michigan there was a young African American boxing sensation who was mowing opponents down in rapid succession. Even hardened boxing veterans thought that the twenty two year old Louis would ultimately be a great champion. There was no one on the horizon who could match his combined boxing skill and his murderous punching ability to go with his blazing speed.

The heavyweight title changed hands several times in the mid 1930’s. Jack Sharkey would quickly lose his title to Primo Carnera. It was widely believed at the time that “Da Preem” as Carnera was known had help from the Mob in winning many of his fights.

Carnera then lost the title to power punching Max Baer who was also known by many of his fans as the “Clown Prince of Boxing” for his zany ring antics. Baer had tons of ability but did not always take his training seriously. He lost the title in a fifteen round decision to Jimmy Braddock “The Cinderella Man”.

On his way to a title shot Louis destroyed the way overmatched Carnera.

By this point boxing fans were looking for some stability in the Heavyweight Championship, which was the crown jewel of boxing. It was widely presumed by fans that Joe Louis would ultimately be the man to provide that stability.

Max Schmeling had other ideas. “Herr Max” was a student of boxing and was the one man who did not fear Joe Louis. After Max Baer had lost the title to Braddock he fought Louis in 1935 and the reluctant Baer had to be half drug into the ring by his not too happy trainer Jack Dempsey. Louis disposed of Baer in four rounds. After Baer had been knocked down in the 4th round he made no effort to get up. Afterwards he told reporters “I signed up for a boxing match, not a murder!”

With his victory over the two ex champions, Carnera and Baer, Joe Louis started to believe his own press clippings, that he was invincible and that no man could stand up to him. The match was made for Louis to fight Max Schmeling, another ex champion. Schmeling who was now thirty one years old was thought by boxing fans to be in decline. He would be no match for Louis. Joe apparently also thought the same thing. He had started playing golf, which quickly became an obsession. To the chagrin of his trainer Jack Blackburn, Louis started to neglect his training. Schmeling on the other hand saw the fight with Louis as an opportunity to rejuvenate and showcase his brilliant boxing career. He trained diligently and began studying boxing films of Louis’ fights. Max noticed a flaw in the “Brown Bomber’” makeup. After throwing his left jab Louis would hold his left hand low, allowing the opportunity to counter with his own straight right hand.

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Schmeling knew that he would have to train very hard and be prepared to eat a lot of Louis’ left jabs for the plan to work. Schmeling was a great fighter in his own right and his right hand came in straight and had the kick of a mule.

The fight was set for June 19, 1936 at Yankee Stadium. The fight had political overtones. With Max Schmeling being from Germany, Adolph Hitler held him up as a symbol of Aryan supremacy. Schmeling never bought into the Nazi propaganda. In fact Joe Jacobs, his manager was Jewish. Later on in 1938 Schmeling risked his own life to save two Jewish children and prevent them from going into concentration camps.

When the fight began Louis started landing immediately with his potent left jab and dug a couple of tremendous left hooks into Schmeling’s midsection. Schmelings eyes immediately started to swell up and close. It was clear that Max was in excellent condition as the body shots seemed to have no effect on him. Max was a very determined fighter. In the 2nd and 3rd rounds Joe Louis continued to land his left Jab almost at will. When watching the film of the fight Schmeling appears to be timing Louis’ jabs.

The 4th round started off with Louis continuing to score with his left jab and it appeared that it was only a matter of time until he started unleashing his heavy artillery. The fear arose in Max’s corner that his eyes would soon close preventing him from seeing Louis and sealing his fate. Suddenly after Louis withdrew his left hand after landing yet another jab, Schmeling uncorked a tremendous right hand over the top of Louis’ left. The punch had tremendous power and sent Louis reeling across the ring. Max followed it up with several more right hand bombs and Louis crumpled to the canvas for the first time in his twenty eight fights. Joe would later recount that he remembered nothing after the knockdown. The punch that did the initial damage landed in the temple area, after which Louis’ legs appeared to be shot. The power in his left jab was gone. For the remainder of the fight Louis fought on instinct alone. Schmeling continued to land his right hand round after round. One thing was certain. Louis was game. He was not able to compensate and alter his fighting style to avoid Schmeling’s over the top punches. There were brief periods in the middle rounds in which it appeared that Joe may be turning it around, but by the 8th round it was clear that the drubbing would continue and that the only question was whether Louis would survive.

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The beating got so bad that Joe’s mother who was in attendance was escorted out of Yankee Stadium so that she would not have to witness anymore of her sons savage drubbing at the hands of Schmeling. By the 10th round Max was almost leaping off of his ring stool realizing that he had Louis where he wanted him. It is estimated that Louis took at least fifty seven of Schmeling’s right hand bombs before he was finally knocked out in the 12th round. It was the only time that Louis would be knocked out while he was in his prime. The loss he suffered at the hands of Rocky Marciano in 1951 would be a full fifteen years after his loss to Schmeling. That fight was inspired by the IRS constant haggling of Louis for back taxes, which was a debt which could never be paid off.

Joe Louis would go on to be, in this writers’ opinion the greatest of all heavyweight champions. As painful as his defeat at the hands of Max Schmeling was, it made “The Brown Bomber” a better fighter. He no longer neglected his training and golf became secondary to his boxing career. Louis would avenge his loss to Schmeling in June 1938 with a spectacular knockout at 2:04 of the first round. In the two years since their first encounter Louis would become an even better fighter, while Schmeling’s skills were diminished. Years later Max would tell Louis’s son “No one could have beaten your father that night.”

Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, as is often the case with ring rivals, became the very best of friends over the years. Max rose from poverty after the war, made an ill advised comeback and used his ring earnings from those fights to purchase a Coca Cola distributorship in Germany. He was a shrewd business man and became very wealthy.

Max would fly every year to see Joe. He once confided to friends that he “Loved that man!” He also was quoted as saying “I fought the great man twice. We are one and one.”

Schmeling would discretely send money to Louis in his declining years, not bill boarding it for the whole world to see. He also paid for Louis’ funeral and was a pallbearer.

Max Schmeling and Joe Louis were two ring giants who were also larger than life. The bond that they created with each other was heartwarming and was a bond that a world war could not break.

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