Heavyweight king of kings Joe Louis really was savage in return fights. Time and again during his legendary ring career, Louis would meet a rival in a rematch and, after having struggled, or even lost to him the first time they fought, he would destroy his opponent. It happened to Max Schmeling, it happened to Jersey Joe Walcott, it happened to Arturo Godoy, and it happened to Billy Conn.
On this day 80 years ago, it happened to the huge Buddy Baer. Brother of course of the great Max Baer, Buddy was a mountain of a man at almost 6’7” and around 245 pounds. And on May 23rd, 1941, Baer gave “The Brown Bomber” a scare and a tough time of things. Baer, 59-5 and holding wins over Tony Galento, Lee Savold, and Abe Simon, shocked Louis and the large crown inside Griffith Stadium when he cracked the heavyweight champ with a right and then a left to the head, sending Louis clean through the ropes. Louis shook it off but he knew he was in a fight.
The action rumbled on for five more rounds, with the two men engaging in some thrilling trading. Louis suffered a swollen eye and he was backed up on occasion. Then, in the 6th round, Louis struck with the beautifully violent precision he was known for. Decking Baer twice, Louis was close to ending matters when the bell rang. Not having heard the gong, Louis tagged Baer with another right hand, scoring a third knockdown as the round had ended. Baer’s team were fuming and they cried for a DQ. It was Baer who was disqualified, due to his manager refusing to leave the ring.
The rematch came eight months later. This time meeting at Madison Square Garden in New York, Louis and Baer put on a vastly different show. Louis gave his huge challenger no time to get anything going this time, with Joe jumping right on his man and belting him with a hard right to the head. Then Louis went to the body as he whipped in a sickening left hand downstairs followed by a hard right up top. Baer went down on his back. Baer showed great courage in getting up but he was then decked a second time, and then a third time. It was over with just four-seconds left in the opening round.
Louis, now 52-1 had again shown how improved a fighting machine he was when facing a guy for a second time. Baer, who had zero complaints, later said that the only way he could have beaten Louis in the rematch was “if I had a baseball bat.” Baer never fought again, retiring with an admirable 59-7(53) record. He was stopped just twice. Baer died in July of 1986.
Joe Louis was, 80 years ago, an untouchable heavyweight king.