The month of June held mixed fortunes for the great Joe Louis. It was in June when “The Brown Bomber” suffered the only defeat of his prime, this when massive underdog Max Schmeling “saw something” and shocked the 24-0 Louis by 12th round KO. This blip – a big blip indeed – slowed Joe’s progress as far as him being crowned world heavyweight champion. For a while. But Louis, still only 22 years old, regrouped and went on to win seven fights on the spin, all but one by KO.
Then, in June of 1937 – 85 years ago today – Louis challenged James J. Braddock for the crown. Dropped early, in the opening round, Louis retained his composure and then proceeded to give Braddock a hiding, stopping him in round eight with a smashing right hand to the chin that left the fallen fighter on the mat for some time. Joe, however, said he would not, could not, call himself champion until he defeated one man – Max Schmeling.
The rematch, which took place on June 22 of 1938, was one of the single most important and historic boxing matches of all-time, maybe it was THE single most important fight in history. With WWII looming, “Nazi” Schmeling was the clear enemy as far as Americans were concerned. “Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Louis before the fight he simply had to win.
With millions listening to the fight on radio, with unimaginable pressure on the shoulders of both fighters, the two met in ring centre. The fight turned out to be a mismatch of the highest order. Louis as motivated as hell, unleashed sheer hell on poor Max. Joe dropped Schmeling three times in a little over two-minutes, with his body shot literally paralysing Schmeling. The white towel of surrender fluttered into the ring at Yankee Stadium (this the scene of the first Louis-Schmeling fight). Hitler ordered the radio transmission of the fight be cut.
Louis had scored the most important victory of his life and of his career. “The Brown Bomber” had also made the fourth of an eventual 25 world title retentions. Schmeling went back to Germany, where he was called up as a parachutist. But Max was no Nazi, as the story of how he risked his life by hiding two Jewish children in his apartment proves.
In later years, these two fine fighting men became quite friendly. Joe Louis is today revered as one of the greatest fighters of all-time. Joe died in 1981, aged just 66. Max lived well into old age, passing away in 2005 aged 99.