As fight fans know, Germany’s Max Schmeling scored a big upset, a very big upset, when he KO’d an unbeaten Joe Louis, a fighter who had the heavyweight crown firmly in his crosshairs, in a June of 1936 in a non-title bout. Schmeling, a 10 to 1 underdog, had “seen something” in Louis’ game, something he was confident he could take advantage of. Sure enough, Max capitalised on Joe’s habit of dropping his left hand after jabbing, with the former champ firing in plenty of right hands that made Louis pay for his defensive lapse.
And Louis, finally KO’d in round 12, really did take a hiding, a beating that might have ruined a lesser man. But Joe rebounded and, after beating Jimmy Braddock to become champ, he had only one man in his crosshairs. “I ain’t no champ ’til I beat Schmeling,” the young champion said.
And on this day back in 1938, with too much crushing pressure to be possibly imagined placed on “The Brown Bomber’s” sculpted shoulders, Louis got his chance. With Adolf Hitler and the fascist Nazi ideal supporting Schmeling, and with the free world supporting Louis (“Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany,” President Franklin Roosevelt told Louis before the Schmeling rematch), Louis simply HAD to win.
The fight was not merely a matter of personal revenge. And how motivated, how on top of his game, how utterly flawless Louis was in the return fight. Louis gave Schmeling as bad, as comprehensive and as painful a beating any fighter has ever given another man inside just one round of combat. Combat? It was more like carnage. Schmeling never had a chance.
Louis tore into his rival’s body and head, sending Schmeling down three times in a little over two minutes. Some ringsiders later said they had heard Schmeling scream out in pain as Louis crashed shots into his side and back. Soon, the white towel of surrender came fluttering in from Schmeling’s corner. Later, the doctor who treated Max said this of the damage Louis had inflicted: “Schmeling suffered fractures of the transverse processes of the third and fourth lumbar vertebra with a hemorrhage of the lumbar muscles.”
Schmeling had indeed taken a savage beating; a far nastier ordeal had been suffered by Max compared to the long and drawn-out beating Joe had experienced two years earlier. “Now,” Louis said, “I’m the champ.”
He was indeed. The champion of the free world. Years later, it was discovered how “Nazi” Schmeling had risked his life by hiding Jewish children inside his Berlin apartment during the atrocities.
Two heroes met in the ring on this day 83 long years ago.