Classic Fights: Louis Crushes Schmeling

By Robert Ecksel on March 30, 2017
Classic Fights: Louis Crushes Schmeling
“The whole damned country was depending on me.” (Photo: ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Joe landed a right to the body. Max’s legs buckled and he let out a scream. “I was paralyzed from that point on…”

“All of us who stood in the arena’s spotlight were vagabonds. And each of us risked the fatal plunge at any moment.”—Max Schmeling

Coming into their first fight, on June 19, 1936, at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York, Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber” from Detroit, Michigan, by way of LaFayette, Alabama, was the up-and-coming heavyweight feasting on former champions. He had stopped Primo Carnera. He knocked out Max Baer. The next former champ in line was Max Schmeling, the grizzled veteran from Klein Luckow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

Joe Louis was 24 years old and undefeated with 24 wins and no losses. Thirty-year-old Schmeling’s record was 48-7-4. Max was past his prime and few gave him more than a puncher’s chance, but the “Black Uhlan of the Rhine,” a 10:1 underdog, saw something that his predecessors did not.

Schmeling shocked the world. After administering a painful beating, he KO’d Louis at 2:29 of round 12.

Damon Runyon wrote that Schmeling had “beaten his way back over the rough trail of Hasbeenville.”

Nat Fleischer was less succinct but no less poetic. For Schmeling it was “the end of a perfect night. He had succeeded where others had failed. He had earned himself a niche in the fistic hall of fame.”

It was a crushing defeat. Langston Hughes remembered that night. “I walked down Seventh Avenue and saw grown men weeping like children, and women sitting in the curbs with their head in their hands. All across the country that night when the news came that Joe was knocked out, people cried.”

The victory turned Schmeling into a national hero. He “fought for Germany and won,” wrote Joseph Goebbels in his diary. Schmeling was declared “the savior of white boxing supremacy.” According to the Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten, it was a victory over “arrogance and bestial cruelty.”

Louis won the heavyweight title a year later by knocking out James Braddock. It was a gratifying win, but as Louis said, “I don’t want nobody to call me champ until I beat Schmeling.”

With the rise of fascism in Europe, the rematch between Louis and Schmeling had global implications. “I knew I had to get Schmeling good,” said Louis. “I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending on me.” That spring Louis had been invited to attend the Colored Order of Elks convention in Washington, D.C. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt invited him to the White House. Seated at his desk in the Oval Office the President said, “Lean over, Joe, so I can feel your muscles.” The champ did as he was told. Roosevelt felt the Bomber’s bicep and said, “Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany.”

The date was June 22, 1938. The place was Yankee Stadium. There were 70,043 fans in attendance. In his dressing room before the fight, Schmeling was on edge. “I had never before felt so alone before a fight,” he said. In the other dressing room Jack Blackburn was giving final instructions to the champion. “Don’t make a sucker of me,” he told Louis. “Give this guy the beating of his life—but quick. Murder that bum and don’t make an asshole out of me.” “Don’t worry about a thing,” Joe replied. “That Schmeling is going to think he’s in there with a tiger tonight. I ain’t going back to Ford to work, and you ain’t going back to selling lemon drops on the Staten Island Ferry.”

Louis wasted no time in bringing the fight to Schmeling. After several feints he landed two short left hooks on the inside to Max’s head, followed by a four-punch combination. Schmeling retreated to the ropes where he tried to cover up. A big left hook bent Schmeling in half and Joe landed several power shots to the challenger’s body. An uppercut followed by a 1-2 hurt Schmeling, who grabbed the top strand of the ropes for support. Louis smelled blood and went for the kill. He landed a right to the body. Max’s legs buckled and he let out a scream. “I was paralyzed from that point on,” he said.

Clem McCarthy handled the blow-by-blow for the radio audience.

“Louis hooks a left to Max’s head quickly! And shoots a hard right to Max’s head! Louis, a left to Max’s jaw! A right to his head! Louis with the old one-two! First the left and then the right! He’s landed more blows in this one round than he landed in any five rounds of the other fight!”

It was a slaughter. Schmeling went down twice and twice he got to his feet, before going down a third time.

“Right and left to the head! A left to the jaw! A right to the head! And Donovan is watching carefully! Louis measures him. Right to the body! A left to the jaw! And Schmeling is down! The count is five . . . six, seven, eight. The men are in the ring, the fight is over on a technical knockout! Max Schmeling is beaten in one round!

Schmeling’s corner threw in the towel. “He was no longer a man,” Paul Gallico wrote. “He was a broken, glass-eyed, silly, blubbering thing.”

After the fight Max told Louis, “Joe, you are a real champion,” before stumbling back to his corner.

Louis took the victory in stride, but allowed himself a little gloating.

“I’m sure enough champion now,” he said. “I just hit him, that’s all. I hit him in the ribs and I guess it was maybe a lucky punch but man, did he scream! I thought it was a lady in the ringside cryin’.”

Louis had fractured Schmeling’s vertebra. On his way to the Polyclinic Hospital on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue, across from the old Madison Square Garden, after the fight, the ambulance drove through Harlem.

“I could hear the noise of crowds dancing,” recalled Schmeling. “Bands had left the bars and were playing on the sidewalks. Everywhere was filled with celebrations and saxophones, continuously punctuated by the calling of Joe Louis’ name.”

The music was sweet, almost as sweet as Joe’s victory over Max Schmeling.

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  1. Captain MAGA 07:00am, 03/31/2017

    Textbook punching, fast hands, perfect body for a fighter, Louis had all the tools, no doubt. He was a tad slow on his feet, however, and me thinks his chin wasn’t exactly made of stone. I can’t see Louis beating Ali. Joe was just too slow of foot. If Billy Conn could give Joe fits, imagine what a faster, much larger, and more powerful, Ali would have brought to the table. I think that based on styles, Tunney would have also given the Brown Bomber some problems.

  2. Captain MAGA 05:46am, 03/31/2017

    “ghastly?” Talk about hyperbole. You could very well get a job writing fake news. Someone call NYT or WAPO.

  3. nonprophet 09:47am, 03/30/2017

    Such ghastly—but very self-satisfying, I’m sure—revisionist history continues to swirl in the addled minds of both Captain MAGA and Irish Frankie. Hope it helps them sleep well at night.

  4. Captain MAGA 08:27am, 03/30/2017

    Hollywood boxing movies, talk about stretching the truth. You would have thought that Jake LaMotta punched as hard as Earnie Shavers and that Rubin Carter was the original Marvin Hagler. Carter logged a record of 27-12-1 and Giardello beat him pretty convincingly. However, if you didn’t know any better,  you would have thought that Carter was one of the middleweight greats and lost his only chance at the title because of racism.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:16am, 03/30/2017

    or did he fracture his spine?....same difference!

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:12am, 03/30/2017

    Did he break his short ribs with that body shot or not? If he did that’s the fight in a nut shell….end of story!

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:29am, 03/30/2017

    A lot of the quotes that have made their way into the annals of fistiana read like half baked dialogue from a Hollywood fight film of the time period and are plain and simple…horseshit….made up after the fact because the writer felt that is what the athlete or trainer would have said if they had half a brain

  8. beaujack 06:04am, 03/30/2017

    In my eyes I think Joe Louis at his Max Baer best was most likely the greatest combination puncher who ever lived and would in this fight destroy any version of Clay/Ali….But I have always wondered if Max Schmeling in the second fight was 28 as Louis was,  and Joe Louis was 34 years of age as Max Schmeling was in the second bout, WHAT would have been the result ? Just thinking.

  9. Captain MAGA 05:07am, 03/30/2017

    I love sports as well as the next guy, but I’m always amazed at how serious some people take sporting events. This boxing event didn’t amount to squat when it came to Europe, WWII, etc. Humans rioting over a damn soccer match or football game? Ridiculous. Some guy in Boston thinks the Pats represent local pride, when most of the players are from all over the country. haha. Anyhow, I wonder if Louis knew about FDR giving Jesse Owens the cold shoulder after the amazing display Owens’ put forth in the Olympic Games held in Germany? Schmeling loses a boxing match and this feller named Galico writes, “He was no longer a man,” “He was a broken, glass-eyed, silly, blubbering thing.” Hey, Mr. Galico, lighten up with the hyperbole, Schmeling got beaten up in a boxing match, but would go on to make millions in business. Meanwhile, poor old Joe, would fall hard in his life outside the squared circle. Funny how the two combatants only saw this as a boxing match, while others used it to fuel propaganda nonsense.

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