Germany vs. Hamas

By Clarence George on October 6, 2015
Germany vs. Hamas
The crowd “saw Schmeling try and fail against the clean-cut youngster.” (Ullstein Bild)

Paul Gallico of the New York Daily News wrote, “Nobody ever cut Schmeling before.” Not until Steve Hamas, that is…

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”—Cicero

How come nobody remembers Steve Hamas?

A Penn State-educated heavyweight, who played pro ball for the NFL’s Orange, New Jersey, Tornadoes, Hamas fought out of Passaic, New Jersey, from 1930 to 1935. The alliteratively monikered “Passaic Pounder” had an impressive record of 35 wins, 27 by knockout, four losses, only one by knockout, and two draws. He won his first 29, 26 by KO or TKO, before being outpointed by Lee Ramage at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles on March 22, 1932. “The outcome was a surprise to many critics who had expected the rugged Hamas to add another victim to his knockout record,” reported the Pittsburgh Press. But Hamas avenged that loss by outpointing Ramage at Wrigley Field on July 25 that year. Indeed, by “battering Ramage all over the ring,” according to the Ellensburg Daily Record. Their third contest ended in a draw at the Olympic on March 14, 1933, while the fourth and final fight resulted in another victory for Hamas, who won by split decision at Madison Square Garden on November 17 that year. Steve also lost to Tommy Loughran, twice, first by split decision at Shibe Park in Philly on June 29, 1932, then by unanimous decision at Yankee Stadium on June 21, 1933. But the Pounder evened things out, first stopping the “Phantom of Philly” by second-round TKO at the Garden on January 15, 1932, in what “was by far his most impressive performance,” wrote Alan Gould, AP sports editor, then beating him by split decision at Philly’s Convention Hall on May 11 that year.

The third man to beat, and the only one to stop, the tough college boy from Joisy was Max Schmeling, who knocked Hamas out in the ninth at Hanseatenhalle in Hamburg, Germany, on March 10, 1935, in what proved to be Steve’s last fight. According to sportswriter Dan Daly, Hamas “experienced temporary numbness in one his legs afterward, and the scare convinced him to hang up his gloves.” Jim Braddock took the championship from Max Baer that June 13, winning by unanimous decision at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City, Queens. If Hamas hadn’t lost to Schmeling, if he hadn’t hung up the gloves…

Payback, for hell hath no fury like a “Black Uhlan of the Rhine” outpointed.

Ninth-ranked by the Ring in 1933 and first-ranked in 1934, Hamas had shown Schmeling what for at the Convention Hall in Philly on February 13, 1934, winning on points after 12 grueling rounds. According to AP sportswriter Edward J. Neil, Schmeling had “forgotten how to fight.”

Following his loss to Max Baer by 10th-round TKO at Yankee Stadium on June 8, 1933, the one-time champ “started last night on his comeback trail,” continued Neil in his Valentine’s Day report, only to be “beaten and torn by the gloved fists of Steve Hamas.” The crowd of 15,000 “saw Schmeling hesitate, fumble, try and fail against the rugged, clean-cut youngster. Hamas stabbed him with left jabs, and the Schmeling who used to brush them aside and shuffle in with right-hand chops to the head, strength-sapping lefts to the body, stood and took them. Hamas slugged him with both hands, and the Schmeling who once reveled in that kind of going, stood there helpless, and blinked.”

Paul Gallico of the New York Daily News wrote, “Nobody ever cut Schmeling before.” Not until Hamas, that is. “Schmeling’s left eyebrow was slashed open so deeply in the ninth round that three stitches were required to close the wound today,” continued Neil, “but the courage of the Teuton from the Black Forest remained undimmed. He fought on through a bloody haze, trying, plugging, heaving a right hand that has lost its sting.”

Well, not quite. The German threw a right in the 11th that broke Hamas’ nose, and “the blood from the two of them crimsoned them to the waist.” They went at it toe-to-toe in the 12th and final round, “like a pair of wounded, failing moose, horns locked in a death struggle.”

The Teuton’s effort was too little, too late, most observers agreeing that he only won three rounds, the second, fourth, and 12th. “I couldn’t get started,” he said. “I laid off too long. In the late rounds I couldn’t see anymore because of the blood in my eyes. I need more fights. I’m as good as I ever was. I will yet win my championship back.”

But the consensus among cynical boxing types was that Schmeling’s wealth, in combination with his recent marriage to gorgeous Czech film star Anny Ondra, would sap his strength and will. No, he wouldn’t regain his crown. “Money and marriage. Those two beat them all. And they never come back.”

For Hamas, it wasn’t so much a matter of not coming back as not moving on. Following his win over Schmeling, the Pounder took on Art Lasky at the Garden on October 5, 1934, winning by split decision. Then came the Schmeling knockout, followed by a career with the DMV in Little Ferry, New Jersey. A resident of Wallington in Jersey, Hamas had a son, daughter, and 14 grandchildren at the time of his 1970 induction into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. He died age 67 on October 11, 1974.

When I was a kid, Random House published the Step-Up Books. A remarkable series, my favorite of which was Meet the Pilgrim Fathers, written by Elizabeth Payne and cozily illustrated by H.B. Vestal in brown, rust, orange, and other fall-like hues, shot through with rain-gray. I still read it every Thanksgiving Eve. Step up and meet Steve Hamas. His is a hand well worth shaking.

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  1. Steven V Hamas 111 10:14am, 10/18/2017

    My grandfather, an incredible human being and sportsman. Grandpa played for the “Passaic wonder team” when a teenager - that team still holds the world record of 151 consecutive wins. I remember my grandfather was able to multiply any number (up to 6 numbers by 6 numbers) instantly! He wrote out the “Magic Patterns” to teach others another way of mathematics. Thanks for the article, I miss him to this day.

  2. Clarence George 06:30am, 10/08/2015

    You’re right, Bodyblow, but it’s very fuzzy, if I remember correctly.

  3. bodyblow 05:47am, 10/08/2015

    Schmeling-Hamas II also exists on film complete.

  4. Clarence George 01:43pm, 10/07/2015

    Thanks very much for the info, Bigfights.  What an invaluable resource.

  5. bigfights 01:38pm, 10/07/2015

    Clarence George - the credit for the existence of this film and almost every other legendary fight film goes to Bill Cayton and Jim Jacobs. Their company, Big Fights, began acquiring the films and the rights to major fights that took place as early as 1899. Most were shot on explosive “nitrate” based film stock and had to be kept refrigerated until safety masters could be made.

  6. Clarence George 01:23pm, 10/07/2015

    Fantastic find, Bigfights.  Very much appreciated.  Note the Star of David on Lasky’s trunks, one of the relatively few Jewish heavyweights.  Another neglected boxer, despite packing quite a wallop.  He was one of only three men, for example, to stop Johnny Paychek.  The others were Joe Louis and (I think) Altus Allen.

  7. bigfights 12:50pm, 10/07/2015

    Gentleman - thought you might enjoy this. The only film of Steve Hamas in existence - Hamas vs Lasky: http://boxinghalloffame.com/?p=7105

  8. Clarence George 06:45am, 10/07/2015

    Much too kind, Mr. Doucette.  I remember Reynolds from the entertaining “The Land Unknown,” Martin from the classic “The Thing,” and Middleton from the very funny “The Court Jester.”  Young and his wife died nearby.  A murder-suicide, apparently, but I always thought the investigation left much to be desired.  “The Twilight Zone” was and remains one of the greatest shows ever.

    Best,

    King Donovan

  9. John Doucette 05:57am, 10/07/2015

    I see the resemblance, Mr. George. Dewey Martin was fantastic in one of my favorite films, “The Desperate Hours.” Robert Middleton scared the daylghts out of me in that one. And William Reynolds had star potential, but never turned the page. He was in several TV series, “The Gallant Men,” where he co-starred with Richard X. Slattery, and “The FBI,” but what I remember most about him was a guest appearance on “The Twilight Zone,” where he played a soldier coming apart at the seams as he kept having premonitions of his impending death. The performance was riveting. So many of those “Twilight Zone” episodes are memorable. How about the one where Gig Young stopped to have his car repaired and went back in time to his childhood. Or the one about the Civil War soldier who “encounters” Abraham Lincoln. That was TV writing at its best, much like you your writing about the sweet science.

  10. Clarence George 03:00am, 10/07/2015

    By the way, Hamas reminds me of a particular actor, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Dewey Martin?  William Reynolds?  Should Mr. Doucette have any insight, he should share.

  11. Clarence George 02:31am, 10/07/2015

    Thank you kindly, Mike C.  All these guys are worth remembering, and especially someone like Hamas, who was really quite impressive.

  12. Clarence George 02:23am, 10/07/2015

    Too kind, Mike S., thank you.  Yes, Hamas (who may or may not have gone into the second Schmeling fight with an injury to his left arm) wasn’t well managed by Charley Harvey, who I don’t think managed anyone after his boy left the ring.  I think Hamas could have gone further, perhaps even wrested the crown from Baer, but that second fight with Schmeling (who savaged him) was a big mistake.  Badly hurt, he was right to hang ‘em up.

  13. Mike Casey 01:57am, 10/07/2015

    Very good read, Clarence. Glad these guys are still getting their dues all these years later. We should never forget them.

  14. Clarence George 01:47am, 10/07/2015

    Thanks loads, Beaujack, for the kind words and the characteristically great post.  Yes, Bob Pastor is another ridiculously forgotten heavyweight.  He had a fine record and was only stopped twice, by Joe Louis and Billy Conn.  Didn’t know he was a college boy.  Lem Franklin was a hard hitter, who was never the same after the Pastor KO.  He died shortly after getting knocked out by Larry Lane.  I knew of Ted Sandwina, who brought whole new dimension to the word “journeyman” (and who died very old), but not of his mother.  Fascinating info.  I found a clip (see link below) of her teaching him how to box.  She did a pretty good job, as he won most of his fights by stoppage.  I did a little research, and apparently she was even stronger than famed strongman Eugen Sandow!  He used to refuse requests for autographs…and then sign his name to the refusal!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zP2xYyr5fg

  15. Mike Silver 10:49pm, 10/06/2015

    Another winner C.G.! Hamas was a great prospect. Schmeling had an off night the first fight. Second fight was a big miscalculation by Hamas’s management. Scientist Schmeling, with tons more experience than Hamas, knew exactly what to do and gave him a terrible beating. Always dangerous for an inexperienced prospect to take that rematch with an old pro near his prime.

  16. beaujack 08:06pm, 10/06/2015

    Fine article Clarence on the forgotten Steve Hamas. You deserve kudos for bringing to light such a good heavyweight as Steve Hamas. Another fighting collegiate similar to Hamas was Bob Pastor weighing also about 186 pounds who gave Joe Louis a tough fight and was good and big enough to ko the vaunted puncher Lem Franklin who outweighed Pastor by about 24 pounds. Incidentally Steve Hamas kod a heavyweight named Ted Sandwina a journeyman HWt known as the son of Kate Sandwina
    who was considered the strongest woman in the world those long ago days.

  17. Clarence George 01:23pm, 10/06/2015

    Thanks very much indeed, NYI.

  18. NYIrish 01:06pm, 10/06/2015

    Indeed a hand worth shaking, and a story well worth reading.

  19. Clarence George 12:43pm, 10/06/2015

    Thanks very much, Mr. Doucette (though, damn, I was reserving that name for myself).  Yes, now that you mention it, there is a lot of color in this piece, both literal and metaphorical.  No, gentlemen, please!

    At your service,

    Miles Mander

  20. Clarence George 12:33pm, 10/06/2015

    Irish:  Hamas isn’t obscure as is, say, Odell Polee, but he nevertheless doesn’t get the credit and attention he deserves.  He was a fine heavyweight—skilled, hard-hitting, fan-friendly—and warrants so much more than a “Huh?”  If he were active today, he’d of course have to change his name, unless he wanted to fight exclusively in the Middle East…and a select number of Paris neighborhoods.  Despite his losses to Baer and Hamas, Schmeling (who lived to be 99!) wasn’t at all finished, though he never did regain the title.  For that we have to wait for Floyd Patterson, which I always found kinda ironic.  Many of the 1930s negatives are reflected today, through a glass darkly, but not the positives.  I was watching an Abbott and Costello movie (true, from 1941).  The very funny scene with the wonderful Martha Raye playing twin waitresses.  The boys only have enough money for one order, a turkey sandwich and a cup of coffee—25 cents.  And even that’s only about four dollars today.  Good luck in getting a turkey sandwich and a cup of coffee for four dollars.  Apropos of nada, I was watching the “Munsters” episode where Herman wrestles guys like Strangler Murphy (Count Billy Varga) and Tarzan McGirk (Gene LeBell).  Jimmy Lennon Sr. played the ring announcer.  How is it that this guy ain’t in the Hall?  An outrage, I calls it.

  21. John Doucette 11:27am, 10/06/2015

    The Passaic Pounder? The Teuton? Black Uhlan of the Rhine and the Orange Tornadoes?  Thanks for the wonderful trip back in time. Great read as usual, Mr. George.

  22. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:58am, 10/06/2015

    Clarence George-These guys deserve to be remembered. Looks like Hamas was pretty darn good….little more than a year after their second fight Max took Joe Louis apart piece by piece….so he wasn’t quite finished. Life expectancy for a male born in U.S.in 1905: 47 years….probably not much different in Germany at the time. The Schmeling that Louis pulverized the second time around was an old man by those standards. Why do I think about the Thirties when I think about what’s going on in the present day?

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