Joe Louis vs. Buddy Baer 1941: “Baer Hugs”

By Norman Marcus on May 9, 2012
Joe Louis vs. Buddy Baer 1941: “Baer Hugs”
Buddy Baer was five years younger than his brother Max and didn’t turn pro until 1934

Max Schmeling had won the vacant heavyweight title against Jack Sharkey in 1930 on a foul. Why not Buddy Baer?

It was May 23rd, 1941 and it was again time for Joe Louis to defend his Heavyweight Title. On this night the champ was facing Jacob Henry Baer, Buddy to his friends. He was the little big brother of Max Baer; Max had been the Heavyweight Champion of the World in 1934. He gave the belt away to Jimmy Braddock in one of boxing’s biggest upsets. Max had also lost a bout against Louis in 1935, in his pursuit of a rematch with the new champion Jimmy Braddock.

Now it was Buddy’s turn to see what he could do against Joe Louis. Baer was big, standing at 6’7” tall and weighing in at 230 lbs. He was five years younger than Max and didn’t turn pro until 1934. He had been content for many years to walk in his older brother’s shadow. The two men were very close, as was the whole family.

Buddy was bigger but slower than his brother and definitely a less explosive fighter. He did however possess a murderous left hook and is ranked 69th in the “One Hundred Greatest Punchers Club” by The Ring magazine. Let me give you an example of Buddy Baer’s power.

Back in 1935, when Buddy was still learning the ropes, he bumped into Lou Nova at Jimmy Duffy’s Gym back in Oakland, California. Lou asked the novice Baer if he would like to spar a few rounds. Not knowing anything about the more experienced Nova, Buddy climbed into the ring. Someone rang the bell… it was just a minute or so into the round when BANG, Buddy caught Lou with his left hook. It was delivered with all the power those big broad shoulders could muster. When Nova hit the canvas he was already asleep! The KO put Nova out for a couple of minutes. Lou’s trainer finally got him up. Nova refused to get into a ring again with Buddy Baer for the rest of his career.

Back to May 23rd, it was the first Heavyweight Championship fight to ever be held in Washington, DC. It took place at Griffith Stadium. Buddy walked to the ring with his manager Ancil Hoffman, trainer Izzy Klein and cutman Ray Arcel. The fighters were given their instructions by referee Arthur Donovan. The fighters went to their corners and waited for the bell.

Round One—Both boxers circled each other looking for an opening to land a solid punch. Baer had a much longer reach and tried to keep Louis from getting inside by throwing some hard left jabs. Joe wanted to get in close to land his short punches to Baer’s body. Every time Louis came inside, Buddy leaned down on the champion’s shoulders with that big upper torso of his. Louis could get real tired holding Buddy up. About two minutes into the round Buddy caught Joe on the ropes with a good left hook to his cheekbone. It sent the champion through the ropes and out of the ring; it was the first time that a heavyweight champion had been knocked out of the ring since Luis Angel Firpo did it to Jack Dempsey at the Polo Grounds in 1923. Louis landed right in front of his promoter Mike Jacobs. Jacobs exclaimed, “Well, there goes the meal ticket,” but Louis was up and back in the ring by the count of four. Baer tried to finish Louis off right there but couldn’t land that final big punch. The round ended with Joe still on his feet. It was still a good round for Baer.

Round Two—Showed more of Louis, as we know him. He continued to short punch Buddy with quick flurries that drove him backward. Louis was getting through Baer’s defense. This was not in Buddy’s fight plan. Baer threw some counterpunches but Louis was still landing blows at will as the round ended. The fight was even now, with each fighter winning one round.

Round Three—Was much like the previous round. Louis was not intimidated by Baer’s jab now and got in close to land more body blows with power. Joe was definitely on the offensive. Buddy continued to use his strength to push Louis around the ring. Baer’s head was still clear and while Louis did hit hard, he had been hit harder in previous fights. This round went to the champion.

Round Four—Buddy landed a good right to Joe’s jaw and Louis backed up. He had a look of surprise on his face. Buddy moved in; he had seen that look on the faces of other fighters. There was a brief window here for Buddy to do some damage. Louis moved out of the way of a big right hand from Baer and blocked his jabs. Louis was faster and threw more combinations than Baer. Buddy began to believe he needed to land a big right to Louis’s jaw and knock him out. Louis won this round and was finding his rhythm now.

Round Five—Joe threw a right hand that just missed the top of Buddy’s head. As Baer came up, he landed a hook to Joe’s left eye. The eye began to bleed and swell up. He had finally hurt Louis. Baer tried to pound away at the injured eye but Louis began to backpedal. Joe stayed out of trouble for the rest of the round. Baer wasn’t able to take advantage of the bloody eye. The round was even.

Round Six—This round would prove the end for Buddy. Louis hit Baer with two uppercuts and several hooks, both upstairs and downstairs. Buddy fell like a giant tree. He got himself up on the count of seven. A few moments later he was knocked down again. This time Baer pulled himself up on the count of nine. The bell rang to end the round. A split second later, as Buddy turned toward his corner, BANG! Louis landed a solid right to the back of Baer’s head; Buddy went down for a third time! Actually there were two fouls committed here by Louis. First, he hit Baer after the bell. Secondly, the blow landed on the back of Buddy’s head, near the left ear. This should have been called a rabbit punch.

In Buddy Baer’s autobiography he explained the situation this way. “Either one should have disqualified him (Louis), but Donovan chose instead to disqualify me, on grounds that my handlers would not let me start the 7th round. It was true; they wouldn’t, unless I had time to recover from the fouls. The rules plainly state that if a foul is not in itself considered disqualifying, the victim is to have five extra minutes to recover from its effects.” Donovan refused and disqualified Baer! Louis kept the title and went home still champion.

Schmeling had won the vacant heavyweight title against Sharkey in 1930 on a foul. Why not Buddy Baer? Donovan refused to give Buddy the required five minutes to recover or even take away any points from Louis for the late hit and rabbit punch. One of the judges that night, Jimmy Sullivan, voted to disqualify Louis for the foul. But he was overruled by the other judge and Donovan. Arthur Donovan was the referee in 24 straight fights for Joe Louis. He was literally on promoter Mike Jacob’s payroll. In my opinion it doesn’t pass the smell test. Joe Louis was a great fighter. He didn’t need any extra help in the ring. Perhaps promoter Mike Jacobs felt otherwise, since he personally owned 10 percent of Louis.

Buddy and Max later decided to retire from the ring. The Hollywood studios were calling and financially they were pretty well set.

Six months later, on December 15th, 1942, Buddy Baer, a mere 27 and brother Max 33 years of age, went down to enlist in the U.S. Army. It had just been a week, since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. A Capt. T.H. Wirak interviewed them at McClellan Army Air Force Base in Sacramento. He told the brothers that they were too old to join the army. They were taking 18 to 20 year olds. They were both world-famous characters. He suggested they work for the USO and maybe box some exhibitions to entertain the troops, like Joe Louis planned to do. The brothers didn’t want to hear this; they wanted to get in on the war!

Max told the commanding officer, “How could you keep me out of the service? Why I started the whole damn war, getting Hitler all riled up by beating Schmeling and then getting Mussolini against us by what I did to poor Primo.” The captain couldn’t argue with such brilliant logic from Maxie Baer. He grinned and signed them up on the spot, as physical defense instructors in the Fourth Air Service Command. They later each earned the rank of Staff Sergeant.

After the war Buddy went on to star in several major motion pictures in Hollywood, “Quo Vadis” with Robert Taylor and “The Big Sky” with Kirk Douglas just to name two. He also guest starred in many TV series during the 1950s. Baer had a beautiful baritone singing voice and used to get bookings in nightclubs and hotels in Las Vegas. He of course had his own bar and restaurant in his new hometown of Sacramento called “Buddy Baer’s.” He lived 21 years longer than Max and said that he missed his brother each and every day of those final years.

Sacramento sports reporter Bill Conlin wrote of the brothers, “When they died the ‘Sweet Science’ lost two of the sweetest.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Joe Louis vs Buddy Baer I Rounds 1-3

Joe Louis vs Buddy Baer I Rounds 4-6

Max Baer and Buddy Baer

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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 08:13pm, 05/11/2012

    Norman Marcus- After boxing Max played Jethro Bodine and Bruce Jenner played Miss Jane Hathaway on the Beverly Hillbillies….or was that Max Jr…..I know for sure it was Bruce Jenner cast as Miss Jane.

  2. Norman Marcus 11:42am, 05/10/2012

    Yeah Thresher, I guess you can tell that the Baer brothers are my favorite boxers. It amazes me that they were household names during the 30s and 40s and are now forgotten by the public. Did you know that in 1950 they were invited to the White House to meet President Truman. When Harry saw them at the reception he asked for a photo to be taken with them—for himself!

  3. the thresher 11:10am, 05/10/2012

    The Baer brothers were pretty sharp cats. Max in particular not only had ferocious power, but he had tons of charisma. He reminded me of Bugsy Siegel.

  4. Jack Louis 10:06am, 05/10/2012

    Great read / nothing better than brothers/ 6’7 230 is a skinny man in my book/ but offensive lineman in the NFL used to be 250 / evolution? I don’t think so/

  5. Norman Marcus 04:39am, 05/10/2012

    Always good to hear nice things about my work from you Mike. You are definitely “the man” in my book. Looking forward to your piece on brother Max.

  6. mikecasey 03:18am, 05/10/2012

    Very enjoyable, Norm. Buddy toiled in Max’s shadow, but was an excellent heavyweight in his own right. Fair or foul, there was no shame in getting bombed by Louis - and Buddy fought very tenaciously.

  7. Mickey Irish 04:11pm, 05/09/2012

    Great write up Mr. Marcus. The Baer Bros were some tough Jews. I don’t think Buddy should’ve got the title on a foul but u make an interesting point. Knocked Louis outta the ring!!!

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