Max Schmeling, After the Rain

By Timothy Seaver on September 15, 2015
Max Schmeling, After the Rain
It seems fitting to wonder if there was an omen in the rains that fell the night before.

Rescheduling the fight was just postponing the inevitable. Joe owned the ring, Max was a serf renting space…

Rain fell upon New York City on June 18th, 1936. The weather was bothersome enough that the outdoor meeting at Yankee Stadium between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling was moved to the 19th. Joe took the news with an “oh well’ shrug. Max was to be like the rain, bothersome, a bit of a nuisance, but no threat. Hardly more troublesome than a passing storm. The odds were 10-to-1 in the Brown Bomber’s favor. Rescheduling the fight was just postponing the inevitable. Joe owned the ring, Max was a serf renting space.

The American press knew Schmeling, but its praise had waned in recent years. He had some setbacks, losing to heavyweights like Max Baer, Steve Hamas, and Jack Sharkey. And his victories seemed to come with asterisks. Sure, he beat Mickey Walker, but Walker was a former middleweight. He beat Jack Sharkey for the title, but that was on a foul; the first and only time the crown would change hands under such a situation.

But these criticisms failed to look deeper. The loss to Hamas was avenged with the only knockout of Hamas’s career. The loss to Sharkey was hotly debated. And Walker had actually defeated some quality heavyweights. Add to that list other respectable names and it might appear that the rains of the 18th augured something ominous for Joe Louis.

Still, little was thought of the German Fighter’s chances. Even his nickname, The Black Uhlan of the Rhine was bereft of substance. It had the feel of something constructed by, and for, American newspapermen with a penchant for the poetic. Only his hair was black, many people couldn’t find the Rhine on a map, and who knew what an Uhlan was?

Yet the triumphs and the failures of a long career left Schmeling with an experienced eye. “I see something,” were the words attributed to him; recalled by historians with a touch of drama. And that “Something” was a left hand kept low—a flaw in Joe’s defense that might welcome Schmeling’s vaunted straight right hand.

Perhaps Max was considering that right hand as he sat in the ring and the cheers came up from the crowd. Across from him, Joe Louis entered the ring. The countenance of the uncrowned king was calm, as it always was.

When his name was called, Schmeling received a nice applause. It was the applause respectful Yankee Stadium fans offered to a visiting former champ, nice but not loaded with passion. The reaction at Louis’s name was predictably stronger. When the introductions were complete referee Arthur Donovan took a few moments to let the combatants know that he was in charge. With the final instructions given, Max and Joe went to their respective corners, ready for the first bell.

Through several rounds the German heavyweight began to work the plan he had envisioned. Max used his jab and straight right hand to sneak beyond Louis’s guard. He had some moments, but there was not yet any sign that his master plan could do the impossible.

Then, in the fourth round, the impossible began to take shape. Max slammed a right hand into Joe’s face. Joe’s feet betrayed him with an awkward dance. Max followed up with a flurry. Shock overtook the crowd—Joe Louis fell to his backside.

Joe rose to continue the match, as all great fighters must. But the rest of the battle would prove to be a slow unfolding of a surprise ending. Schmeling continued to unload the clever, sharp right hand. He added some versatility with a nice jab and the occasional uppercut. It all wore on Joe Louis who was growing slower as the rounds progressed. And finally, in the 12th, the sustained beating had become too much. Max put Joe on the canvas again.

The legend of Joe Louis had already started to grow before the match, and it would grow immeasurably bigger in the years to follow. But on this night, the legend was briefly suspended to give a moment to the former champion. Joe was defeated. He got to his feet only with the help of his proud conqueror who assisted him with a jubilant embrace and wide smile.

Perhaps hindsight has offered a glossy veneer to the facts of that June night in New York. Maybe one man beat another in a prizefight, and that is that. But with the impossible nature of the moment, it seems fitting to wonder if there was some kind of omen in the rains that fell the night before.

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Max Schmeling vs Joe Louis, I (All Rounds)



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  1. bikermike 04:05pm, 09/25/2015

    This is not the first article I have enjoyed from the author Timothy Seaver.

    As it turned out….Schmeling and Louis kept in touch after their Boxing careers were over…Schmeling buried Louis…just another classy move he made…over the years.
    Schmeling was very successful ..a career with Coca Cola..throughout Europe….
    Joe…wasn’t so successful…and fell on hard times..

    USA govt hounded that man to the point of near insanity…for unpaid taxes..When the music stopped ...Joe Louis was pretty much alone….except for Schmeling and a few others…

  2. NYIrish 05:38am, 09/19/2015

    Nice work.

  3. The Fight Film Collector 08:46pm, 09/16/2015

    I know this story well, but I still enjoyed this piece very much.

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