Schmeling vs. Louis 1936

By Norman Marcus on February 24, 2017
Schmeling vs. Louis 1936
The fight was over. The German superman had defeated the unprepared black man.

“Joe Louis is the hardest puncher I’ve ever seen. Anyone who plans on beating him had better know what they are doing…”

Max Schmeling, aka the Black Uhlan of the Rhine, bounded down the gangplank of the German Liner Breman in New York Harbor. The American press quickly gathered around the number two contender. German trainer Max Machon and American manager Joe Jacobs were with him. The reporters wanted to know what the ex -champion thought of the number one contender, Joe Louis. Max responded, “Joe Louis is the hardest puncher I’ve ever seen. Anyone who plans on beating him had better know what they are doing… I don’t think it’s impossible to beat Joe Louis.”

This last line sent the reporters into a frenzy of questions. Why did he think he could beat the younger, stronger boxer from Detroit? The thirty-year-old Max hesitated. He didn’t want to give his secrets away. You see the German had spent weeks at his home in Germany, studying film of Louis’s fights. He had noticed an occasional flaw in the American’s defense. Sometimes Louis, aka the Brown Bomber, would momentarily drop his left hand low after a jab. It didn’t happen often but if a man had the patience to wait, he might, if he was quick enough, land a solid punch to Joe’s chin. Max had a strong right hand and felt he might be able to land a knockout blow. Another reporter asked with a sneer on his face, “Tell us Max, how you intend to do this… What did you see Max?”

Max backed off. Surrounded by microphones, beaming his words all over the world, he decided to be careful. Max answered carefully, “I zink I zee zomezing! But I von’t tell.” His face broke into a big broad grin as he quickly headed for a waiting taxi and sped off.

The reporters played it up big in the newspapers that day. “Max has seen something,” they wrote. But was it true or just hype for the gate? They didn’t know for sure.

It was no coincidence that the next morning, Joe Jacobs came over to the Commodore Hotel. Jacobs was Jewish, which played well for the German Schmeling in New York City. Jacobs had a lot of contacts in the game here. He set up Schmeling’s training camp at a Jewish resort in the Catskills. The spin hopefully would prove that Max was no Nazi. After all he was staying at a Jewish hotel! Hitler obviously frowned upon the relationship between these two men but it paid off big time that morning. In Joe’s pocket was a contract for a fight with Joe Louis. All it needed was Max’s signature. It was also agreed upon, that Champion Jimmy Braddock would later meet the winner of this fight, for his heavyweight title. The fight was set for June 19, 1936 at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York. Max, 48-7-4 (34 KOs) quickly scribbled his name on the dotted line. It was all set now.

Joe Louis’s training camp was set up in Lakewood, New Jersey, about sixty miles south of New York City. The number one contender, Joe Louis (27-0, 23 KOs), was thinking about his golf game later that afternoon, instead of his morning workout. The Louis camp felt that Schmeling was yesterday’s news. This ex-champion had won the title from Jack Sharkey by a disqualification, while sitting on the canvas. Max was just considered a stepping stone to Jimmy Braddock and the World Heavyweight Title. After all, the German should be easy pickings for the twenty-two-year-old Louis. So Joe played some golf, while Max stuck strictly to training for the upcoming bout.

The fight was to be refereed as usual by Arthur Donovan. Donovan was literally on promoter Mike Jacobs’s payroll. Art was always there in New York to call the shots and make sure Louis got a fair deal in the ring. Joe Louis was Mike Jacobs’s meal ticket and Uncle Mike, aka Youssel the Muscle, didn’t want anything to happen to his future champ. To be fair, Louis was a special kind of fighter and never needed Donovan’s help.

(Except once maybe, the following year, in a super close fight with Tommy Farr at Yankee Stadium on August 30, 1937. Most people in the crowd screamed that Farr had won it and the title from Louis that night. Donovan even began to lift Farr’s arm in victory before he caught himself and dropped it. The judges however, amazingly scored it a UD15 for Louis! Arthur was still just the insurance policy.)

The fight started slowly that night, both men feeling each other out. Schmeling started using his jab and his right hand as a follow up. Max was a scientific boxer who could counterpunch better than most of his day. His right hand was his best weapon. He could adjust his tactics as a fight unfolded.

Louis on the other hand was a methodical stalker. His jabs all landed with power. When he got in close he could short punch like Jack Dempsey. Joe had so many weapons in his arsenal you never knew what was coming next. But on this night he just couldn’t adjust to Max’s tactics.

In round 4 Max found that brief opening to Joe’s chin he had been waiting for and sent the American to the canvas. The German later opened a bad cut over Louis’s eye. In round 12 Schmeling moved in with a right hand body shot. As Joe again dropped his left, Max followed through with another right to Louis’s chin. Joe went down near his corner. Donovan had no choice but to count Louis out. It was a KO12 for the German. (Louis wasn’t knocked out again until October 26, 1951, by Rocky Marciano, fifteen years later.)

That night all the folks in Harlem were in shock. Many women were literally crying in the streets. But in Berlin, Hitler was thrilled. He sent Max’s wife Anny Ondra, a Czech movie star, a bouquet of flowers and a card, “For the wonderful victory of your husband, our greatest German boxer…” he wrote.

The fight was over. The German superman had defeated the unprepared black man. But there were storm clouds on the horizon. Joe Louis would spend the next two years getting ready for his 1938 rematch with Schmeling. “I want Schmeling. I ain’t no champion till I beat Schmeling.” Joe quickly switched his training camp to Pompton Lakes, after his loss to Schmeling in 1936. Louis would now train there exclusively. He always considered the new camp lucky, since he went on a winning streak there that lasted over a decade!

Meanwhile papers were now signed to give Schmeling his guaranteed shot with Jimmy Braddock in the Garden. But Braddock claimed hand problems and the fight never happened. The feeling in Washington D.C. was that the politicians didn’t want Schmeling to possibly win and take the title back to Germany. There was war coming and Hitler could have had Schmeling and the Heavyweight belt safe in Germany to be used as Nazi propaganda.

Years later Jimmy Braddock admitted that it was a political not a medical reason the fight never happened. His hands had been fine. It seems that the Brown Bomber was thought to be worth a couple of divisions in the propaganda war to come. The heavyweight champion of the world had to be a soldier in the American Army not the German Wehrmacht. Joe Louis would be that champion.

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Max Schmeling vs Joe Louis, I (All Rounds)

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  1. nicolas 08:42am, 03/03/2017

    Great article Mr. Marcus. I had never heard that James Braddock was in on keeping Schelling out of getting a title fight with him by feigning an injury. really makes him more despicable, Considering the movie Cinderella Man made him look like such a good guy, and Max Baer a villain. That film would have been far better, and perhaps more ironic had it shown Braddock in that light, and showed that he would get a percentage of Louis’s future earnings by doing what he did, by giving the at the time the least deserving shot at the title compared to Schmelling. Also is it not interesting, and never mentioned, but when blacks had been denied for so long a shot at the title because of the color barrier. Schmelling, a white but foreign fighter was to be denied.

    As far as the Tommy Farr fight goes. Most people now have said that only act the time was there some controversy. Donovan claims that he held Farr’s hand up because he gave him great credit for going 15 rounds with Louis. Also in an article that Donovan wrote, he claims that many in the audience that night really could not see all the action, being in a stadium, and that many in the audience wanted a white guy to win, even though not an American. There were some fear by white fans even back then that blacks were taking over the sport, being that Louis was champ, Armstrong held two titles, and John Henry Lewis was light heavyweight champ. Though Farr must be given credit. of all of Louis’s 25 defenses, it can be said that Farr was the fifth toughest, and just ahead in ascending order, the first title defense against Arturo Godoy, a split decision, the second Walcott fight, the first Conn fight, and the first Walcott fight, a split decision, and the most controversial of all decisions for Louis.

  2. Lucas McCain 07:40am, 02/25/2017

    Perhaps they carried the left low, but it may be a calculated risk to tempt a lead to roll and send over a counter.  The pace of fights might be slow but they were trying to make things happen.  The success of the style—at least for some—may be gauged by Schmeling having fought until middle age, then coming back as a successful businessman, and living until 99 years old with, as far as I know, his mental acuity intact!  Louis, of course, was different story.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:51am, 02/25/2017

    Both guys carried their lefts low and brought their jabs up from the waist for Christ’s sake. Both were wide open for straight rights.

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