Just over 80 years ago, one of the epic rematches was held in Heavyweight boxing history. And, not just for the boxing implications, but also for eventual safety and security of the world itself, what happened on June 22nd, 1938, at Yankee Stadium in New York is something worthy of still being talked about in boxing history.
The backdrop was the beginnings of what would become World War II, and, that night in New York famed heavyweight champion Joe Louis, defended his newly won title with a sensational first-round destruction of his German counterpart who had beaten him two years earlier, Max Schmeling.
And in doing so, Louis sent an emphatic message not only to the boxing world but to the raging maniac leader of the “Third Reich” in Germany, Adolf Hitler, about German supremacy.
Although Hitler began a horrendous time in European and World history that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions before it was over, Schmeling could no longer be used as a propaganda puppet by Hitler and the Germans, as being superior to all other races and nationalities.
First, the boxing background. Schmeling had upset Louis in June of 1936 to become the #1 contender by using a tactical advantage of a stinging left jab and a hard right cross behind it that Louis was not able to solve.
After flooring the previously unbeaten Louis for the first time in his career in the fourth, Schmeling continued to press his advantage scoring first with the right and then, combinations behind it. By the 12th round, the German was ahead significantly on the scorecards and eventually, rocked Louis with a left to the head followed by a crushing right hook to the body.
As Louis staggered, Schmeling finished Louis with a final right to the head and he was shockingly counted out. It was an upset stunned the boxing world, as Schmeling now would be in line to fight James Braddock for the title.
The German Nazi government praised what Schmeling had done, but also stood in the way of him having another fight for over the next 18 months.
Louis benefitted and shook off his first defeat, eventually winning the Heavyweight title battle over Braddock himself by eighth round TKO in June of 1937. That would set up the rematch the rematch with Schmeling.
And whereas, the first fight had been a long drawn-out battle, this one was over before you could spell “Allied Forces.”
Within the first 20 seconds of the fight, over 70,000 fans were on their feet, as “The Brown Bomber” had shaken Schmeling with the first of what would become numerous big right hands. Eventually, a minute into the fight Louis landed a barrage of lefts that concluded with a body shot where Schmeling could be heard crying out at ringside and turned his back to Louis. The ref got between the two sending Louis away, but he then waved Louis back. He continued the pressure, and then, landed a booming right to the jaw that dropped Schmeling for the first time.
In those days there was no “standing eight count” for a knockdown, and a fighter didn’t have to go to a neutral corner. That’s when, another three punch barrage immediately floored Schmeling again, seconds later. Schemling wobbled to his feet, but Louis within seconds landed a final devastating right to the jaw and Schmeling was down for the third time in 30 seconds and unable to get up.
At this point, Schmeling’s corner threw in the towel, and the fight was stopped at the 2:04 mark with Louis having gotten his revenge.
Louis went on to successfully defend the title a total of a still record 25 times over the next 14 years.
As for Schmeling, he ended up going back to his homeland, but actually refused to assist the Nazis. And, it was later learned that he had also very famously privately hid a Jewish family from the Nazis in the 1940’s, saving their lives.
Schemling continued to have a friendship with Louis that lasted 40 years after their fights. It even included Schmeling helping Louis financially throughout the latter years of his life, and he even visited Louis frequently, as Louis was working as a greeter at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
Schmeling even paid for part of Louis’ funeral, which was held in Las Vegas in 1981. Incredibly, Schmeling lived 99 years before dying in 2005.
(As a personal aside, I remember being an early teenager visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL in the mid 1980s and you could go in the old-time “Arcade” on Main Street. And, within that arcade was a nickel crank movie kaleidoscope that you could watch the final 30 seconds or so of the Louis knockout of Schmeling by winding the manual crank. Needless to say, as a young fight fan, I paid my nickel several times over several visits. A cool memory.)
Both Louis and Schmeling were inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, as testament to their impact in the ring. And Louis’ win, on the heels of Jessie Owens having dominated in track at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of Hitler, sent a clear message to Germany about the fallacy of the Aryan race.
Still, World War II would be in full swing just two years later. With the United States eventually partnering with England, France and others to win the war in 1945.
As for Boxing, Louis-Schmeling II remains one of the greatest knockouts in Heavyweight boxing in the first half of the 20th century.