On June 19, 1936, undefeated Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in New York.
“The Detroit bomber,” as Louis was known, was an idol of the crowds, especially among young African Americans who saw in him as a hope plus inspiration to end racism in the United States at that time.
Max Schmeling, who detested the nazis, was their utterly unwilling hero. Adolf Hitler had already started his expansionist policy and could not miss the opportunity to show the world the superiority of the German fighter.
An overwhelming favorite, it was actually and factually Joe who was overwhelmed. In round 12, Schmeling KO`d a stunned and befuddled Louis leaving the entire Yankee Stadium in muted shock. It was the first time that Joe had lost. Max, who`d spotted Joe was lowering his left jab, clinically exploited it by throwing clusters of overhead rights. He seemed to be invincible that night.
Max’s victory was used as part of the political propaganda of nazism through its representation as “A triumph of the Aryan race”, elevating Schmeling to the category of national hero.
The following year Louis won the world championship by knocking out tough James “Cinderella Man” Braddock in round 8, becoming the first African American to be world champion since Jack Johnson did it in 1915.
Joe commented that he would not feel like a true champion, until he defeated the only boxer who had made him taste defeat.
The date of the rematch was agreed on June 22, 1938. In the days leading up to the fight, Louis visited the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. According to the New York Times, FDR`s words were: “Joe, we need muscles like yours to defeat Germany. Remember that when a cause is just, an American never loses.”
With a fight brimming with political connotations, Americans needed to have victory. The revenge from his point of view was the combat of the United States against Nazi Germany, freedom against fascism, the fight of good against evil.
June 22, 1938, a key moment in Boxing history, aged 24 years and weighing 200 pounds, Joe Louis was again received at the Yankee Stadium. He was in the rematch against 32 years old vintage Max Schmeling Who weighed in at a lean 194 pounds.
More than seventy thousand people bought their entrance ticket, and the combat was broadcast by radio in four different languages (English, German, Portuguese and Spanish) and it is estimated that it was heard by more than 65 million people worldwide.
Incredibly, the fight lasted only two minutes and 4 seconds. When the bell rang, Joe came out of his corner like a tornado, driving Max against the ropes. Bludgeoned by a ferocious onslaught combination, Max, who was about to fall, but was only held up by the ropes.
The torrential rain of blows from Louis stormed unrelentingly, so much so that Schmeling could offer no tangible defense. He fell to the ground for the first time and got up…shellshocked. Only to walk into a devastating short right that placed him back on the canvas. Valiantly Max tried to get up, but his corner decided to throw the towel to avoid further extensive punishment.
Schmeling was enlisted in the paratrooper corps while Louis visited military camps offering boxing shows.
When the war ended, Max and Joe met to start a great friendship that grew over the years. Both were great fighters and even greater men. Rivals who became lifelong friends.