Max Baer

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Max Baer
Class of 1995
Old Timer Category
Hall of Fame bio:click
World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Max Baer
Alias: Livermore Larupper
Birth Name: Maximillian Adelbert Baer
Born: 1909-02-11
Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Died: 1959-11-21 (Age:50)
Nationality: US American
Hometown: Livermore, California, USA
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 6′ 2½″   /   189cm
Reach: 81″   /   206cm
Boxing Record: click

Division: Heavyweight
Manager: Ancil Hoffman
Trainer: Bob McAllister (circa 1931)
Max Baer Gallery


Contents

Career Overview

Fun-loving, entertaining, hard-hitting, and charismatic, Max Baer was the fighter most responsible for maintaining the public's interest in the heavyweight division during early years of the Great Depression. Realizing that character and image were as important to creating boxing spectacles as was fighting prowess, Baer was a character unlike any other for his time. He substituted his contagious smile and clown-like ring antics for his lack of true boxing technique. Combined with his literally lethal punching power, Baer's personality made him perhaps the most popular boxer in the era between the retirement of Jack Dempsey and the rise of Joe Louis. Unfortunately, because of his uncomplimentary portrayal in the film "Cinderella Man". Baer is wrongly perceived by many as an arrogant, bloodthirsty brat. Those who knew him describe a happy-go-lucky man, always looking for the lighter side of a brutal sport. It was precisely this perspective and behavior that made him so likable for those suffering the miseries of Depression era.

Early Years

Born in Omaha, Nebraska on February 11, 1909, Baer moved to Livermore, California with his family as a child. He often worked in his father's cattle slaughterhouse, a job he later claimed was responsible for his well-muscled frame, broad shoulders, and feared right hand punch (an article in the January, 1939 edition of The Family Circle Magazine reported that Baer also took the Charles Atlas exercise course.) By the age of eighteen he was already six feet tall and weighed 190 pounds. Encouraged by friends to train as a boxer, he set up his own gym on his father's ranch and set to building up his punching power. He eventually moved to Oakland in pursuit of finding a manager, taking a job at a local factory to support himself. There he met the factory owner's son, J. Hamilton Lorimer, who became his first manager. With Lorimer backing him, Max fought his first professional match in Stockton, California on May 16, 1929, knocking out the otherwise forgotten Chief Caribou in two rounds. He fought sixteen more times before the close of the year, losing just once, disqualified for picking up and throwing an opponent to the floor. He was again disqualified in his first match of 1930, this time for "stalling." He went on to win his next seven fights, however, six by knockout, securing a match with his most talented opponent yet, Les Kennedy, one of the best fighters in California. Still raw and unschooled, Max was unable to solve the puzzle of Kennedy's professional, experienced style and lost a ten round decision.

Despite the loss, Baer's aggressive style and knockout punch continued to make him a big draw on the West Coast. Thus he was still able to garner another major fight, against Frankie Campbell, who had recently defeated Kennedy. On August 25, 1930, Max dominated his fight with Campbell, repeatedly raking him across the ropes until the referee stopped the slaughter in the fifth. By the time Baer relented, Campbell was completely unconscious and doctors failed to revive him after hours of trying. The death of the promising Campbell created an outrage among anti-boxing forces, prompting the California Commission to suspend the referee and several others involved. Though Max himself was not suspended, he was badly shaken by the tragedy and did not fight for another four months, his longest period of inactivity yet. In his next match, he lost a ten round decision to clever Ernie Schaaf.

Though Baer had himself considered retirement after Frankie Campbell's death, that fight made headlines that had many people clamoring to witness the fabled punching power of the young Californian. Thus he was given a match against his first internationally known opponent, Tom Heeney, a New Zealand fighter who had once done battle with Gene Tunney for the heavyweight title. Heeney was by this time well beyond his prime, however, and Baer had an easy time annihilating him inside of three rounds. This led to a fight with Tommy Loughran, the lightning-quick future hall of famer and former light heavyweight champion of the world. The February 6, 1931 proved to be one of the most important bouts of Max's career. Though Loughran's talent and experience combined to give Baer a humiliating boxing lesson and take a ten round unanimous decision, he took the time to give Baer some pointers after the fight. Tommy told Max that he would go a long way if he would learn to quit looping his punches and straighten them out to provide a quicker route to the target. Meanwhile, Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion who refereed the bout between Loughran and Baer, took notice of the youngster from California. He and Max became great friends and would remain so for the rest of their lives. Dempsey often acted as a mentor to Max and even promoted several of his fights.

Contender & Champion

Though Max lost his next two big name fights, against contenders, Johnny Risko and Paolino Uzcudun, he showed more patience in the ring and better boxing technique, proving that he was listening to the advice given him by Loughran and Dempsey. The hard work paid dividends as Max won ten consecutive fights within an ten month period. Included among the wins were rematches with Risko, Kennedy, and Heeney, as well as two decisions over contender King Levinsky. By the Summer of 1932, Max was finally a legitimate contender for the heavyweight championship of the world. On August 31, 1932, he fought a rematch with slick boxing Ernie Schaaf. Though he fell slightly behind on points in the early going, Baer had paced himself for a long fight and turned slugger in the ninth. For two rounds he belted Ernie around the ring and, with two seconds to go in the fight, landed a devastating right that put his opponent flat on his face, completely unconscious. Because the bell rang before the referee could complete his count, Baer was robbed of the official knockout, but he did walk away with the ten round decision. When Schaaf suffered mortal injuries early in his fight with Primo Carnera just months later, many speculated that it was the leftover effects of his fight with Baer that truly did the fatal damage.

After knocking out veteran contender Tuffy Griffiths in seven rounds, Baer was matched with former world champion Max Schmeling. A skilled boxer with a solid right hand punch, Schmeling was considered the outstanding contender for Jack Sharkey's heavyweight crown at the time. The German Schmeling had recently become a controversial figure in boxing because of his association with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who was despised by many Americans because of the Nazi persecution of Jews. Baer, though he was not raised Jewish, had Jewish blood in his family. Thus, mainly for publicity purposes, he sported the Star of David on his boxing trunks for the fight with Schmeling. This act made him immensely popular with the America's Jewish population and he would keep the symbol on his trunks for the remainder of his career. On June 8, 1933, Baer fought the fight of his life. At the fight's opening, he charged out aggressively and took immediate control of the fight. Lucky to survive Baer's early onslaught, Schmeling used his superior boxing technique and employing a strong body assault to gain a slight lead on the score cards in the middle rounds. In the ninth round, though, Baer seemed to get a second wind and lashed out once more. He stunned Schmeling into desperately defending himself, taking the round clearly. The tenth featured more of the same until Baer landed a huge right hand that sent Schmeling careening into the ropes. Another right moments later dropped the former champion. Barely able to rise at the count of nine, Schmeling was essentially finished. He could do little else but attempt to block Baer's storm of bombs. When more punishment sent the German fumbling once more against the ropes and a hard rabbit punch from Baer cracked the disorient Schmeling on the back of the head, referee Arthur Donovan stopped the fight.

Now there was no dispute that Max Baer was the leading heavyweight contender. Shortly after the Schmeling fight, world champion Jack Sharkey lost his title by knockout to Italy's gigantic Primo Carnera. Carnera's great size made him a freak show sensation, but Max Baer was likely the most famous active fighter in the world at the time. Both he and Primo appeared together in the film The Prizefighter and the Lady, with Max playing the lead role opposite love interest Myrna Loy. The climax of the film was a fictional showdown between Baer and Carnera, the fight most fight fans were desperately calling for in real life. The fight finally took place on June 14, 1934, at Madison Square Garden. At the weigh-in before the bout, Max's zany behavior puzzled the champion but certainly satisfied the newspaper writers. He plucked hairs from Primo's well-muscled chest, musing as he did so, "He loves me; he loves me not." The he reached out and tickled Carnera, goofily shouting, "Boo, you big palooka!" Carnera could only manage a perplexed smile. The scales confirmed what everybody already knew: Baer would be at a rare size disadvantage, giving up more than fifty pounds in weight and at least three inches in height to the hulk from Italy. Because of his advantages, Carnera was the betting favorite.

Uncharacteristically, Baer came out cautiously in the first round, keeping his distance as Primo tried to chase him down. When a wild right hand caught the champion flush, the tables seemed to instantly turn. Carnera crashed to the floor and appeared desperately groggy when he rose. Sensing a first round knockout imminent, Baer pressed forward for the first time, putting together a ruthless series of punches that sent Primo down twice more. Carnera showed tremendous heart in surviving the round, but was clearly unaware of his surroundings when the bell rang and he wandered into the wrong corner. Exhausted by his futile efforts to put the giant away, Baer tried desperately to finish the still groggy champion off in the second, but to no avail. The pair ended up clinching and wrestling for the next several rounds, with both men frequently tripping and falling to the canvas. During one of these tumbles, Baer got laughs from the crowd by looking over at Carnera and joking, "Last one up's a sissy!" Eventually Carnera, having steadied himself, began to use his size and reach against the challenger. The Italian was never known as a quality boxer, but, against the crude and exhausted challenger, he had had enough skills to gain a lead on the score cards as the fight entered the tenth round. Toward the end of that round a roundhouse right from Baer turned the tide once again, sending Primo fumbling across the ring. A follow-up fusillade of blows sent the champion down. The brave but battered Carnera made it to his feet just in time to hear the bell clang to signal the conclusion of the round. The minute rest did little to revive Carnera's senses. He came out for the eleventh, but proved to be little more than a gigantic target, going down twince more before the referee stopped the contest. Including the wrestling falls in the middle of the fight, Primo hit the deck eleven times in eleven rounds. Max Baer was the new world's champion.

Max was a popular champion, charismatic and exciting to watch in the ring. As mentioned before, his clowning antics in and out of the ring were a breath of fresh air for fight fans suffering the tumultuous struggles of the Great Depression. But Max's carefree personality reflected an increasingly carefree lifestyle. Baer neglected serious training after winning the title. While he gave several popular boxing exhibitions, he stayed away from professional boxing for the period of a year and dissipated his talent. In the meantime, an unlikely contender by the name of Jim Braddock established himself as a credible challenger for Max's laurels. A down-and-out part-time fighter who also worked on the New Jersey docks, Braddock was thought to be washed up when he won three consecutive fights against some of the biggest names in the division, the press dubbing him the "Cinderella Man" because of his rags-to-riches story. When leading contender Max Schmeling's ties to the Nazis left promoters afraid to schedule the German a rematch with Baer, organizers instead picked up Braddock as an easy mark for the Baer's first title defense.

Braddock & Louis Fights

On June 13, 1935, at Madison Square Garden, the heavily favored champion faced Braddock. Overconfident and under-trained, Baer found himself having an unexpected tough time against his smaller opponent. Braddock, meanwhile, fought the fight of his life. The challenger used constant movement and a stiff left jab to keep Max unsettled. Baer tried to throw his haymaker right hand, but Braddock knew to look out for it and the champion usually missed by a long distance. Unable to compete with Braddock's conditioning and technical precision, Baer could do little else but gasp for breath and make faces at his opponent. The champion fouled on occasion and, when warned by the referee, made theatrical gestures of apology to the crowd and Braddock. The result was a unanimous decision for Braddock in one of the great upsets in ring history. Baer, claiming injured hands, asked for a rematch, which he was never given.

In interviews after the Braddock fight, Max admitted that he had failed to train properly for the fight and that he knew he needed to regain his focus on his boxing career. He promised fans to discipline himself better for his next scheduled match, against an undefeated sensation from Detroit by the name of Joe Louis. At this early stage of his career, Louis had beaten some credible opponents, including former champion Carnera, but had yet to face a fighter as dangerous as Baer. 88,150 people paid $1,000,832, the largest gate in nearly a decade and a considerable achievement in the midst of the Depression to see the two power punchers clash at Yankee Stadium on September 24, 1935. Going into this bout, Baer was hampered by hand injuries. Jeremy Schaap discussed in his book, Cinderella Man: James Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History, that Baer was having trouble with pain in his hands, which forced him to take an injection before the fight. However, the fight was delayed by a thunderstorm and the novocain started to wear off before the bout started. Though both men threw bombs as expected, Louis' punches were shorter, faster, and more accurate. If Baer kept his promise to train diligently for this fight, he never showed it. His punches were looping and amateurish and at no point did Louis show the effects of Baer's fabled power. Both men traded punches for three rounds, Joe clearly getting the better of the action. In the fourth round, looking exhausted and resigned to defeat after taking a hurricane of punishment from Louis, Baer dropped voluntarily to his knees. It was the first time Max had gone down in forty-eight professional fights. He rose to fight on, but was quickly flattened to the floor by a left-right combination. Though Max made it up to his knee, he could not rise in time and suffered his first knockout defeat. "I could have struggled up once more," he told reporters after the fight, "but when I get executed, people are going to have to pay more than twenty-five dollars a seat to watch it." He subsequently announced his retirement from boxing.

Comeback & Later Years

As is the case with many fighters, Baer's initial retirement did not last long. He was back in less than a year (weighing in at an all-time high of 226 pounds), winning a six round decision against overmatched Tony Souza. The Souza fight was the first in a series of eighteen bouts fought inside of three months, as Max toured the U.S. fighting local boys from Salt Lake City, Boise, San Antonio, Tulsa, Vancouver, Twin Falls, and other cities. A six-round exhibition match against Soldier Eddie Franks on September 3 1936 in Provo Utah ended in a 3-round knockout for Baer. On September 21, 1936, he fought another six round exhibition, this time against Andy Kid Miller, described in The Sheldon Mail Newspaper dispatch (quoted portions of story) from THE SHELDON MAIL (Sheldon, Iowa) SEPTEMBER 23, 1936 (by Earl Jinkinson) ....Max Baer, the clowning ex-heavyweight champion amused the large crowd by playfully toying with Andy Miller of Sioux City....As was expected the Sioux City lad was no match for the "Livermore Larruper"....someone asked him to hit Miller and Max replied "do you want me to committ murder?"....The bout was more of a clowning exhibition on the part of Max but the bout was well received by the large crowd. It seems to this correspondant that even after the Louis beating, which Max explained was due to his injured hands, and one look at his hands at this date is sufficient evidence to prove his contention, that Max is still a first class heavyweight contender....

On April 15, 1937 he faced his first ranked contender since the shellacking at the hands of Louis. His opponent was England's heavyweight champion, Tommy Farr, who defeated the former world champion over twelve rounds. It was Max's first loss in twenty-three outings. Less than a year later he avenged the loss, flooring Tommy two times en route to a fifteen round decision, followed by a first round knockout of Ohio's Hank Hankinson.

On June 1, 1939, Baer, having regained his status as one of the leading fighters in the division, fought up-and-comer Lou Nova at Yankee Stadium before 16,778 fans. In an exciting battle, Max suffered horrible facial swellings and cuts that forced the referee to stop the fight in the eleventh round. Though many subsequently wrote Baer off as finally finished as a world class fighter, he strung off four consecutive knockout wins inside of year, including a seventh round stoppage of hard-hitting contender Tony Galento. Thus he was given a second chance against Nova. On April 4, 1941, Max briefly showed shades of his old fighting prowess when flooring Nova with a right hand in the fourth round. As the fight went on, however, Nova took increasing control. After Baer went down twice in the eighth round, the referee stopped the fight. Max never fought professionally again.

During World War II, the still popular Maxcap Max served as a physical conditioning instructor for the Air Force. Later he starred in a popular nightclub act with former light heavyweight champ Maxie Rosenbloom. Sometimes working as a referee in boxing and wrestling matches, he also enjoyed a movie acting career. He died of a heart attack on November 21, 1959 at age 50. In 1995 he won posthumous induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Max's son, Max, Jr., became a popular television actor in the role of Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies show. His younger brother, Buddy Baer, was a ranked heavyweight contender during the late 1930s and 1940s.

Factoids

  • Brother of fellow boxer Buddy Baer
  • Father of Max Baer, Jr.: "Jethro Bodine" of the television series "The Beverly Hillbillies"
  • Max Baer was an actor in his own right
  • His title bout with challenger Jim Braddock was the climax to the 2005 motion picture "Cinderella Man"
  • According to an "Oddities of the Ring" article, as reported in the January 3, 1931 Bellingham Evening News (Bellingham, WA, USA), Baer had fought 110 rounds and scored 110 knockdowns.
  • Died of a heart attack
  • The 1998 Holiday Issue of Ring ranked Max Baer # 20 in "The 50 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time."
  • In Ring Magazine's 100 Greatest Punchers (published in 2003) Max Baer is ranked # 22.
  • Max Baer was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1984 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995. Also in 2010 Baer was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

External Links

Sources

Bak, Richard. Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope. 1998.
Fleischer, Nat. The Heavyweight Championship. 1961.
Hague, Jim. Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man. 2005.
Johnston, Alexander. Ten and Out. 1943.
Schaap, Jeremy. Cinderella Man: James Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History. 2005
Roberts, James B. and Alexander G. Skutt. The Boxing Register. 4th ed. 2006.



Preceded by:
Primo Carnera
World Heavyweight Champion
NYSAC World Heavyweight Champion

1934 Jun 14 – 1935 Jun 13
Succeeded by:
Jim Braddock
Preceded by:
Jack Sharkey
Vacated
Carnera not recognized
NBA World Heavyweight Champion
1934 Jun 14 – 1935 Jun 13
Succeeded by:
Jim Braddock


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