Max Schmeling

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Max Schmeling
Class of 1992
Modern Category
Hall of Fame bio:click
World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Max Schmeling
Alias: Black Uhlan of the Rhine
Born: 1905-09-28
Birthplace: Klein Luckow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
Died: 2005-02-02 (Age:99)
Hometown: Brandenburg, Germany
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 6′ 1″   /   185cm
Reach: 76″   /   193cm
Boxing Record: click

Trainer: Max Machon
Managers: Arthur Buelow, Joe Jacobs
Max Schmeling Gallery

Career Overview

In America, he was routinely cast by promoters as the cold-hearted, villainous invader, a puppet of Hitler and a hater of Jews. In Germany, Nazi propagandists portrayed him as a heroic symbol of German destiny and Aryan supremacy. In no way was Max Schmeling any of these things. He was a quality prizefighter with respectable boxing technique, a solid right hand punch, and a keen intellect. The clash of politics, ideals, and countries that often symbolically accompanied his biggest fights only took place within the perceptions of the audience; they had nothing to do with what happened in the ring. Instead of being respected for his multiple accomplishments in the ring, he spent much of his life derided in America as a Nazi and dismissed in Germany as a disappointment. It was only in his later life that his status as a fighter, apart from his cultural symbolism, could be clearly analyzed.

Early Years

Schmeling first became acquainted with boxing as a teenager, when his father took him to watch film of the heavyweight championship match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. Impressed with Dempsey's performance in that fight, young Schmeling became determined to imitate his new hero. He began boxing in amateur competitions and, by 1924, won Germany's national amateur title in the light heavyweight division. Shortly thereafter he turned professional. Ironically, though he idolized the raging, brawling Dempsey, Schmeling developed a careful, scientific style of fighting that leant itself more to counterpunching. Using this style, he got off to an impressive - though hardly sensational - start by winning seventeen of his first twenty-three bouts, thirteen by knockout. In 1925 he had the thrill of getting into the ring with Dempsey himself, who was then still heavyweight champion of the world and was touring Europe. Dempsey boxed for two rounds with the then unknown German and, according to a story later told by Schmeling, was greatly impressed. He proved Dempsey's praises correct on August 24, 1926, when picking up the German light heavyweight championship with a first round knockout of rival Max Diekmann, who had previously beaten Schmeling. The next year, Schmeling won the European championship by stopping Fernand Delarge in the first boxing match broadcast live in Germany. After defending both titles against Hein Domgoergen the same year and, in 1928, the European Title with a first round knockout of Michele Bonaglia, he secured the German heavyweight championship with a point victory against Franz Diener, and decided to chase bigger fights and bigger purses in the United States.

Arriving in New York City for the first time in 1928, Schmeling was hardly noticed by the American fight circles. Considered a stiff European fighter who had padded his record against German and European unknowns, he was given few opportunities to prove himself until he hooked up with American manager Joe Jacobs, a man with the proper talents and connections to move Schmeling's career along a positive path. Schmeling's debut in America took place at Madison Square Garden with an eighth round knockout of Joe Monte, who was not a top flight heavyweight but nonetheless a young American who had been in with some tough competition. Two more victories led to a fight with Johnny Risko, one of the biggest names in the division, though somewhat beyond his prime. On February 1, 1929, Schmeling floored Risko four times with his right hand before the referee halted the contest in the ninth round to save Risko from further punishment. The surprised crowd in attendance roared with appreciation and The Ring magazine subsequently recognized the win as its 'Fight of the Year.'

The "Low Blow Champion"

Boxing pundits were quickly changing their opinions of the German. When he defeated the highly-regarded Spaniard Paolino Uzcudun via a fifteen-round decision at Yankee Stadium later that year, Schmeling was suddenly regarded as the foremost young contender in the division. With the Heavyweight World Champion Gene Tunney having recently retired, promoters arranged a matchup between the German and veteran contender Jack Sharkey to fill the vacancy. On June 12, 1930, at Yankee Stadium, in a fight billed as the 'Battle of the Continents,' Schmeling, known as a slow starter, fell slightly behind on points going into the fourth round. Schmeling was trying to corner his opponent when Sharkey let loose with a blow to the body which strayed below the belt line. He immediately clutched his groin and fell to the canvas, claiming to have been fouled. When manager Jacobs ran into the ring, prompting all kinds of chaos, the confused referee disqualified Sharkey and declared Schmeling the victor and the first (and only) man to win the heavyweight championship on a foul. The New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC), reviewing the call, agreed.

Max Schmeling

The first European-born boxer to win the heavyweight championship in thirty-three years, Schmeling was also the first from Germany to hold the distinction. Still, the way in which he won the title proved an embarrassment. Called the 'low blow champion,' he was disparaged in both America and Europe as an unproven titleholder. When he initially refused to face Sharkey in a rematch, the NYSAC officially stripped him of their recognition as world champion, but he remained recognized by both the National Boxing Association (NBA) and The Ring magazine. Most of the criticism faded after Schmeling's first defense, an impressive fifteen round t.k.o. over Young Stribling, a future hall-of-famer with 239 wins to his credit by 1931. In order to solidify his title as undisputed, Schmeling signed a contract to face the "Boston Gob" once more. On June 21, 1932, the championship picture became even more muddled when Sharkey won a highly controversial split decision, taking the championship. Many in attendance, including Gene Tunney and the mayor of New York, felt that Schmeling had proven himself the better man and was robbed. In losing the championship, the German had managed to elevate his reputation in the minds of boxing fans.

Walker and Baer

When Schmeling faced Mickey Walker, the future hall-of-famer who had recently held Sharkey to a draw that many felt Walker deserved, it was thought that this fight was for the real heavyweight championship. Walker, a former welterweight, was a popular slugger who had won championships in two divisions but was at a considerably size disadvantage against the European. Though Walker fought bravely and took the lead on points early in the fight, Schmeling showed both boxing ability and punching power in dealing out a terrific beating as the fight progressed. After eight exciting rounds, Walker's corner threw in the towel, confirming Schmeling's status as the leading heavyweight in the world.

With the coming of 1933, however, Schmeling's image in America began to take a decided turn. In 1932, the Nazi Party became the most powerful political force in Germany, and its ideologies, voiced by party leader Adolf Hitler, overflowed with anti-Semitic tendencies. Major American cities such as New York had large Jewish populations, who worried over what the party could mean for people of their religion in the future. Schmeling, because he was German, was viewed as an extention of Hitler's plans for world domination. When Schmeling was slated to fight heavy-hitting contender Max Baer on June 8, 1933, he immediately became the 'bad guy' in the eyes of fans. Baer, who did not practice the Jewish religion but had a Jewish grandfather, came into the ring wearing the Star of David on his shorts. Promoter Jack Dempsey played up this angle and suddenly the fight was viewed as Baer defending his faith against the prejudice of the Nazis, represented reluctantly by Schmeling. Thrown off of his game in part by the bad publicity, but also because of Baer's wild, brawling style and frequent fouls (including backhand punches and rabbit punches), Schmeling was positively thrashed after ten rounds before nearly 60,000 onlookers at Yankee Stadium. While the German took a vicious battering against the ropes in the tenth, the referee leapt in to stop the fight. The embarrassing fight, combined with a follow-up loss to contender Steve Hamas early the next year, left many wondering if Schmeling was still a world top class fighter.

Dismantling the Bomber

Max Schmeling

Returning to his native Germany, Schmeling won three of his next four fights, with one draw, including knockout wins over Walter Neusel and Steve Hamas. His opponents were of an impressive caliber, but many among the American press and fans remained unmoved on the idea of rooting for Schmeling in light of the Nazi Party's behavior. Articles continued to be published declaring the German 'washed up,' a 'has been,' or a 'Nazi puppet.' When he was matched with undefeated African American sensation Joe Louis in 1936 for the German's first fight on American soil in more than two years, he was clearly the betting underdog, considered a name opponent for Louis to roll over on his route to the title. Nevertheless he was number two contender for the title behind Louis. Prior to the match, Schmeling carefully studied films of Louis's prior fights, dissecting apparent flaws in the Detroit fighter's technique. Among the weaknesses he noticed was the fact that Louis lowered his left hand after throwing a left jab. In the ring, Schmeling exploited this subtle flaw to his own advantage, countering nearly every Louis jab with his best punch, the right cross. The fight proved to be a competitive, hard-hitting affair for the first three rounds, but, in the fourth, a counter right from the German dropped Louis for the first time in his career. Though Louis rose, he was badly dazed for the remainder of the fight and Schmeling subsequently delivered the finest performance of his career. For a further eight rounds he battered Louis, often standing toe-to-toe with the vaunted puncher and landing that same right hand to the jaw repeatedly. In the twelfth he sent the American tumbling to the floor once more, and this time Louis could not recover. He was counted out on the floor and Schmeling had scored the most talked-about sports upset of the year.

Now the unexpected number one contender for the heavyweight crown held by Jim Braddock, Schmeling looked forward to his chance to regain the title as first Heavyweight ever, scheduled for that September. The fight was postponed, however, when Braddock injured his hand in training. Rumors existed that the fight's organizers were stalling, afraid of the negative publicity that would be generated over a perceived Nazi getting a shot at the world's title. When it was confirmed that Braddock's managers were in talks with the Louis camp, the New York Commission officially released an order for Braddock to fight Schmeling for the title. Any other fight, with Louis or otherwise, would not be recognized by New York as being for the championship. The Madison Square Garden Corporation, the largest promotional company in the sport at the time, even attempted to get a legal injunction against a Braddock-Louis fight (Louis was not on their roster). Nonetheless, in February in 1937, Schmeling received the bad news that the champion had indeed singed to defend his championship against Louis. A furious Schmeling protested, but to no avail, and he was forced to watch from ringside as Louis knocked Braddock out and gained the championship. Sorely disappointed and convinced that he would never receive his chance at redemption, Schmeling fought just once more in America, an eighth round knockout of future contender Harry Thomas, before returning to Germany. In his native land, Schmeling was regarded as a hero and promoted by the Nazi propaganda machine as a perfect example of German supremacy over the rest of the world by virtue of his stunning defeat of the current champion, Louis. The government ordered parades and rallies in his honor. He became a friend to Hitler and other powerful figures in the government and also a popular subject of newspaper articles and films. He continued to press for a chance at a rematch with Louis and in the meantime padded his record against overmatched fighters Ben Foord and Steve Dudas.

"Battle of the Century"

In 1938, champion Joe Louis announced that he would indeed face Schmeling for the title. The rematch became an instant international sensation. Many clamored impatiently for its happening, but others, afraid of international tensions and the possibility of Hitler taking over the championship, protested. The controversy and ballyhoo led to the even becoming the most anticipated boxing match since the rematch between Dempsey and Gene Tunney, or possibly earlier. Louis, with his poor, African American roots was adopted by American fans as the symbol of America as a land of opportunity. In contrast, Americans perceived Schmeling and his ties to Hitler as an obvious threat to those opportunities and ideals. When the German walked to the ring at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938, he did so under a hail of garbage thrown from the stands. Ironically, it was a less humiliating barrage than what he experienced in the ring. Louis came out blazing in the first round and Schmeling tried to counterpunch as he had in the first bout, but to no avail. Driven into the ropes and battered with a fusillade of short, crisp blows from every angle, Schmeling turned his back to his opponent and clutched onto the ropes, letting out a scream that years later many spectators could recall vividly. Schmeling would later claim that he screamed because he had been hit with a blow to the kidneys. Schmeling's knees buckled under the punishment and referee Arthur Donovan pushed Louis away, beginning a count on Schmeling. Schmeling reluctantly stepped away from the ropes and Donovan allowed him to continue. A few punches later, the german was laying on the canvas. From then on, he was helpless. He rose but fell moments later and Donovan stopped the fight.

Schmeling in his later years

When he returned to Germany, Schmeling was now shunned by the Nazis. Schmeling managed to win both the German and European heavyweight championships on the same night, with a first round knockout of Adolf Heuser. During the Nazi purge of Jews from Berlin, he personally saved the lives of two Jewish children by hiding them in his house. He also visited American P.O.W. camps and occasionally tried to help conditions for the prisoners. He remained loyal to his country, however, and, drafted into the Germany Army during the second World War, he served honorably as a paratrooper. After the war, strapped for money, he embarked upon a moderately successful comeback in boxing, winning three of his five bouts with two point defeats before re-entering retirement in 1948.

During the 1950s, Schmeling began working for the Coca-Cola Company's offices in Germany. Before long he owned his own bottling plant and held an executive's position within the company. In 1992, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He lived his remaining years as a wealthy man and avid boxing fan, passing away on February 2, 2005 at the age of ninety-nine.

Factoids

  • Named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year for 1930.
  • On July 25, 1930, Schmeling was saved from drowning in Lake Scharmnetzel (southeast of Berlin) after his motorboat capsized during a storm. A passing motorist hauled him out of the water.
  • Cousin of Nick Schmeling

External Links

Sources


Preceded by:
Gene Tunney
Retired
World Heavyweight Champion
NBA World Heavyweight Champion

1930 Jun 12 – 1932 Jun 21
Succeeded by:
Jack Sharkey
Preceded by:
Gene Tunney
Retired
NYSAC World Heavyweight Champion
1930 Jun 12 – 1931 Jan 7
Stripped
Succeeded by:
Jack Sharkey