The matches between American boxer Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis and German Max “Black Uhlan of the Rhine” Schmeling defined the era of early 20th Century boxing. On this day in 1938, Louis defeated Schmeling and became the first Black heavyweight boxer of his rank to score a first-round knockout.
Louis and Schmeling previously met on June 19, 1936. The German fighter defeated Louis by way of a 12th-round knockout at Yankee Stadium. The loss crushed Louis but also motivated him to seek vengeance at a later date. Events leading up to the rematch added an air of mystique, with tensions between the United States and Nazi Germany growing by the day. Further, the impact of the Great Depression was widespread and the bout between the boxing giants served as a necessary distraction.
Despite the public’s perception, Schmeling never once claimed allegiance to Hitler or Nazism and dared to have a Jewish manager in his corner. However, Germany used Schmeling as part of its propaganda much as they did when he beat Louis, much to the fighter’s dismay. Nazi Germany viewed the White race as superior and was confident that Schmeling would prove them right once again.
The pair met once more at Yankee Stadium. Louis was not only a symbol of Black pride but became America’s champion against its surging enemy. Schmeling was also revered by many in his country, although he struggled with the weight of the responsibility.
Schmeling’s response in the ring proved how much the fighter wrestled with the pressures placed upon him. A determined Louis hammered Schmeling with thunderous blows and inflicted damage early. After witnessing Schmeling’s diminished state, the fight was declared a knockout to the sellout stadium crowd.
It was a masterful display and it closed an ongoing chapter for Louis, who refused to refer to himself as a champion until he won the bout. A year prior on the same date, Louis became the first Black heavyweight champion since Jack Johnson after defeating James Braddock for the title. So driven was Louis to avenge the loss that he didn’t want anyone to call him the champ until he won Louis v. Schmeling II.
Though Louis was a popular figure and palatable to white America. He even enlisted in the military, although he served largely in a promotional role. In later years, he struggled with finances after handlers mismanaged his earnings.
Amazingly, Schmeling befriended Louis and helped his former rival financially during lean times. The men remained close until Louis’ death in 1981. Schmeling died at the age of 99 in 2005. Their fights have been considered by boxing experts as not only the biggest of their area, but perhaps the most significant of the century.
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Little Known Black History Fact: Louis vs. Schmeling II was originally published on blackamericaweb.com