THE 1938 return bout between heavyweight champion Joe Louis and Germany’s Max Schmeling – the man who had handed Joe his first (and at that time only) defeat – represented much more than simply a revenge opportunity for Louis.
The growing realisation of Hitler’s menacing regime meant even the theme of black versus white became secondary to the opposing ideologies of democracy and totalitarianism.
As political pawns, Louis and Schmeling became personifications of Good and Evil.
“We’re all depending on those muscles for America,” President Roosevelt told Joe. Hitler, meanwhile, cabled Schmeling wishing him every success.
Part of Boxing’s fight report read: “Framed for 15 rounds, this title fight was all over in two minutes and four seconds, the end coming when Arthur Donovan, the referee, had flung out the towel and stopped the fight in favour of the champion by a technical knockout. Scaling 198¾lbs to his rival’s 193lbs, Louis was the first to cut loose after a full 10 seconds of sparring. Joe shot out three quick lefts to the jaw, got in again with another left and sent a right cross to the jaw, causing the German to cover up. The German got in one blow, a long right cross, from which the champion rode away to take it lightly on the chin, but immediately afterwards Louis tore in to score with two hard punches, left and right to the jaw. Schmeling had no chance to fight back against his fiercely-fighting opponent, who again crashed home a left and right to the jaw, which staggered the German to the ropes, where he held on while taking a lacing.
“Schmeling went to the floor, got up at ‘two,’ was put down again and then rose before a count was taken.
“Then came the winning punch – a terrific right hook to the body which sent Schmeling crashing. Louis retired to a neutral corner while the referee, Arthur Donovan, took up the count from timekeeper George Bannon. The count reached ‘eight’ when Max Machon threw in a towel from the German’s corner.”
Thanks to Joe Louis ‘the undercard to World War II,’ as this bout was later described, delivered a massive symbolic defeat to Nazism.
Fifty years later the world learned how Schmeling risked his life hiding Jewish children in his Berlin apartment during the Nazi pogroms.