Louis vs Schmeling 2: Hall of Fame Writer Remembers 85 Years Ago Today



Louis vs Schmeling 2: Hall of Fame Writer Remembers 85 Years Ago Today

Over boxing’s long history, there have been Fights of the Century, Showdowns, Wars and Brawls. There have been Rumbles, Feuds and Superfights. But the biggest battle was so big it didn’t need a promotional moniker. It didn’t need words. Its significance was profound.

Eighty-five years ago, America was on the precipice of war. Hitler’s Nazi Germany was on the rise, and World War II loomed. Two boxers – one from the United States and the other from Germany – came to emblemize the battle between America’s democracy and Germany’s anti-Semitic fascism and oppression. All while fighting for the most prized title in sports, the world’s heavyweight championship.

Jerry Izenberg – the legendary Hall of Fame sportswriter who has seen Secretariat, Ali and every Super Bowl – was seven years old at the time. He was listening to the battle between champion Joe Louis and challenger Max Schmeling on the radio with his parents – and an astonishing 100 million people worldwide. He describes a moment so monstrous, so momentous, that none of today’s sports events can begin to compare. Streets were desolate and cities were quiet.

For a few hours on the evening of Wednesday, June 22, 1938 – the world stopped.

“In my opinion, Louis-Schmeling 2 was the most significant athletic event of the 20th century,” Izenberg, 92, said.

Fighting For More Than Merely A Win

Indeed, Louis vs Schmeling 2 was more than a fight. This was a worldwide spectacle with ramifications that went well beyond the sports arena. A boxing match that was a precursor to a profound global event. It transcended athletics. But, even in a pure sporting sense, Louis-Schmeling II was a rematch of intense anticipation.

Two years prior, Schmeling – who reigned as heavyweight champion from 1930-32 – had upset the undefeated American, knocking him out with a vicious right hand in the 12th round at Yankee Stadium.

Going in, the world had seen nothing like the “Brown Bomber,” and the sensation from Detroit was destroying everything in his path. Schmeling, who was considered past his due date after losing the heavyweight crown, wasn’t given much chance against the 24-0 phenom. He was a 10-1 underdog. But he used his experience, guile and power to shock Louis, announcing an unlikely return to prominence.

Despite the shocking defeat, Louis wasted no time picking up where he left off. He went 12-0 (9 knockouts) and won the heavyweight title from James J. Braddock by eighth-round knockout in 1937. He was back in devastating form. Schmeling was himself on a seven-fight win streak, having rejuvenated his career with the Louis win.

Meanwhile, Hitler was threatening world domination.

“This was 1938. Hitler’s insidious Nazi regime was beginning to devour Europe, and the Nazi influence emboldened American anti-Semites,” Izenberg wrote in his latest book ‘Baseball, Nazi's & Nedick's Hot Dogs: Growing Up Jewish in the 1930s in Newark.’ “American Nazi sympathizers were holding German-American-Bund rallies across the U.S., warning of Jewish domination of Christian America, with the worst yet to come.”

Hitler hailed the reborn Schmeling as a symbol of Aryan supremacy, an example of the “master race.” The sensational Louis, meanwhile, had become a hero not only to Americans, but to African-Americans and others who looked at Louis as a beacon of hope.

It set up the most important fight in boxing history, Louis vs Schmeling 2.  And placed an unimaginable burden on Louis, who was simultaneously fighting for a people, a country and a democracy.

“You want to talk about pressure? I don't think another fighter ever had more pressure on him to deliver,” Izenberg wrote. “Joe Louis wasn't training for a fight. The minute the contracts were signed this went from being a championship fight to a geopolitical mandate. Louis was carrying his country and the hopes of millions of oppressed victims suffering under the rule of Nazi fascism. They looked to Louis as their great beacon of hope. And it was against Herr Schmeling, the perceived symbol of Hitler's Nazi Germany, the only man to defeat Louis.”


Max Schmeling met a purposeful Joe Louis in Louis vs Schmeling 2

The stakes for Louis vs Schmeling 2 were immense. Schmeling met a different Louis in this clash

Even so, the competitor in Louis wasn’t fazed. The rumor was that Louis went into the Schmeling fight not at his best. And the Brown Bomber knew it. Which is why, even though he was the heavyweight champion, he didn’t consider himself that until he beat Schmeling.

“He wanted a piece of Max Schmeling,” Izenberg said.

Louis vs Schmeling 2 In Yankee Stadium

Both fighters appeared calm upon entering the ring before 80,000 people at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Schmeling was so confident that he was flashing a light-bulb smile. Meanwhile, Louis seemed to foster a seething rage while getting gloved up in his corner. No expression. No smile. All business.

When the bell rang, Louis moved in for the kill. And so did the Izenbergs.

“The bell rings and my father is on his feet, he’s throwing punches, he’s swearing,” Izenberg said. “And I’m on my feet, and I’m swearing. My mother grabs me by my shoulder and says: ‘Language, young man. Language.’”

Louis immediately began to connect with his piston-like left jab. It easily penetrated Schmeling’s low left hand. The Bomber was composed but aggressive, backing Schmeling up. Suddenly, Louis unleashed a wicked one-two combination that Schmeling never suspected. The force of the final right-handed punch made Schmeling’s jaw ricochet violently. The German dropped onto his hands and knees.

He got up, and Louis attacked ferociously again, knocking him down for a second time with a combination. Schmeling scrambled up again. Louis attacked again, and this time connected with a dagger-like right to the body followed by another right to the jaw.

Schmeling fell again, not having a clue what force had just demolished him. His handlers rushed the ring and stopped it.

And, like a ferocious tornado, Louis had come in, done his damage, and left devastation in his wake. The time: 2:04.

A KO Heard Round the World

These days, people point to Ali’s upset of Foreman, Chavez’s domination of Rosario or Tyson’s knockout of Spinks as memorable destructions.

But Louis vs Schmeling 2 was another level of massacre. Ringsiders say Schmeling could be heard unleashing a primal scream after absorbing one of Louis’s lasers to the stomach. His face in photos show a man in the crisis of his life.

“I can’t think of another fight where a fighter with talent was so destroyed by the other guy,” Izenberg said.

Or a fight that had the impact and significance of Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling II.

Eighty-five years ago today, Wednesday, June 22, 1938.

Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]