Max Schmeling

From Academic Kids

Max Schmeling

Maximillian Adolph Otto Siegfried Schmeling (September 28, 1905February 2, 2005) was a German boxer whose two Heavyweight championship fights with Joe Louis transcended boxing and became worldwide social events which will forever be linked to the rivalry between Americans and Germans before World War II.


Early years and Jack Sharkey

Schmeling debuted as a professional boxer in 1924 and he built a record of 42 wins, 4 losses and 3 draws before fighting Jack Sharkey for the vacant world Heavyweight championship in 1930. In between his debut and the championship fight, he fought a two round exhibition with world Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey in 1925 at Cologne.

Sharkey hit Schmeling with a low blow in round four so badly that Schmeling could not fight that evening any more. Thus Schmeling won the world title on a disqualification. He became the first Heavyweight world champion to win the title on a disqualification, and to this day, remains the only one to win it that way.

In 1931, he made a defense, knocking out Young Stribling in 15 rounds at Cleveland, and in 1932, he and Sharkey had a rematch. After 15 rounds, Sharkey was declared the winner on points (a very controversal split decision), and Schmeling lost his title. Despite efforts to make a third fight happen, the rubber match between Schmeling and Sharkey never took place.

Fighting Joe Louis

Schmeling was thought to be a "shot" fighter and in 1936, the situation in Germany had changed. Schmeling came over to New York once again to face the up-and-coming black American, Joe Louis, who was undefeated and considered unbeatable at the time. However, Schmeling had studied movies of his opponent and found a gap in his coverage. He surprised the boxing world by handing Louis his first defeat, dropping him in round four and knocking him out in the 12th. Schmeling returned to Germany via the Hindenburg to a hero's welcome, while receiving hardly any support before the fight. Schmeling was denied a challenge to the world champion title, despite obviously deserving such a fight before Louis did.

Louis and his mainly black supporters were devastated by the defeat. He was so affected that when he finally won the world Heavyweight crown in 1937, he said he would not consider himself a champion until he beat Schmeling in a rematch.

The rematch came, at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938, with Louis defending his crown. By then, a second world war was clearly looming on the horizon, and the fight was viewed worldwide as symbolic battle for superiority between two likely adversaries. In American pre-fight publicity, Schmeling was cast as the Nazi warrior, while Louis was being pictured as a defender of American ideals. The fight was broadcast by radio all over the United States and Europe, and after Louis dropped Schmeling for the first time in the first round Adolf Hitler ordered that the broadcast of the fight to Germany be cut off. Germans wouldn't find out what happened until later on. Louis retained the title by a technical knockout later in the first, and Hitler took this defeat as an embarrassment to his country.

Incorrectly branded as a Nazi

Schmeling was branded as a "Nazi" by many boxing fans, but nothing was further from the truth. In reality, Schmeling became quite unpopular among the Nazis after the embarrassing loss to the black man, and was not used anymore in Nazi propaganda, which was a relief to him.

In 1938, during the Kristallnacht, Schmeling hid two teenage sons of a Jewish friend in his Berlin hotel room, protecting them from the SS and Gestapo at great risk to himself. The two boys, Henry and Werner Lewin, were eventually smuggled out of Germany with Schmeling's help.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Schmeling was drafted into the German Army. Because he had long refused to join the Nazi party, a vengeful Hitler sent him on suicidal missions in order to make him a hero -a very dead hero - only to see him return every time. Schmeling remained anti-Nazi throughout the war, and after it was over was interned briefly, still recovering from his war injuries. Afterwards he frequently visited American troops, giving away signed photos and taking pictures with the American soldiers.

Business and retirement

The early postwar years were financially difficult for Schmeling. A former New York boxing commissioner who had become a Coca-Cola executive offered him the postwar soft drink franchise in Germany, and he became a successful businessman and one of Germany's most respected philanthropists. At his death, he was still one of the owners of Coca-Cola's German branch.

After 1948, Schmeling had retired from boxing. He and Louis became friends following a 1954 meeting, and he helped to pay the latterly impoverished Louis' medical bills. He was one of the pallbearers at Louis's funeral in 1981, which he reputedly paid for. Until shortly before his death, he made several trips a year around the world to attend activities related to his boxing career. He has been the object of several books, including a biography, and in 2001, STARZ! produced a movie about him and Louis named Joe and Max.

Missing image

He is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame, and he compiled a record of 56 wins, 10 losses and 4 draws with 40 wins by knockout. Among his other wins, he had a knockout in eight rounds over former world Welterweight champion, Middleweight champion and fellow Hall Of Famer Mickey Walker.

After celebrating his 99th birthday in 2004, Schmeling vowed to live on to celebrate his 100th birthday. However, that Christmas, he came down with a bad cold, and his health rapidly deterioriated from there. He later slipped into a coma on January 31, 2005 and died two days later. He was buried next to his wife, the Czech-born film actress Anny Ondra, to whom he was married for 54 years. They had no children.

Honorary Citizenships

  • Honorary Citizen of the City of Los Angeles
  • Honorary Citizen of Las Vegas
  • Honorary Citizen of Klein-Luckow (his hometown)
  • Honorary Member of the Austrian Boxing Federation

External Links

Preceded by:
Jack Sharkey
Heavyweight boxing champion
Succeeded by:
Jack Sharkey

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