It was 1936 and Jesse Owens was winning 4 gold medals at the Berlin Summer Olympics.
In boxing the new heavyweight prospect was Joe Louis who was unbeaten as a professional on his way to a world title shot. He had beaten former champions Primo Carnera and Max Baer convincingly.
The next opponent brought in for Louis was another former champion Max Schmeling from Germany. Schmeling had the won the title in 1930 becoming the first man to win the championship on his stool after being hit low by Jack Sharkey. Schmeling lost the title on a decision to Sharkey in 1932 and was seen by many as just another opponent for the fast rising Louis.
On his arrival to the USA Schmeling commented that he had noticed a weakness in Louis that he planned to exploit but he wouldn’t say what that was.
The first fight was to take place on June 19 1936 in New York and for the first three rounds both men boxed cautiously not getting into any serious trouble. Then suddenly in Round 4 Schmeling countered a Louis left with a smashing right hand. Another right hand sent Louis crashing to the canvas.
Louis never really recovered from that and was in trouble throughout and took a beating for the duration of the fight eventually being knocked out in the 12th round. Schmelings predictions had come true. The weakness he had noticed was that Louis dropped his left hand low when throwing a punch thus making him vulnerable to a counter right.
Schmeling returned to Germany to a heroes reception. Louis however pondered his defeat. Maybe he took Schmeling lightly. Louis would be back in the ring however just two months later knocking out Jack Sharkey.
The World Heavyweight Champion was James J Braddock and he was scheduled to fight Max Schmeling. The fight never happened however. The world was drifting into World War 2 and there were fears that if Schmeling won the title it would never be seen again. After a series of comeback wins Joe Louis was given the title shot against Braddock in 1937 and after surviving a first round knockdown he won the championship with an 8th round knockout.
Louis made 3 defences before signing to fight Max Schmeling. The world was slipping into World War 2 and Hitler was menacing talking about a master race. This was the first time a prize fight was caught in a political line of fire. Celebrated ex champions were brought into to spar with Schmeling but he couldnt escape his heritage. The president told Louis that he was depending on the champions muscles for America.
The fight was held on June 22 1938 in New York and Schmeling was first to the ring. He was pelted with objects as he made his way to the squared circle. The fight itself was a massacre with Louis knocking Schemling down 3 times en route to a first round knockout. The Germans actually cut the radio broadcast before the final knockdown.
Schmeling returned to Germany but this time there was no reception for him. He was finished as a top line fighter and was enlisted into the German army as a paratrooper.
If truth be told Louis and Schmeling were both perceived as people they weren’t. Schmeling was depicted as a Nazi who supported Hitler and Louis as a man fighting for freedom. Schmeling was never a Nazi and even had a Jewish manager and Louis was never free.
In later life both men became firm friends. Schemling became chairman of Coca Cola and helped Louis in his later years when the ex champion experienced financial difficulties. At Joes funeral in 1981 Schmeling sent over a large amount of money to which the ex champions widow commented that Schmeling was indeed a true friend.