Wednesday, May 31, 2023  |


1930s: A Great Champion

Fighters Network

Note: This unedited article was lifted from the September 1938 issue of THE RING for our special 90th Anniversary issue (March 2012)

WHEN Joe Louis climbed out of the ring after his astonishing one-round knockout victory over Max Schmeling, the heavyweight champion stood revealed in an entirely new light. Outwardly, Louis was the calm, unperturbed athlete, but inwardly, he was smouldering with a burning desire to remove the only stain on his amazing record by defeating the man who had put it there. Louis might best be likened to a long silent volcano suddenly erupting with devastating results that night of June 22nd. Not even the uncontrolled Dempsey in his prime ever unloosed a flood of punches like the barrage that swept Max to such swift disaster.

After a few seconds of preliminary fiddling around, a storm of lefts and rights broke about the head and body of the luckless Schmeling, as Louis flashed a “killer instinct” that many had claimed was lacking in his make-up.

Most amazing sidelight of the brief encounter was the lack of respect Louis showed for his erstwhile conqueror. It has many times been hinted that boxers of Louis’ race always retain a certain respect for men who have beaten them, but Louis’ cold disdain for the German was a living refutation of this nonsense. This misconception regarding Negro boxers is further proved a fallacy in Nat Fleischer’s latest book, Black Dynamite, the most complete and comprehensive history of the Negro in the prize ring yet attempted. In this authoritative tome, THE RING editor definitely proves, by citing individuals and performances, that courage of the prize ring brand is strictly a matter of the individual, and that no race or nationality is either lacking or distinguished particularly with this quality.

Louis lived up to his promise to walk right into the German’s fire. It might have been Freddy Bartholomew before him for all the regard that the frozen faced champion showed for the challenger.


LOUIS’ punching power has been recognized and duly acclaimed since his first splurge into the headlines, but prior to the Schmeling slaughter, most of his lethal ability seemed to be concentrated in his left hook. Surprisingly, however, in his most recent embroglio, his crushing right. It was not the vaunted left that proved to be the payoff punch. Major Will Corum, brilliant and enjoyable sports columnist for the New York Journal-American, commented on this in this classic manner: “Joe, the sucker for a right, turned out to be a socker with one”ÔǪ. and this tells the story to perfection.

The champion’s numbing lefts to the body dressed the Uhlan up for the kill, but in every case his short, powerful rights sent Schmeling to the canvas each time the German was floored. This tends to show that as a two-handed hitter Louis has had no equals among the great punchers of the past.

Dempsey, Langford, Berlenbach and Jeffries, for example, relied upon the left hand mainly to administer the coup-de-grace. Carpentier, Baer, Firpo, Peter Maher, Gunboat Smith, old John L. and Schmeling himself were all good hitters whose power was packed in only one mitt, the right. Only Fitz, who, old-timers tell us, could dispense a brand of knockout drops with either hand, alone seems capable of disputing Louis’ right to be considered the most dangerous two-fisted hitter who ever stepped into the ring.


STILL another interesting sidelight of the great contest was the active interest that the hitherto aloof Tunney took in both contestants, and particularly Louis. The retired undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, who seems to be growing closer to the game that made him famous, took time out from his varied interests to make a special trip up to Louis’ hideout in the Adirondacks in order to give the Bomber a little instruction in the proper methods to forestall a straight right-hand punch. The effect of this gesture on the champion’s morale was considerable, and of Tunney’s visit the Brown Bomber had this to say: “I was real glad to see Mr. Tunney come up to show me those things. I thought he was in Smellin’s corner.” As he made this statement, traces of a smile flitted across his immobile features, and it could be seen that he was vastly pleased with Tunney’s interest in him.

What the ex-titleholder showed the twenty-four-year-old champion has not as yet been revealed, but it must have been worth-while, as Louis evaded the two rights Schmeling had time to throw with an easy expertness that would have done credit to a McFarland or Gans, by rolling his head away from them. They landed but very lightly. Tunney attributed his move to his patriotic feelings on the matter, explaining that he desired to see the championship remain in the United States at all costs.


FOR the first time in his meteoric career, Joe Louis showed a genuine viciousness. He is best described as an ice box with a five-alarm fire raging inside it, and Schmeling’s open disregard for his ability was the spark that set off the conflagration. The Black Uhlan made no secret of the fact that in his opinion Louis still belonged in the amateurs as far as quickwittedness and a knowledge of the science of boxing were concerned. He made every effort to impress upon the public and Louis himself that, for all cagey Jack Blackburn’s guile and ring savvy, Louis was as bad off as he was in 1936 for the simple reason that the Detroit youngster was unable to assimilate any knowledge of the real science of fisticuffs.

Few suspected that Schmeling’s disdain had made such an impression on the stolid champion, his serene composure being what it is, but apparently the German’s words had etched themselves deeply into Louis’ icy personality, with the result that the dam burst and the ex-champion was inundated under a raging torrent of disaster. Future opponents of the champion will do well to bear this in mind and keep whatever opinions they may have of Joe’s intelligence well concealed if their own well-being is to be preserved.


IN the general hullabaloo over Louis’ smashing triumph, the fact that Referee Arthur Donovan’s job of officiating was again featured by hair-trigger thinking and the right move at the right time, seems to have been overlooked. Any lingering doubts as to Donovan’s right to be regarded as the outstanding third man in the ring today should have vanished less than a minute after the opening gong, when, with Schmeling tangled on the ropes in a defenseless position, Donovan interrupted a barrage of withering blows that might have had serious consequences, by stepping between the men and beginning a count as the battered Uhlan hung on the ropes.

Donovan’s humane action averted what might have been serious injury to Schemling, for the Bomber, as he was well within the rules of doing, was taking potshots at the German’s head and body and getting all his terrific leverage behind the blows. As matters turned out, Schmeling proved to be badly hurt at the time, though he says otherwise. The pictures prove that he was out on his feet after a minute of fighting. Had Donovan allowed Louis to continue to punish him, no one can say what might have happened. Donovan’s action in halting Louis’ bombardment in no way affected the ultimate ending, but at the same removed much of the brutal aspects of the beating Schmeling was forced to take.

Among other things, the towel which came fluttering into the ring as Schmeling squatted on the canvas seemed to symbolize not only the end of the German’s dream of glory, but also the complete deflation of any and all “isms,” or claims to natural supremacy of any particular race or group. The complete collapse of the Aryan theory, begun by Jesse Owens in the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and brought to a crashing climax in that Yankee Stadium ring, before the eyes of the whole world, apparently sent the disciples of such creeds back to deep thinking.

Joe Louis today stands where Dempsey stood fifteen years agoÔÇöin a class by himself, as is Henry Armstrong. Schmeling is the lone survivor of a crew of warriors whose day has long since passed. The plodding Risko, unfortunate Young Stribling, tough old Paulino Uzcudun, flighty Jack Sharkey, the great middleweight, Mickey WalkerÔÇöthese and others who are just memories now were Schmeling’s contemporaries of a vanished day. It is perhaps a tribute to the German’s will power that he was able to hang on the way he did, after all the others had passed from the picture. He came a long way back towards his goal of regaining the championship he once held, and might possibly have succeeded had he been opposed to a man of ordinary ability, and no an inspired young human dynamo who swept him before him with an irresistible blast.

Louis’ two-minute explosion has raised the old cry of superman once more in many quarters. Certainly there seems to be no one on the scene at the moment who can be given a real chance to divest him of that snug-fitting crown. Max Baer has the punch and the ability to absorb a tremendous blow, but the Livermore Larruper seems to be lackÔÇöer, shall we sayÔÇöinclination to capitalize on his talents against Louis.

Farr has the courage, stamina and ruggedness, but has nothing like the punch necessary to trouble Louis. Galento has the wallop, but the defense means a wooden railing surrounding a ball park to Jersey’s heroic hippo, and not even a punch-proof Galento could allow his chin to be freely hit with Joe’s bomb-laden gloves.

John Henry Lewis knows enough but isn’t big enough. Pastor had his chance, and Adamick is two years away.

In just two minutes, Louis regained practically all the prestige he had formerly owned. Even his most stubborn detractors now admit he is a champion worthy of the name, and there is a growing feeling throughout the entire world that he is not only one of the greatest of all champions, but quite likely the peer of them all.