20-20 vision – Greatest fighter from Germany: Max Schmeling
Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.
In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.
The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.
The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.
Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.
Birthdate / place: September 28, 1905 / Klein Luckow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Death date: February 2, 2005
Years active: 1924-39; 1947-48
Record: 56-10-4 (39 KOs)
Major titles: World heavyweight
Greatest victories: Joe Louis, Jack Sharkey, Young Stribling, Paulino Uzcudun, Mickey Walker
Background: Schmeling went from hero to goat in one of the darkest eras of human history but is remembered fondly for a great accomplishment and his kindness. The “Black Uhlan of the Rhine” won a series of fights in the U.S. to earn a bout with master boxer Jack Sharkey for the vacant heavyweight title. Sharkey was winning when he landed a punch below the belt and was disqualified, giving Schmeling the championship. He defended once – beating fellow Hall of Famer Young Stribling – but then lost a controversial split decision and his title to Sharkey and would never hold it again. Schmeling was 30 and deemed past his prime when a 22-year-old juggernaut named Joe Louis agreed to fight the former champion in 1936 at Yankee Stadium. Schmeling had said cryptically beforehand that “I see something” in Louis that he would exploit. And he did. He put Louis down and hurt him in Round 4 with a right hand over Louis’ left, which he held too low. Louis continued fighting bravely but was stopped in Round 12, making Schmeling an unwitting hero in Nazi Germany. Louis was chosen over Schmeling for a shot at James J. Braddock’s world title the following year and won. That set up one of the most important fights in history, Louis vs. Schmeling, good (U.S.) vs. evil (Nazi Germany). This time Louis handed out a historic beating, stopping his rival in only 124 seconds. Schmeling became a paratrooper at the outbreak of the war, survived and made a five-fight comeback in 1947-48 before retiring. He would become wealthy after opening a Coca Cola distributorship in Germany. And he became a lifelong friend of Louis. Schmeling reportedly paid for his rival’s funeral.
Quote: “Looking back, I’m almost happy I lost that fight,” said Schmeling, referring to the second Louis fight. “Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory. I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal. After the war, I might have been considered a war criminal.”
Five more from Germany (in alphabetical order): Marco Huck, Henry Maske, Markus Beyer, Sven Ottke, Felix Sturm
Next up: Ghana
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