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On this day: Joe Louis destroys Max Schmeling, scores stunning first-round knockout

Louis decks Schmeling and the end is near. Photo from The Ring archive
22
Jun

Eighty-four years ago and arguably the most important triumph in heavyweight history.

On June 22, 1938, Joe Louis successfully defended his championship for the fourth time by scoring a crushing first-round knockout over former titleholder Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in New York. The official time was 2:04.

With World War II brewing, Louis was far more than just “The Brown Bomber” out of Detroit that night; he was the physical representation of democracy and freedom. Conversely, Schmeling was viewed as Hitler’s Nazi henchman, a role that made him extremely uncomfortable.

However, the challenger had reason to be confident. Two years earlier, Schmeling produced a brilliant performance in handing Louis his first professional defeat. The German continually dropped right hand counters over Louis’ left jab and dropped him twice en route to a dramatic 12th-round knockout.

But a lot can change in two years.

Following the Schmeling loss, Louis added layers to his already formidable arsenal and went on the rampage. He scored 11 straight wins, including nine knockouts, and produced decisive victories over the likes of Jack Sharkey (KO 3), Jim Braddock (to win the championship – KO 8) and Tommy Farr (UD 15).

Schmeling, who had fought just three times during the interim, was in against a completely different animal this time – and it showed.

Louis landed almost everything he threw and barely took a shot in earnest. With just over a minute gone, a huge right set up a brutal body attack and Schmeling turned to hold the ropes as though praying for an exit. Referee Arthur Donovan briefly administered a count, then let the action continue. Louis marched straight in and blasted Schmeling to the canvas with a right to the jaw. The stricken challenger rolled around and somehow made it to his feet, but another quick combination put him over almost immediately. Schmeling displayed incredible heart, but he could not compete. Louis closed out by stiff-arming his prey with the left before firing a right to the body, a left hook to the chin and a pulverizing right to the head.

The result sent shockwaves through the sport, but it meant so much more. It will never be forgotten.

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