19.6.1936: Max Schmeling vs. Joe Louis
To be the best in the ring was the sole ambition of Max Schmeling. He was born in 1905 in the village of Klein-Uckow in the Uckermark region of what is today Brandenburg. In 1928, he was already the German and European champion when he crossed the Atlantic to find fame and fortune by fighting the world’s best heavyweight boxers.

Two years later, he defeated Jack Sharkey in the fight for the successor to the legendary Gene Tunney. Schmeling was world champion of all classes. But in reality, he was considered a second-class champion, as Sharkey was disqualified for a punch below the belt. In 1931, Schmeling demolished the much-feared "King of the Knockout," William Young Stribbling and achieved true status as Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Only one year later, however, Sharkey robbed Schmeling of his throne following a controversial decision. Schmeling fell, only to rise again. 1933 saw Max Baer wipe the ring with him, but then came an unexpected series of wins. The reward for Schmeling’s determined struggle back to the top of the pile was the super fight -- not for the World Heavyweight title, though, but against Joe Louis, who had suddenly shot to fame in the boxing world.

Louis, the "Brown Bomber," had already won 27 fights in a row on his way to the World Heavyweight Championship. Schmeling, or the "Black Ulan from the Rhine," as he was called in the United States, was to be his final test before confronting titleholder Jimmy Braddock. Looking back on the 70 fights of his career, Schemling later concluded: "That was the most important fight of my life. It wasn’t necessarily the most difficult fight, but for me it was the crucial fight in my career.”

June 19, 1936, in New York’s Yankee Stadium, an audience of 40,000 waited to see Schmeling be polished off. “The man who defeats Joe Louis will be the greatest boxer of all time,” wrote the American press. But only Schmeling himself believed that he stood a chance. That was because he had spotted the weak point in his opponent’s armor. Following a series of punches with his right arm, Louis had a habit of letting his left arm drop. The German boxer exploited this weakness ruthlessly, landing his heavy right punch over Louis’ sinking guard again and again.

German reporter Arno Helmiss reported the mood in New York to German listeners, using the unpolitically correct language common to that period: “And here comes a right and a right and yet another one. Max is beating the living daylights out of the Negro, the Negro steps back, is staggering, he can’t stay on his feet. Schmeling has knocked him flat. It’s over!”

This unforeseen victory turned Schmeling into a boxing legend overnight, but he never fought titleholder Braddock. Title challengers from Nazi Germany were not desired, despite the fact that Schmeling was no Nazi-lover.

"They (the Nazis) tried to use me for their purposes, but I didn’t allow myself to be used," Schmeling said. "I was spending most of the year in the United States and I had a Jewish manager, and that alone was enough to put me out of favor in Nazi circles.”

In 1938, the return fight against Louis took place, this time for the title. Schmeling, allegedly the representative of the Nazis, had to run the gauntlet on the way to the ring. Unnerved, but also past the zenith of his powers, the slow-starting Schmeling was wiped out by the “Brown Bomber” Louis in under a minute.

Following the defeat, he was truly a persona non grata with the regime. He survived the war as a soldier at the front and was almost penniless at its end in 1945. But he had not been forgotten. The international soft drink company Coca-Cola made him manager for Germany. Schmeling regarded his new secure financial status as a social responsibility. He put his entire fortune into the foundation of a charity for the old and the destitute.

After the war, Schmeling travelled to the United States to meet Louis. That was the beginning of a long friendship between the two boxing legends.

"I was in America in 1955 and my first stop was Chicago, were I went to see Joe Louis," said Schmeling. "There were certain things which I felt had to be put straight between us. As part of the war propaganda, there had been claims that we hated each other and so on. Of course, that was never the case. And when we saw each other again, we had no choice but to hug each other. Joe Louis said, good grief Max, I never thought anything of the kind, and I’m sure you didn’t either!"
 
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