When Black Heavy-Weights Ruled Sports

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 Was the Brown Bomber Democracy’s Secret Weapon?

 Reflections on the Biggest Prize Fight in History

“He knows not cricket…who only cricket knows”
C. L. R. James

A fantastic myth is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom among casual boxing fans – and some fairly knowledgeable commentators too – that Floyd “Money” Mayweather, pound for pound the best pugilist in the game today, is “the greatest prizefighter of all times;” a claim that is quickly followed by the equally extravagant claim that his fights are also the most popular in the history of the boxing game.

Disproving the first claim would require a rigorous analysis of the art of pugilism, beginning with defining the objectives and techniques of the sport and then assessing how the best boxers – the great world champions – mastered the tools of their trade.  To do this on the level that such a complex question deserves would require extensive film study of their greatest fights, and conducting a comparative analysis.

Clearly such a tedious and sprawling task is beyond the scope of this essay.  Yet while  belabor the point, candor requires me to confess for the record that I believe Sugar Ray Robinson would have knocked “Money” out, Sugar Ray Leonard too – just like he did his daddy – “Hit Man” Hearns, “The Mo-town Cobra,” would’ve wiped him out with  overwhelming combination  of speed and power.  And Aaron” The Hawk” Pryor would have  rained a blitzkrieg of power punches, launched from every angle at warp speed, and packing the punch of human hand grenades.  While Pretty Boy is almost as hard to ht as the Lotto Jackpot, all of these guys would have hit him hard and often!  There are other greats I could mention…but I have already said too much on this score.

The raison d’etre for this essay is to challenge the claim that “Money Mayweather” aka “Pretty Boy Floyd,” is the most popular fighter in history i.e. that his greatest fights attracted more attention than any before him, and that he is the most widely known fighter in the history of pugilism.  This is not merely an argument about sports trivia, but an effort to set the record straight about the importance of boxing in the twentieth century, when the game formed a critical nexus between race and politics.  When viewed from this historical perspective Mayweather’s claim is fairly easy to disprove, like taking candy from a baby in the hands of an able analyst.

Yet it is constantly voiced, as if it were gospel, by Mayweather himself and endlessly echoed by a Greek chorus of yes men in and out of the media, on or off his payroll.  This is based on the vast amounts of money Mayweather has made.  But I contend that the size of Money Mayweather’s  purses reflects the vast increase in revenue for boxing and sports in general, including amateur sports like track and field and college football, and is a function of the technological revolution that has occurred in mass communications, especially in the last 20 years.

This quantum leap in communications capabilities has created a world –wide viewership on the basis of pay per view available to everyone, everywhere, that has a TV set or computer screen, a few dollars and a dream.  In other words the big money “Pretty Boy Floyd” is making is due to a greater efficiency in marketing and distribution capabilities made possible by virtue of innovations in technology that revolutionized mass communications.  Added to this development is also the rise in importance of fighters in the lower weight classes, and the marvelous artistry of Floyd Mayweather, whose style personifies what the writer E.J. Liebling meant when he called boxing “The Sweet Science.”

Yet Muhammad Ali was far more popular on a global scale, as was Joe Louis aka “the Brown Bomber” before him, and Jack Johnson who created the mega-fight back before television was invented and the telegraph was the only way to transport information over vast distances quickly.  For most of the history of the sport the Heavy-Weight division ruled, because the World Heavy-Weight Champion was viewed as the most powerful and potent man on earth.

And during the golden age of white supremacy, when Europeans and their descendants abroad ruled the world, that man was assumed to be white.  In the view of virtually all white people everywhere a black Heavy-Weight Champion seemed to go against the laws of nature, to upset the natural order of things, to fly in the face of divine providence, and thus there was blasphemy in the thought and the deed unthinkable.  As the Ibo’s would say: “Such a black man had not been born and his mother is dead!”

Hence the prize fights that attracted the most interests in history all involved the Heavy-Weight Crown in the 20th century.  The second fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling attracted the most attention in the history of the game; the title fight between Jack Johnson and “The Great White Hope” Jim Jefferies ranks second.  And all of Muhammad Ali’s fights were the most discussed events in sports after he won the Heavy-Weight title from the terrifying Sonny Liston.

Although this impressive victory was big news for a sports  event, when Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad and Ali announced his membership in the Nation OF Islam, a black nationalist organization founded by Afro-Americans whose leader, Elijah Muhammad, preached that “the white man is the Devil,” Ali became front page news and stayed there throughout his career.  The public interest in this young champion grew even more intense after he refused to be drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War; especially after he announced “No Veitcong ever called me a nigger!”

The worldwide notoriety of these fighters, absent the powerful technological apparatus available to Floyd Mayweather’s promotional team,  is a function of the fact that the significance of their fights was such that they mirrored the Zeitgeist – a term coined by German philosophers that translates as “spirit of the age” – and therefore transcended the sport of boxing.

Their fights became identified with issues far bigger than boxing as they flowed with, or against the Zeitgeist.   Floyd Mayweather has never been involved in a fight that transcended the concerns of the fight game and he has never identified with a cause higher than making money.  And in this, he has proved peerless.  While there may be questions about his place in in as a performing artist in the boxing pantheon, as a businessman he reigns without a rival.

Thus he is merely a wildly successful entertainer in a sport marketed to a limited fan base and is of little or no interests to the general public.  This is a discussion that would profit from the advice given by the distinguished Afro-American historian Benjamin Quarles: “Those who seek to understand contemporary events need the added perspective of history.”

To the student of history the contemporary world looks different from those who are ignorant of the past – which includes most people.  In fact, political theorist and cultural critic Harold Cruse tells us that Americans are “anti-historical” in their view of the world; a condition that may well result from the fact that our actual history of racist repression, slavery and genocide is in direct contradiction with the self-serving myths that masquerade as popular American history and supplies the foundation for the master narrative of our civilization.  Whatever its origin alas, fear, ignorance and indifference to the facts of our past has filtered down to all levels of society.

Hence when a night time television talk show host ventured out on the streets on Columbus Day and conducted a random sample of what Americans know about Christopher Columbus the ignorance of their responses – mostly white folks too – was shocking.  The majority either had no idea when he landed in the Americas, or the most popular answer was 1842!  And when he asked a group walking together what was Columbus’ first name, everybody stood around looking puzzled, staring like country cows witnessing their first steam engine.  Finally one of them said “He was Spanish right?”  A hint to the “wise” deemed sufficient another quickly replied “Well his first name was Juan!”  At that they all chimed in eager to agree and assumed a “so there!” posture.

Floyd “Money” Mayweather

Mayweather_belts_ai

Unquestionably the Greatest Fighter in the game today!

In view of the epidemic of historical ignorance sweeping the land it comes as no surprise that most people know so little about the history of the boxing game that they could go for the okey-doke and accept the inflated claims of the Mayweather camp and their boosters that he is the most popular pugilist in history.

A seven times World Champion, whose box office receipts have earned him 500 million dollars, “liquid” as he likes to say, Money” Mayweather is by far the biggest earner in the history of the boxing game. And while there may be questions as to his claim of being the greatest fighter, he is unquestionably the best businessman!

He is a marvel of niche marketing and more people actually got a chance to see perform in real time than any other prizefighter, but he has never been associated with a momentous historical event that would elevate him to the importance of Joe Louis, Jack Johnson or Ali.  As the erudite literary and cultural critic Albert Murray points out in “The Hero and the Blues” a man may be good, and even virtuous, but he must slay a dragon to become a hero!

This explains why even in the relatively primitive media environment of his time Joe Louis was better known than “Money,” because in his fight with Max Schmeling he slayed the dragon of Nazi master race theory, and emerged a hero to millions of people around the world who had no interests in boxing at all.  Schmeling, who Adolph Hitler had declared a hero of the Nazi Reich and a paragon of the superior Aryan male, had defeated Louis in a 1936 fight, before The Brown Bomber won the Heavy-Weight title, and the return match was widely advertised as “a battle between fascism and Democracy.”

This was a reflection of the looming battle between Nazi Germany and her allies, the fascist Axis powers of Italy and Japan, vs. the Western Alliance of Democratic nations France and Germany led by the United States.  That Joe Louis should represent “American Democracy” was a cruel irony that boldly testifies to white American hypocrisy.  Nowhere is the contradiction between what white Americans preached and what they practiced more dramatically exposed than in its treatment of Afro-Americans, in law and custom.

The US was in fact a racist Herrenvolk democracy with a color caste system based on a master race theory that the Nazi’s adopted.  Under this system Afro-Americans were deemed an inferior race, that could be segregated from whites by law and forced to live under inferior conditions. Furthermore the prerogatives of democratic governance were largely confined to whites; millions of Afro-Americans living in the southern states were denied the right to vote, despite constitutional guarantees and lived under police state conditions.  Joe Louis himself had been driven from his Alabama home when his family escaped to Detroit fleeing white terrorism, just as Afro-Americans had made their way to Detroit in order to cross over into Canada seeking freedom during the era of chattel slavery.

 A Paragon of Male elegance Joe Was a Chick Magnet
_and_joe_louis Jean_stovall_anderson 
He also Shared Duke Ellington’s Tailor

Looking at pictures of Joe Louis and his Afro-American associates in Harlem and Chi-town it’s hard to believe that they were not welcome anywhere and their company sought by everyone, given how fabulous they were.  This was the elegant world Duke Ellington, who was trained as a painter, portrayed in his Black, Brown and Beige Suite.  Unlike today’s celebrities, Afro-American stars use to live and hang out in the black community, and Harlem was the showplace of the black world.  Hence it was not unusual for Duke to run into Joe Louis hanging out in a local show bar at 155th and Edgecombe, where Duke pulled him aside and schooled him on how to be a star.

When Duke met Joe he had not yet won the World Heavy Championship, but Joe was the leading contender and the way he was bombing people out all knowledgeable fight fans knew it was just a matter of time.  In his autobiography Joe Louis, My Life, written in collaboration with Afro-American sports writer Art Rust, Louis tells us he was approached by “a tall handsome man who was dressed like a king” that told him he was a fan and since he was going to be a champion soon he should start dressing like one, and offered to introduce him to his tailor.  Joe was astonished when he recognized that this man was Duke Ellington, who was already world famous, and he happily took Dukes advice. That’s how Joe became one of the best dressed men in the world!

 Joe Louis’s Role Model in Sartorial Affairs
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance 
The Duke at His Piano: A Paragon of Male Elegance

The biggest obstacle to Joe Louis becoming the world Heavy-Weight Champion was not the opponents he would fight, but the racism he faced as the next black heavy-weight to challenge for the crown after the notorious reign of Jack Johnson.   In his masterful text Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society, arguably the best book ever written on boxing, Afro-American historian Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons tells us:

“Since prizefighting has been characterized by some as a true test of skill, courage, intelligence, and manhood, boxing champions have traditionally stood as symbols of national and racial superiority.  Consequently, black challengers to white American champions have been perceived as threats to white and national superiority. If football was ‘the strength of the Anglo-Saxon, the dominant spirit of a dominant race,’ then boxing reduced this expression to individual terms.  Indeed, the progressive era’s concern with ‘racial betterment’ was often tested in the world of sport.”

Football was the perfect sport for a young warrior nation born in armed conflict, settled by centuries of continual war against the indigenous inhabitants, chose a war song for its national anthem, and a bird of prey as its national mascot, and embarking on an imperialist adventure.  Teddy Roosevelt, arch imperialist and proponent of “gunboat diplomacy and “muscular Christianity” was football’s greatest champion; some even credit him with saving the sport from extinction after a movement of impassioned reformers declared it a barbaric sport and urged the colleges to abandon it.

The fact that 18 students in the elite universities died from collisions on the football field in 1905 alone!  Roosevelt publicly repudiated the effort to ban football “just because it is a rough game with occasional injuries.”  To Roosevelt it was the ideal sport for young American males; he was quite unambiguous on this question: “I would rather my son’s play football than any other sport.”  He had a similar affection for boxing, which, like millions of Americans he regarded as a test of one’s manly virtues.

Thus it is no surprise that after Jack Johnson’s demise, which, as we shall see, was a national project in which even agencies of the federal government conspired, the princes and powers who ruled the corrupt boxing game were determined that Johnson would be the first and the last black Heavy-Weight Champion.  They were not much concerned about the lower weight classes, where there had been several champions – Lightweight Joe Gans, et al (complete List) – but the Heavy-Weight title was different because of what it symbolized.  Hence for 22 years no black fighter in the world had been allowed a shot at the crown, the most prestigious trophy in sports.   That’s why Joe Louis was constantly counseled “don’t be like Jack Johnson!”

“Eventually,” writes Dr. Sammons, “to facilitate Louis’s rise to the top of his profession and to hero status, promoters, handlers, and the press worked in harmony to develop the proper image for the young fighter…Appropriately, Louis accepted the prescribed role of a god fearing, bible reading, mother-loving, clean living, humble young man.  His somewhat carefree and childlike habits, such as his voracious gum chewing and ice cream eating, revealed the wholesomeness of his ‘vices’ and his naiveté.”  Joe was advised not to gloat after defeating white boys, not to flaunt his wealth when he became champ, to assume an overall humble posture when appearing before the news cameras and reporters, and most of all: “Never have your picture taken with a white woman!”

This is the true origin of Joe’s humble image, and explains why his favorite saying after knocking out some white fighter was “Oh we had a lot of luck tonight.”  It was also the source of his famous “poker face” expression, in which he always seemed unaffected by events, he continued to wear this mask of humility even after he defeated Max Schmeling and became something of a national hero, the symbol of democracy’s superiority to Fascism, and perhaps the best known man in the world.

  Captain Jackie Robinson: US Calvary
jackie-robinson- Calvery Officer

However the real Joe Louis, like baseball great Jackie Robinson who integrated the Major Leagues, was something quite different.  For instance Jackie Robinson was really a hot tempered tough guy and a Calvary Officer in the US Army.  In fact, had it not been for the intervention of Joe Louis, who was widely admired among white superior officers in the chain of command, Jackie

Contrary to his carefully cultivated public image, Joe Louis was a cocky, dashing, lady’s man who was sleeping with Lena Horne and Lana Turner – a famous white movie star – at the same time.  There is an amusing albeit representative anecdote in Joe Louis, My Life about an incident involving this fascinating threesome, in which Joe was assigned to make a training film for the US Army after he was champ.

It turned out that the studio lot where the film was to be shot was also in the in the process of producing movies featuring Lena and Lana, and Joe had to sneak about from one trailer to the other.  Lena found out about Lana and punched Joe in the face while excoriating him in language that Joe recalls would have embarrassed a sailor. Trained to respond to punches, before he could check himself he dropped her with a left hook!

Joe was also undercover lovers with Sonja Hiene, the beautiful Scandinavian Olympic Gold Medalist in figure skating.  He was well aware of his attractiveness to women of all colors and nations, and he speculates that because he was the Heavy-Weight Champion of the world women assumed that he was a stud and were all too anxious to find out.  And like powerful white men of the era who kept beautiful mistresses of all races…so did Joe.

Lana Turner: Movie Star
Lana Turner
The Dream Girl of Millions of White Men

Sonya Henie

Sonji Hiene
Triple Olympic Gold Medal figure Skater and Movie Star

Lena Horn

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Singer/Dancer/Actress

Thus Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson were nothing like the “humble Negros” projected in their public persona.  They were playing a very old role that extended back to “slavery times” as Afro-Americans of their generation called the slave era.  This kind of role playing is symbolized by a folk ditty that is widely recorded in the testimony of ex-slaves from all regions of the south: “Got one mind for white folks to see / Got another mind I know is really me / and they don’t know my mind.”

This attitude was immortalized by Paul Laurence Dunbar – who was the son of slaves and the first Afro-American poet to win literary distinction – in his poem: “We Wear the Mask.  “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile And mouth with myriad subtleties…”

In order to pursue their careers in sports Joe and Jackie were playing a role that accorded with what the white public demanded of black men.  But Jack Johnson had refused to don the mask of humility and play that role and this was the source of all his troubles.  Yet it was not just black men who were forced to assume a false face in order to placate a bigoted public; such was the fate of all men deemed inferior by the white Christian majority.

For instance, Jewish men were also forced to play a demeaning role as comic figures not to be taken seriously.  Hence Jewish men not only invented the standup comedian act in American show business, but Jewish boxers were portrayed as clowns in the boxing ring.   Professor Sammons tells us:

The stereotypes attached to Jewish boxers vividly underscored the prejudices they faced.  Maxie Rosenbloom, as the light heavyweight champion, received press coverage as demeaning as any given to blacks.  So disrespectful was the media that it called him ‘Slapsie Maxie and the ‘Harlem Harlequin:’ indeed, readers who did not know his race wondered if he were black.”

Maxie Rosenbloom
Slapsie Maxie RosenbloomAlthough Max Was a World Champion the White Goy Press cast him as a clown!

Since boxers have always come from the lower rungs of society different groups have been dominant at different times.  In the US it went from poor Anglo-Saxons, to Irishmen, to Jews, Italians, Afro-Americans and Latinos.  As each of these groups advanced in American society and produced more and different role models boxers became less important.   But in the 1930’s, when times were hard and racism intense Afro-Americans were hungry for a hero who could provide them some victories over whites, even if they were symbolic vicarious victories.  Joe Louis would fill that need.

But Joe also filled another need at the time, the desperation of boxing promoters to find a new heavy-weight talent that could revive a dying boxing business.  Sammons explains why Joe was ideal: “In 1934 a powerful, good-looking, speech-impaired, light-skinned black boxer appeared on the scene.  Everything about Joe Louis Barrow spelled success for some lucky boxing promoter even with his handicap, which ensured relative silence at a time when only a humble quiet, unassuming black would do.”

However contrary to popular belief it was not whites who first encouraged Louis to distance himself from a defiant persona that would conjure up unpleasant memories of Jack Johnson, it was his black handlers and advisors who steered him in this direction first.  While most people know of Louis’ relationship with his Jewish promoter Mike Jacobs, the real powers guiding Joe was his black co-managers John Roxborough of Detroit and Julian Black of Chicago, two old school gentleman gangsters popular known as “Policy Kings” i.e. “numbers” bankers who ran an illegal lottery in the Afro-American community.

And Joe was trained by Jack “Chappie” Blackburn, who had to be talked into the project by “Roxy’ and Black.  a ring wise veteran who knew Jack Johnson, Chappie was convinced that backing a black heavy-weight was a losing proposition because the white princes and powers that controlled the boxing game would never allow another black fighter anywhere near the Heavy-Weight Championship.

With the insights essential to black hustlers who lived successfully outside the law, Roxborough and Black understood well that white Americans, their vision and judgment impaired by racist delusion, viewed Afro- Americans through a series of stereotypes.  Where black men in particular are concerned, the dominant archetypes are the “Good Nigger” and “the Bad Nigger.”And they knew that in order to get at the big money it was critical that white America saw Joe as a “good nigger.

Hence they played what professional ” bunko artist” call “the long range con,” and they did it so well references to Joe as a “good nigger” showed up in the pages of the white southern press.  These distinctions between good and bad ‘niggers” persist even until today in the minds of many whites.  I encountered a version of them as late as 1988, when I was interviewing whites in my home town that had grown up during the era of segregation and witnessed the Great Civil Rights Movement, who spoke nostalgically about the disappearance of the “beloved Southern Negro.”

While Mike Jacobs, a Jewish businessman, promoted his fights, Joe Louis’s closest advisors were his managers John Roxborough and Julian black, along with Jack “Chappie” Blackburn who trained him –all of whom were black.  Roxborough and Black were Midwestern “Policy Kings” whose income from the illegal “numbers’ lottery was disguised by legitimate business activity.  They were gentlemen gangsters, master players who understood well the ways of the white world and were adept at pulling the wool over “whiteys” eyes.   Working with Mike Jacobs they skillfully maneuvered Louis into a title bout.

Louis’s first big fight which brought him national and international attention was his 1935 bout with the Italian boxer Primo Carnera, a mobbed up ex-circus strong man.  At six feet seven and 260 pounds Canera towered over Louis, who was about 6”1’ 195 pounds.  In Italy the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini – an avid boxing fan – had come to power and was threatening to invade Ethiopia.

The symbolism of little Ethiopia battling a bigger more powerful Italy and a Louis /Carnera fight was not lost on Mike Jacobs, who quickly made the match, and it was quickly noted by the white sporting press and the Afro-American press.  The fact that Mussolini was a fan of Carnera, and had once intervened on his behalf with the US government in a deportation case led some to regard the fighter as “Mussolini’s Emissary.”

For Afro-Americans the issue was clear.  As the late Dean of Afro-American historians John Hope Franklin observed, because of Ethiopia’s unique status as the only ancient African country to remain independent during the period of European colonialism, a successful invasion of Ethiopia by fascist Italy would “symbolize the final victory of the white man over the Negro.”  Throughout the centuries when black people suffered slavery, lynching and segregation Ethiopia was a singular beacon of hope.

Afro-American preachers, searching for a serviceable theology that could explain God’s mysterious divine plan in to Afro-Americans in light of their benighted plight in a way that gave them hope for a better future, would quote passages from the bible where “Ethiopia stretched out her arms to God” and told their flocks that it predicted a future time when black people would rule the world; when the “bottom rail would be top” and   ”the meek would inherit the earth.” The pervasiveness of the Ethiopian Myth in 19th century Black Nationalist /religious thought verifies its importance in the way Afro-Americans envisioned themselves in the cosmic scheme and explains its recurrence as a major theme in 20th century Black Nationalist ideology.

For instance one need only consider the lyrics to the anthem of the Universal Negro Improvement Association – a mass organization founded and led by the Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey during the 1920’s – in order to demonstrate the tenacity of the Ethiopianist trope. “Ethiopia thou land of our fathers/ Thou land where the Gods love to be.”  Many a tear was shed by impassioned souls as Afro-Americans devoted to racial uplift and African Redemption gathered in “Freedom Halls” and sang these lyrics in fortissimo.

To Afro-Americans in the 1930’s living amid the economic collapse of the “Great Depression” and increasing white terror in the southern states, having witnessed the Garvey Movement’s destruction by the clandestine machinations of the US government under J. Edgar Hoover aided by the folly of Garvey himself, Ethiopia, led by His Majesty Hallie Selassie – believed to be a direct descendent of King Solomon and the black Queen of Sheba, whose physical safety would be endangered by an Italian invasion – was the last shining example of black power and national glory in the world.

Hence black folks everywhere prayed for Joe Louis to kick Carnero’s “Guinea” ass!   When Joe stepped into the ring with the Italian giant he carried the hopes of the entire black world on his shoulders. Needless to say, despite his many millions earned in the ring as the darling of pay-per-view television: Floyd Mayweather has never known such a grand moment.

Louis and Carnera met in the ring on June 25, 1935 in New York City, less than four months before Italian armed forces invaded Ethiopia on October 3, over the protest of the US government and many other nations.  The black and white film footage of the fight  – which can be seen along with footage from all the fights described herein can be seen by double clicking on the links at the bottom of this essay – although somewhat murky, clearly shows Louis dominating the Italian hulk.

Carnero, like a lot of muscle bound guys who are not very artful in their approach to boxing, sort of pushes and paws with his gloves while Louis is throwing sharp crisp punches – which are more punishing.  Although Joe was not fleet of foot like Jack Johnson before him, or Muhammad Ali, who came along over twenty years later, he was a highly skilled boxer with lightning fast hands and knock out power in either fist.

Although Carnera towered over Joe Louis, just as Italy towered over small technological Ethiopia, Joe beat him up, hitting Carnera at will, while making himself harder to hit than the Lotto Jackpot.  In the six round Joe dropped Primo with a right hand and knocked him out with a sizzling left hook launched at lightning speed.

David and Goliath

Joe Louis and Primo Canerra
A Rehearsal for the Italo-Ethiopian War? 
 
His Imperial Majesty Ras Tafari  of Ethiopia

Hallie selassie2

King of Kings! Conquering Lion of Judah, Hero to Afro-Americans
A Descendant Menelik II:  Son of King Solomon and Queen Makeda
Hallie selassie1
He is Worshiped as a God by Jamaican Rastafarians
Primo and Benito
primocarnera4 and Benito
Chillin with the Fascists
 The Brown Bomber Smashed the Giant Italian Palooka!
Joe Louis - Carnera II And African Peoples Everywhere Cheered!

 

Ninety five Thousand people turned out to witness the fight!

The Roar from Yankee Stadium could be Heard in Harlem

However the second fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling dwarfed the Canero fight.  Whereas the Italian invasion was opposed by many nations; it was a life and death matter only to black people, who viewed it as a measure of their place in the world as a race.  But in the Louis vs. Schmeling fight the issue was the survival of modern civilization, as Hitler threatened to exterminate “inferior races” and enslave all who were not Germans.   Thus it was a splendid irony that this fight was viewed symbolically as a struggle between civilization and barbarism now that white Americans and their European kith and kin were threatened with the fate that they had imposed on the “inferior” colored races for centuries.

The Anglo Saxons of the US and England openly denounced the “master race” vision of the Nazis as criminal barbarism, despite that fact that Hitler had proposed no treatment for them that they had not meted out to the colored peoples over whom they had ruled in Africa, Asia and the Americas; employing the same “master race” logic to justify it.  And it required a special hypocrisy that these same whites chose Joe Louis, whose people were among those that suffered most from their pretensions to racial superiority, defend their values in the clash of ideologies!  Yet such was the state of affairs when Joe Louis met Max Schmeling in their return match in 1938.

However fight this would have been exciting event if viewed in wholly pugilistic terms.  Schmeling was the only man to have defeated Louis thus far in his professional career and by a knockout no less!   In their first fight on June 19,th 1936 Louis entered the ring undefeated with a record of 22-0 compiled in less than two years.  Everybody figured Louis as a sure shot to win the Heavy-Weight Championship – including Louis himself – it was just a matter of time. 

Unfortunately, Louis, seduced by the siren song in the press, must have taken his ordination to heart and forgot that he still had to fight the fight.  And Schmeling, who had a brief reign as the Heavy-Weight Champion from 1930- 1932, when he became the only man in boxing history to have won the crown on a default in his match with “Jack Sharkey in Yankee stadium on June 11, 1930,   was anxious to get another shot.

A true sportsman, Schmeling had been disappointed at the way he won the title.  Sharkey had been ahead on points when he was  called for fouling Schmeling in the fourth round, and the German was awarded the crown.   He gave Sharkey a rematch two years later and lost the title on points.  But he gained many fans in losing, especially since his promoter was screaming to the press “We wuz robbed!   Having tasted the glories that accompanied the Undisputed World Heavy-Weight Championship, Schmeling longed to return to the most prestigous pedestal in sports.   Thus he was training like a para-trooper headed for a dangerous combat jump, while Joe Louis was hanging out on the golf course at Lakeview New Jersey – which was close to his camp in Pompton Lakes.

When he wasn’t practicing his swing on the fairways Joe was Lindy Hopping to Jimmy Lunceford’s swinging paean to dance “I’m A Rug Cutter.”  Boxers often have a favorite song they like to train with.  For the ferocious Sonny Liston it was Bill Doggets “Night Train;” for Michael Spinx it was Frankie Beverly’s “Joy and Pain,”  and Joe loved to boogie down to the red hot rhythms of the Jimmy Lunceford big band.  After all, Lunceford’s motto was “Rhythm is My Business!”

Chillin on the Greens
Joe Louis plaring golf
Cooling his Heels while Schmeling Trained
 While Joe Played…..

Max Schmeling mit Trainer und Manager

……Schmeling was training to The Max

Max Schmeling in training

A Man on a Mission

Schmeling training II

Preparing to shoot down the Brown Bomber
 Building his Endurance with Road Work

Max Schmeling doing roadwork

Boxing is a sport where the training regimen remains pretty much the same, even as there are radical changes for preparing for competition in other sports.  The basic elements in training boxers

As part of his preparation for the fight, Max also studied films of Joe Louis’s fights and he would be richly rewarded for his diligence.  While wise guys in the press and betting parlors gave Max only two chances to win, thin and none, the German bruiser walked around with a confident swag, shit eatin grin, and IDGAF attitude.  When inquiring wags wanted to know from whence his confidence sprang, he simply said that he had discovered a flaw in Louis’ style that would assure him a  victory. Whenever the public got a glimpse of Schmeling the smile never left his face and the pep in his step seemed to heighten in the days approaching the fight…the Louis camp figured it for the fake bravado of a man facing execution.

He was kidding himself everybody thought. Hence Louis played while Schmeling worked. The fight jumped off in Yankee Stadium on June 19th 1936, and Max Schmeling revealed the secret he had been keeping which he had repeatedly told the public would lead to a victory over the undefeated top contender, who everybody believed was on a straight path to a shot at the title.  But as the fight progressed it became increasingly clear that Schmeling had Louis’s number as he fought with greater and greater confidence, repeatedly tagging the brown bomber with power shots.

What Schmeling had learned from studying films of Louis is that he had a tendency to drop his guard after throwing a left hand.  Once Schmeling got his timing down he simply countered with straight right hands to Joe’s Jaw.  These were vicious punches and Schmeling dropped Louis for the first time in his professional career in the fourth round.  For the next eight rounds the fight ebbed and flowed but Schmeling was very disciplined, took no chances, and continued to land the right hand.

As the rounds piled up Joe began to tire, the result of his lack of training, and as his reflexes slowed Schmeling began to hit his exposed chin at will.  Louis couldn’t figure out what was happening, at least not in time to avoid a knockout; which came with a perfect right to the jaw in the twelfth round!  Hitler rejoiced, America mourned, and Harlem screamed “Fix!”

  On Fight Night

The Brown Bomber Crashes

The Brown Bomber Crashes!
And Schmeling Shocked the world
Joe decke by Schmelingimages
And Joe paid the price for overconfidence
 Joe Louis Stops James J. Braddock at Cominsky Park

joelouis stops James J. Braddock

And Becomes the Undisputed Heavy-Weight Champion of the World! 
The New Champion Strolling in Harlem with wife Marva Trotter

A-JOE_LOUIS and Marva Trotter

The Poker faced Pride of Black America!
Max Schmeling: Hero of the Third Reich!

Maz schmelinghitler

The Only man to have Defeated Joe Louis
 Gentlemen Jim Corbett

Gentleman Jim Corbett

The Father of Scientific boxing

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Playthell G. Benjamin
February 27, 2016
On the Road

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