Max Schmeling (born September 28, 1905) is a German former boxer whose two fights with Joe Louis transcended boxing and became worldwide social events which will forever be linked to the rivalry between Americanss and Germans before World War II.
Schmeling debuted as a professional boxer in 1924 and he built a record of 42 wins, 4 losses and 3 draws before fighting Jack Sharkey for the vacant world's Heavyweight championship in 1930. In between his debut and the championship fight, he fought a two round exhibition with world Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey in 1925 at Berlin. Sharkey supposedly hit Schmeling with a low blow in round four so badly that Schmeling could not fight that evening any more. Thus Schmeling won the world title on a disqualification. He became the first Heavyweight world champion to win the title on a disqualification, and to this day, remains the only one to win it that way.
In 1931, he made a defense, knocking out Young Stribling in 15 rounds at Cleveland, and in 1932, he and Sharkey had a rematch. Sharkey won a 15 round decision and Schmeling lost his title. Despite efforts to make a third fight happen, the rubber match between Schmeling and Sharkey never took place.
Schmeling was thought to be a shot fighter and in 1936, the situation in Germany was changing and the Nazi movement was at the height of its power when he was brought over to New York to face up-and-coming American, Joe Louis, who was undefeated and considered unbeatable at the time. However, Schmeling surprised the boxing world by handing Louis his first defeat, dropping him in round four and stopping him in the 12th. Schmeling returned to Germany via the Hindenburg to a hero's welcome. Louis was so affected by this defeat, that when he won the world Heavyweight crown in 1937, he said he would not consider himself a champion until he beat Schmeling in a rematch.
The rematch came, at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938, with Louis defending his crown. By then, a second world war was clearly looming on the horizon, and the fight was viewed worldwide as a battle for a symbol of superiority between two likely adversaries. Schmeling was cast as the Nazi warrior, while Louis was being pictured as a defender of the American ideals. The fight was broadcast by radio all over the United States and Europe, and after Louis dropped Schmeling for the first time in the first round, Adolf Hitler order that the broadcast of the fight to Germany be cut off. Germans wouldn't find out what happened until later on. Louis retained the title by a knockout in the first, and Hitler took this defeat as an embarrassment to his country, just as he did when Jesse Owens won the Olympic Games Gold at Berlin's Olympic Games.
Schmeling was branded as a "Nazi" by many boxing fans, but nothing was further from the truth. In reality, Schmeling used to hide Jews in his house, sheltering them and protecting them from the SS and Gestapo. When World War II broke out in 1939, Schmeling was drafted into the German Army. Because he had long refused to join the Nazi party, a vengeful Hitler sent him on suicidal missions, only to see him return every time.
Schmeling remained anti-Nazi throughout the war, and after it was over, he frequently visited American troops, giving away signed photos and taking pictures with the American soldiers.
After 1948, Schmeling retired from boxing and he and Louis became great friends in retirement. He was one of the pallbearers at Louis's funeral in 1981. Up until recently, he made several trips a year around the world to attend activities related to his boxing career. He has been the object of several books, including a biography, and in 2001, HBO produced a movie about him and Louis named Max and Joe.
He is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame, and he compiled a record of 56 wins, 10 losses and 4 draws with 37 wins by knockout. Among his other wins, he had a knockout in eight rounds over former world Light Heavyweight champion and fellow Hall Of Famer Mickey Walker.
Despite his age, Schmeling still enjoys signing autographs for fans and still remains very accessible to admirers.