This week marks the anniversary of what some have called the most important boxing fight ever.
The fight is none other than the rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938. This fight was not only significat due to it being a rematch to a 1936 fight where Schmeling knocked out Louis in the 12th round, but also as larger political and ideological “fight”. Schmeling was fighting for Nazi Germany against Louis, a hero for black America, who for a moment was a hero to all of America after taking Schmeljng out in first round, throwing 41 punches to Schmeling's two.
The victory seemed to lay out a simple message, one of an ideological win of American Democracy over German Nazism. Despite the two boxers being propped up as the “American” vs the “Natzi”, their views of themselves and treatment by others rarely reflected that, pre or post fight. Louis lived and fought during Jim Crow era in a country that often didn’t consider him a man, much less an American. Meanwhile, despite the label of “Hitlers poster boy” following Schmeling for much of his career in America, he frequently stood by and defended his Jewish-American manager, Joe Jacobs, despite instance from the party to do otherwise. Schmeling himself was never registered with the Natzi party.
After the fight and the war, Louis and Schmeling went on to become friends, with Schmeling even financing Louis’s funeral.
The story of the fight may have been a boxing victory representative of America over Natzism, but the story of the fighters became one of overcoming adversity and discrimination, and overcoming differences to heal from past issues and to create friendships and bonds that would last a lifetime.
Written by: Patryk Stepien