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Schmeling v Louis, 1938
'The serpent's tongue' strikes
 real 14k

Interview with James J Braddock
Louis was 'a mechanic in the ring'
 real 14k

Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK
'He can run but he can't hide'
Max Schmeling
Schmeling pulled off one of boxing's biggest upsets
Continuing his look at boxing duels that dominated a decade, BBC Sport Online's Alex Trickett revisits the 1930s and Louis versus Schmeling.

They were billed as swastika versus Stars and Stripes. Aryan master-race versus freed slave.

But, contrary to popular opinion, the two fights between Max Schmeling and Joe Louis were not about pitting the Nazis against the free world.

At least, not as far as the boxers were concerned.

Joe Louis in training
Louis perfects his powerful punching
Schmeling, a German at the time of Hitler's insurrection, retained a Jewish manager and wanted only to stamp his authority on the heavyweight division.

Louis, born of sharecropper stock, was merely interested in establishing himself as the dominant boxer in the world.

When the two men had first met in 1936, Schmeling - a former heavyweight champ - was considered by many to be a sitting-duck for the prodigious Louis.

At 23-0, Louis was on the verge of his first title shot, and had a fierce arsenal of punching weapons to call upon.

Their first fight was surprising however.

Schmeling cannily outboxed the younger man, landing his right frequently, and Louis did well to survive until the 12th round, before falling to the canvas for the third and final time.

When I talk about that fight, my nose still bleeds
  Tommy Farr
When Schmeling returned to Germany victorious, he became a reluctant symbol of Aryan supremacy.

United behind a black man for almost the first time, the American public, meanwhile, called for a rematch and revenge.

Both arrived on a summer night in 1938.

Louis was champion by now, having seen off James J Braddock in eight rounds the year before, but he refused to acknowledge the title until he had avenged his only professional defeat.

"I don't want to be called champ until I lick Max Schmeling," he would say.

In Yankee stadium, Louis earned this recognition at last.

More determined than ever, he prevailed in 124 brutal seconds, showering Schmeling with punches and landing one that fractured two vertebrae in the challenger's back.

He ain't gentle, but he's a gentleman
  Billy Conn
Then, the champion showed his legendary finish, knocking his opponent down three times before the referee stepped in.

German radio listeners did not hear the end.

When it became apparent that Schmeling was doomed to defeat, the Third Reich broadcast went mysteriously dead.

Afterwards, while their countries got on with the business of war, the two boxers - who were to become good friends - went in their different directions.

Schmeling, whose boxing career was winding down, made a fortune distributing Coca-Cola in Germany.

'Bum of the month'

Louis, the increasingly-feared "Brown Bomber", fought his way past a succession of "bums of the month" en route to becoming one of the most celebrated champions ever.

In 12 years, he made 25 successful defences, more than anyone else in the history of the division, before retiring in 1949.

Two of these defences came against Irishman Billy Conn in the 1940s, in another epic duel for the ages.

Although Louis was the master of men in the ring, he was far less assured at money management.

He can run but he can't hide
  Joe Louis
A sad, debt-induced comeback was halted by a crushing defeat to Rocky Marciano in 1951 and Louis went on to balance his bank account working in the casinos of Las Vegas.

For a few fights, he even joined Muhammad Ali's entourage and was paid perhaps the biggest compliment a boxer can receive.

In a show of uncharacteristic modesty, Ali said: "When Joe's in the room, I'm not 'The Greatest'."

High praise indeed.

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