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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 10:49 GMT
Heavyweight legend Schmeling dies
Max Schmeling celebrates his famous win over Joe Louis
Schmeling celebrates his shock victory over Louis
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Max Schmeling has died at the age of 99.

The German sporting idol died on Wednesday, his charitable foundation announced on Friday. No cause of death has been given.

Schmeling won the world championship over Jack Sharkey in 1930.

And his stunning knockout of Joe Louis, who would later become a firm friend, in 1936 solidified his position as one of the greatest fighters of his era.

Schmeling was buried on Friday next to his wife, Czech-born actress Anny Ondra, in Hollenstedt, near Hamburg, in a private ceremony.

Schmeling was born of humble origins on 28 September, 1905, in Klein Luckow, in what is now the Brandenburg state around Berlin.

He became the first German heavyweight world champion when he beat Sharkey in New York on 12 June, 1930, after the American was disqualified for a fourth-round low blow.

But it was for his two fights against Louis that he will be best remembered, largely because of "political" reasons beyond his control.

Schmeling lost his title to Sharkey in 1932 but came back to knock out the previously unbeaten Louis in the 12th round on 19 June, 1936, which the Nazi regime trumpeted as a sign of "Aryan supremacy".

It is a great shame to lose one of boxing's great characters who will go down in history as one of the best
Sir Henry Cooper
Schmeling came into the fight as a 10-1 underdog, and his victory is considered one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.

But, in a rematch at New York's Yankee Stadium in June 1938, Louis knocked Schmeling out in the first round to retain the world title.

The fight was broadcast throughout the US and Europe, with German leader Adolf Hitler among the listeners.

Years later Schmeling, who had always refused to act as a mouthpiece for Nazi propaganda, said he was almost glad he had lost.

"A win over Joe Louis might have made me the perfect Aryan of the Third Reich," he said. "The Nazis tried to use me but I used them to help other people."

In retirement Schmeling became regarded as one of boxing's finest champions and generously helped out the stricken Louis with his medical bills.

Louis and Schmeling became firm friends outside the ring
Louis and Schmeling became firm friends outside the ring
In later life he grew close to the Klitschko brothers, who had set up camp close to Schmeling's residence in Hamburg, and would pass on advice.

Bernd Boente, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko's manager, said: "They are both really shocked because they loved Max Schmeling.

"He was a mentor to them and a symbol of everything they tried to achieve. He always told them they had to go to America if they were to succeed, and they took his advice."

British heavyweight great Sir Henry Cooper also paid tribute to Schmeling and recalled meeting the former champion in London in the 1960s.

Cooper said: "Max came up to the Thomas a Becket gym on a PR visit and I remember what a striking figure of a man he was.

"It is a great shame to lose one of boxing's great characters who will go down in history as one of the best."

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