Max Schmeling shocked the world by beating America's Joe Louis and then took part in a return contest that became the most racially and politically charged fight of all time.
Schmeling was held up as an example of Aryan supremacy
In his long life, Schmeling experienced fortunes of dramatic contrast. Born in 1905 during the days of the Kaiser, he went hungry during the "Turniptop Winter" of World War I.
But he took up professional boxing in the 1920s and at the start of next decade he became world heavyweight champion.
By the time of his first fight with Louis at the Yankee Stadium in New York six years later, Schmeling was considered past his best and the Nazis tried to have the fight called off.
Max Schmeling, 1905-2005
1930: Defeats Jack Sharkey to become world heavyweight champion
1932: Loses belt to Sharkey
1936: Knocks out Joe Louis in 12th round
1938: Loses to Louis in fight for world heavyweight championship
Louis was 22 and unbeaten, but complacent and out of condition. Even so, the world gasped when he was knocked out in the 12th round by Schmeling, who then carried Louis to his corner.
The Hindenburg airship carried Schmeling back to Germany, where Hitler invited him to lunch.
"I had to go," he said later.
Together, they watched a film of the fight and Hitler slapped his leg each time Schmeling scored a telling blow.
Schmeling held the title for two years and when he met Louis again in 1938, the American was world champion.
In a tidal wave of pre-fight publicity, both men were exploited by their governments to try to shape the patriotic consciences of their nations.
Schmeling was outclassed in his second bout with Louis
However, the re-match, on 22 June, turned out to be one of the briefest of fights. Schmeling threw only one punch and was knocked down three times.
While he was taken to hospital with two of his vertebrae broken, Goebbels sent flowers and Hitler a message of sympathy to Schmeling's wife, the glamorous film actress, Anny Ondra, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock's first talkie, Blackmail.
But within a year or so, the regime had turned against Schmeling because he refused to act as a Nazi spokesman.
He revealed his relief at losing the fight, as it meant that he could no longer be touted as a symbol of Aryan physical supremacy.
In November 1938, less than six months after his defeat, Schmeling came to the aid of a Jewish friend who had to flee Germany in the wake of Kristallnacht.
He hid the friend's two sons in his Berlin apartment and later helped them to escape from the country.
Schmeling (right) was a reluctant Nazi icon
The episode only came to light in 1989, when one of the sons invited Schmeling to Las Vegas to thank him for saving his life.
After serving as a paratrooper during World War II, Schmeling attempted a boxing comeback. He eventually bowed out in 1948.
But, outside the ring, he prospered. While Joe Louis struggled with tax problems and drug dependency, Schmeling became a wealthy man by running the German operation of perhaps the most American of all companies, Coca-Cola.
In 1954, he sought out Louis in Chicago to explain that he had never borne him any malice. Their meeting led to a friendship that endured until Louis' death in poverty in 1981.
Long before the end of the Millennium, Schmeling had dispelled the myth that he was a symbol of Nazi evil, and established his claim to dignity.