Max Schmeling and Joe Louis met in two historic boxing matches in the 1930s.
It is hard now more than 70 years later to fully appreciate the social and global significance of two boxing matches in June of 1936 and 1938 between a black man from Detroit, Michigan and a white man from Germany. However, at the time, Joe Louis and Max Schmeling were prominent figures on the global stage and represented very polarizing situations within the social consciousness of the day.
When they met for the first time 75 years ago on June 19, 1936, Joe Louis was the 22-year-old Louis was 27-0 and considered the number one contender for the Heavyweight Championship. At 30-years-old, Schmeling, a former Heavyweight Champion was thought to be on the downside of his career and given little chance to defeat the powerful Louis.
However, Schmeling claimed before the match that he had noticed a flaw in Louis’ style specifically in how he dropped his guard after throwing a punch. Sure enough, Schmeling stayed close and in the 12th round knocked out Louis.
The victory made Schmeling a hero in Hitler’s Germany of the mid-1930s while the loss was felt hard by blacks in America who had seen Louis as more than just a good fighter, but as a champion for the cause of black Americans at a time when there were very few black heroes. Schmeling’s victory was touted by Nazi officials as proof of their doctrine of Aryan superiority.
The Thrilla in Manila marked the completion of boxing's greatest trilogy.
It was 35 years ago, October 1, 1975, that one of the great rivalries in sports history reached its climax with the third and final meeting between two of the great heavyweight boxers of their era. For both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the “Thrilla in Manila” was a defining moment in their careers.
For Ali, the victory secured his place as one of the great boxers of all-time. While for Frazier, the loss ensured that he would never be recognized as the top fighter of his era. Another loss a year later to George Foreman ended his tenure among the boxing champions.
Whether it was hype or real, the two men didn’t seem to like each other very much. Ali was constantly needling Frazier, an obvious attempt to get into his head. The two men once fought on the set of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and represented vast differences in African American society of the 1970s.
But in the ring, they were both warriors and their three fights were among the greatest in boxing history.
Below are some great YouTube videos that capture the buildup and the boxing from the “Thrilla in Manila.”