Sport

Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling

To me, boxing is a really interesting sport. Hell, being in Mötley Crüe for two decades has been like one big boxing match. You should see how many black eyes I’ve had.

I actually boxed for a little while, mainly as a way to work out and for the sport of it. It’s not just swinging and flailing (bar-fighting, if you will), it’s mathematical in a lot of ways. It’s punishing. I’ve seen some really good boxing matches in Los Angeles that go on for nine, 10 or 12 rounds. If you stand for that long, just holding your arms up and punching without hitting anybody, it’s unbelievably exhausting.

It’s also draining mentally. When they train they study the other boxer for months, they live those 12 rounds for weeks before the fight. The whole world is watching. Imagine the pressure.

In the Thirties, it was a combative time where boxing bonded people. The fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling was a classic example — an American in Louis fighting a German in Schmeling, just before the Second World War. They symbolised the international conflict — so now imagine that pressure. They fought twice, and Schmeling’s intense preparation and study of Louis’s style helped him win the first fight. Though he wasn’t a Nazi supporter, he was congratulated by Hitler.

In the second fight, the brute strength of Louis saw him come out of the traps and unleash a furious assault on Schmeling to knock him out in the first round and become the world heavyweight champion [in 1938, above]. Both fights were as eye-opening and invigorating as the Thriller In Manila clash. And like that brutal fight, they reflected the social issues on the planet.

Louis was heralded as a figure of hope both for African-Americans and a United States stuck in the Great Depression, while Schmeling was being used, albeit against his will, as a propaganda tool for the future of the Nazis. After the second fight, Louis became a national hero in the US and the Nazis ditched Schmeling. Hitler even drafted him in the army to stop him boxing.

Years later, the fortunes would turn. Louis died very poor. He’d become a doorman in Las Vegas, shaking hands for five bucks, whereas Schmeling had become a successful businessman in Germany. But he’d always respected Louis and he paid for his funeral. The two spent a lifetime battling each other as adversaries, but in the end it was all about respect.

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