Round 12 Munich Dunkel: A History
Imagine this: The year is 1936. Adolf Hitler is in control of Germany and is building up his army, and the United States is just barely beginning to pick up the pieces left by the economic implosion of the Great Depression.
Two fighters — a 30-year-old white German man and 22-year-old Black man who grew up in Alabama and Detroit — meet in the boxing ring for one of the most racially-charged and culturally important matchups in sports history.
The two men are Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, and their story is as much about racial tensions, World War II, and national pride as it is about proving their prowess in the ring.
Though Schmeling was a former World Heavyweight Champion, Louis, a nation-wide hero and symbol of both Black empowerment and American strength, entered the match undefeated at 27-0 in his professional career, and was the hands-down favorite to win. Louis is said to have prepared only minimally for the bout, while Schmeling fanatically studied Louis’s fighting style in an attempt to discover his weakness.
He found it.
Louis had the habit of dropping his left hand low after a jab, and Schmeling exploited this weakness and shockingly knocked out Louis in Round 12 of the matchup at Yankee Stadium on June 19, 1936.
Schmeling’s victory garnered the attention of Hitler, who congratulated Schmeling and subsequently used his victory over not just an American, but a Black American, as fuel for Hitler’s racist, pro-Aryan propaganda. Schmeling became a national hero in Germany.
Louis went on to become the World Heavyweight Champion with his defeat by knockout of reigning champ James Braddock on June 22, 1937. They lasted eight rounds.
While Louis’s victory over Braddock was an important one for the country, and especially for African Americans, Louis was not satisfied. His loss to Schmeling the previous year haunted him — reportedly, Louis stated “I don’t want to be called champ until I whip Max Schmeling.”
Over the months that followed, attempts were made to set up a rematch between Louis and Schmeling. They all fell through until one date was finally agreed upon — June 22, 1938. One of the most important dates in American sports history, and Joe Louis’s shot at redemption.