The Fall of Joe Louis | The Nation


The Fall of Joe Louis

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Now the crowd cheered and exhorted Schmeling. Shaken by surprise at the unexpected turn of the fight, it wanted blood. Here and there Negroes began showing concern. Some were silent; others pleaded with Joe to win. The frail lad with the gray-checked coat meekly begged Louis to retaliate, his words drowned out by successive roars.

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And the heart seemed utterly gone out of Joe Louis. Hurt, he floundered. Missing punches, he revealed the manner in which the German's plan of battle was working effectively. Drawing Louis to lead with his left, Schmeling ducked under the Negro, and pegged in solid right-hand smashes. Now many yelled that Louis couldn't take it. After each gong he wobbled about, scarcely able to find his own corner. Loud and gleeful voices announced that the black boy was out on his feet. The superman of pugilism had been turned into a "bum" by one knockdown and a pounding succession of drives from Schmeling's right hand.

Groggy for two rounds, Louis seemed to recover in the seventh round. He attacked and the mob was on its feet, ready to shift its allegiance as he banged at Schmeling.

"He ain't hittin' Max! He's hittin' Maxie's gloves! Louis's face is hamboiger! It's hamboiger! He's a sucker for a poifict right! Go in with the right, Maxte, and you'll kill the yellow bum!" the smart Aleck with the binoculars crowed.

"Retaliate, Louis, retaliate!"

For eight rounds Schmeling punched Joe Louis into a state of bewildered, rubbery-legged semi-helplessness. Louis swung wildly, feebly. Before the end Schmeling was laughing at him. The German continued to light cautiously, ploddingly, slugging away until he grew armweary. A few called to the referee to stop it. One fellow began yelling that Schmeling was a bum because he was taking so much time to knock out a thoroughly beaten man.

The roaring grew in volume. From behind, there came petulant repetitive cries for those in front to sit down. Schmeling was exhorted to polish Louis off; to kill him. Louis, utterly confused and swinging aimlessly, landed several low punches. He was booed. Then finally Schmeling straightened Louis up and bounced a last needless right off his face. Louis fell into the ropes, relaxed, slid on to the canvas, quivered, turned over. A long and lusty roar acclaimed the end of one superman and the elevation of another superman to supplant him in the sports columns.

The beaten heavyweight was led off, half dragged,half carried, his face smothered in a towel. A last pitying but friendly cheer followed him. Schmeling departed, guarded by an aisle of policemen, waving and grinning at the plaudits which acknowledged him the hero of the evening.

In the dressing-room Schmeling stood under a spraying shower, surrounded by reporters, his dark hair sopped, answering questions with a heavy German accent. His middle covered with a towel, he crushed his way out of the shower to dress. Photographers clambered on chairs, and flashed his picture continuously. Reporters asked the whiner how he had won, and solemnly copied his statements down on note paper. He said that Louis was a good boxer, but could be hit, and that Louis's punches had not hurt him seriously, except for the low ones.

"Hey, Max, please smile! I want you smiling and I'm finished," one of the photographers pleaded.

Again Schmeling was asked how he won, and his answers were noted. The experts described the statements as fine and excellent. He spoke of the "shampionship." He was congratulated tumultuously on all sides. His manager, a corpulent, slack-faced little man, was chewing a cigar, wiping oceans of perspiration from his brows, and chiding the experts who had picked Louis. A sweating radio announcer with a handkerchief strung around his neck was concluding his broadcast in a thick, insinuating, histrionic voice.

"Hey, Maxie, please smile! Hey, tell him to smile! I can't go home till I get a shot of him smiling. Hey, Max, smile for just a second!"

Schmeling was dressed now, gay, not worrying over his bruised eyes. He has dark hair, heavy brows, a long, bony face. He is an ox-like, genial, stupid-looking German, his features from some angles almost suggestively animalistic.

"Hey, please, get Max to smile. For Christ sake, I can't go home until I get him smiling!"

A few minutes later Schmeling broadcast a statement to Germany, where the Nazis will make political capital of the fight and claim that Max Schmeling's victory is a triumph for Hitler and Wotan.

Dressed in a loud gray suit, with a straw hat askew on his enormous head, Joe Louis sat bowed. The son of exploited Alabama cotton pickers, he had in two years earned around a million dollars in his so-called "meteoric" rise in the prize ring; he had just earned well over one hundred thousand dollars. Now he sat like a sickened animal. He is a large Negro boy with blown-out cheeks, fat lips, and an overdeveloped neck. His face was puffed and sore. He dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief, revealing bruised knuckles. His trainer bent down and whispered to him, calling him Chappie. A second massaged his neck. He sat dazed, stupefied from punishment. Again he dabbed his eyes. A Negro boxer who had won a preliminary bout on a technical knockout dressed in an outer room, explained how he had gone into the fight to win; he entered Louis's quarters, talked condolingly with him, departed. Photographers stood on chairs, awaiting Louis's exit, begging for just one picture. Loud cheers echoing from outside heralded Schmeling's departure. Louis sat, still punch drunk. He went out like a drunken man, surrounded by cops and members of his retinue, his face hidden behind a straw hat and the collar of his gray topcoat. Unsupported, he would have fallen. The helpless giant was pushed into a taxicab and hustled away while a crowd fought with the police to obtain a glance at him.

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