The Fall of Joe Louis | The Nation


The Fall of Joe Louis

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AP ImagesJoe Louis works out with the punching bag in Lakewood, N.J., June 17, 1936, one day before his fight with Max Schmeling.

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James T. Farrell watches as the Brown Bomber becomes the Brown Bombed at the hands of Max Schmeling.

Over forty thousand people were smeared about the Yankee Stadium to witness the predicted murder of the century. Half-interested, they watched preliminary boxers maul for pork-chop money, and they booed when one decision went to an overgrown Argentine battler. Those in the ringside section glanced around to see and to be seen. Photographers swarmed about, the bulbs attached to their cameras flashing like a miniature electric storm. When asked by cops whom they were shooting they tossed off names from Jack Dempsey down. One policeman remarked that the fight wouldn't last long, that he ought to be getting home early. Everybody waited to see Joe Louis, the "Human Python," slug Max Schmeling into a coma.

Both fighters received loud ovations when they entered the ring. They sat in their corners while celebrities were introduced. Champions past and present lightly leaped over the ropes, shook hands all around, and took their bows. Jack Dempsey received a bigger hand than Gene Tunney, whom the announcer characterized as "an inspiration to the youth of America." Mickey Walker, along with others, was revealed as a "thrill-producer." This formality settled, the fighters were presented, and the announcer exhorted everybody "to cast aside all prejudice regarding race, creed, or color." I suspected a note of patronage in the responding wahoo.

The crowd waited, keen, alert eyes riveted on the greenroped ring. Nervous conversation popped on all sides like firecrackers. On all sides, too, people were asking each other how long before they would see Schmeling, the "dark Uhlan," stretched out .The ring was cleared. Handlers whispered final words to the fighters The gong! A loud cheer!

Dark-skinned Joe Louis danced and pranced cautiously about the ring facing a man who seemed clumsy. Louis, feinting with the snap of a trained, perfectly coordinated boxer, seemed to possess an almost insolent confidence. He maneuvered to let go with that deadly one-two punch, a left to the body, and a murderous right cross to the jaw, which was calculated to sink Schmeling quickly into a state of retching if temporary paralysis.

"Fight, you bums!" someone yelled from the grandstand behind me

They sparred and shifted in a first round which went to Louis by a harmless margin. The crowd seemed to be with Schmeling. It coached him, loudly yelling advice and confidential instructions: "Get in there, Max! Bob and weave! That's right! Don't stand up straight! Duck his left, Maxie!"

Near me, there was a thin, cynical-faced chap in a checked grey suit. Peering through binoculars he made himself an unofficial broadcaster for a large area of ringside seats.

"Don't be a bum, Maxie! You're yellow, Max! Fighting the kind of a fight Joe wants you to! Down, there! Bob and weave, bob and weave! ... Jesus Christ, look at him, standing up straight! Bob and weave! Use that right! Bob and weave!"

Others joined in. "Fight, you Dutch bum!" "Get going, Maxie!""Make it fast, Louis!" Negroes sprayed through the ringside section and the grandstand shouted, some with hysterical confidence. A frail Negro lad wearing brown trousers and a checked gray coat, kept telling Louis, in a mild voice, to hit him. The second round was cautiously fough.t Louis boxed, poised and graceful. Swaying and weaving, Schmeling still seemed clumsy, a man with no right to be in the ring with this black giant.

"He's feeling the Uhlan out. He'll tear in in a round or two."

"He's giving us a run for our money!"

The gong. The lights going on all over the arena. The high-pitched conversation. The seconds expertly working over the men. Again the gong. All lights off except those over the ring. Matches flashing on all sides as cigarettes were lit in the darkness. A loud and long Oh, and everyone leaping up. Schmeling had bounced Louis back with a powerful right.

"Oh, what a bum! He's yellow, Max! Get in there, Max! Polish him off! Dempsey would have killed him!" the gray-suited fellow with the binoculars yelled.

"Retaliate, Louis, retaliate!" the frail Negro, with the gray-checked coat called out. His voice was lost in the shrieks for a knockout.

The fellow with the opera glasses kept yelling that Louis was mad and swinging wild now. Louis was no longer the graceful, panther-like animal prancing around in sure expectation of a kill. The fourth round came up. The crowd yelled for blood. Many were asking about Schmeling's eye, which Louis had nicked in the early rounds. Louis went down. He was up immediately, punching wildly. He swung low with his left, landed. He was booed loudly and nastily.

"Hey Hey! Watch it! Watch it, you!" the fellow with the opera glasses shrieked threateningly.

"Kill him, Maxl" a woman cried hysterically from the grandstand.

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