In what was anticipated as the ‘fight of the century’ Joe Louis faced undoubtedly one of his toughest opponents in a rematch that was broadcast to over 70 million listeners in the U.S and internationally via a live radio link. The two fighters had met in 1936 in a title match which German fighter Schmeling won via knock out. After that crippling loss Louis fought his way back up the ranks by winning the world heavyweight in a bout against James J. Braddock. Though he held the world title, the loss to Schmeling weighed heavy on Louis’s mind and he vowed to avenge his loss by any means and his wish was granted in June 1938.
Despite being one of the most anticipated fights of the 20th century, the bout ended in the first round with a technical knockout by Joe Louis. This was an anti-climax considering that pundits and boxing fans alike had expected a slugfest. The bout was more of a more sided affair with Louis dominating from start to finish.
This matchup was more than just a boxing bout; it took on a political dimension due to the strained relations between America and Nazi Germany. Schmeling’s defeat of Louis in their first bout was well received in Germany where he was welcomed as a hero. America on the other hand viewed a win over Schmeling as a psychological victory over the Hitler’s Nazi state. There was a lot of propaganda being circulated at the time and this bout played a big role in the propagandist ideologies of both political divides. During a visit to the white house prior to the fight, president Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Louis on by saying Joe, “we need muscles like yours to beat the Germans.” Louis in returned mentioned that the hopes of all Americans were riding on his performance.
In America this bout helped create a semblance of cohesion at a time when segregation was the order of the day. Americans of all races and backgrounds rallied behind Louis in a somewhat fanatical following.
Joe Louis was hailed as a hero after winning this monumental boxing fight.