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Max Schmeling

Faces Off Against U.s. Boxers

In 1929, realizing that the United States was rapidly becoming the center of the international boxing scene, Schmeling came to America to challenge some of the world's leading heavyweight boxers. After a couple of matches against unremarkable contenders, the German heavyweight made his mark internationally by defeating two major heavyweights, Johnny Risko and Paolino Uzcudun, earning him a number-two ranking and a shot at the world heavyweight title. On June 12, 1930, Schmeling and American Jack Sharkey faced off in New York's Yankee Stadium to fight for the vacant world heavyweight title. The German became the first heavyweight champion in history to win the title on a foul when Sharkey was disqualified in the fourth round for a low blow. It was just over a year before Schmeling fought again, successfully defending his heavyweight title by knocking out Young Stribling in the 15th round of a match in Cleveland, Ohio. Just over two years after he'd won the world heavyweight title, Schmeling lost it in a controversial split-decision in a Long Island rematch with Sharkey.

Schmeling's two years as world heavyweight champion—the first German ever to hold that title—elevated him to heroic status in his homeland. In the wild and wicked final days of the Weimar Republic, Berlin's café society embraced Schmeling, and Schmeling, poorly educated and never more than a laborer before getting into boxing, loved it. Dark and handsome, he suddenly found himself keeping company with actors, actresses, writers, poets, artists, and dancers. He took to buying the finest tailored suits money could buy, almost all of them bought at David Lewin's justly famous Prince of Wales shop in the German capital. It was in Berlin that Schmeling met Anny Ondra, a Polish-born actress who starred in a number of motion pictures in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Great Britain between the late teens and early fifties. Schmeling married the actress in 1933. Childless, their marriage lasted more than half a century and ended only with Anny's death in 1987.


1905 Born in Uckermark, Germany, on September 28
1924 Turns professional on August 2
1933 Marries Polish-born actress Anny Ondra
1938 Shelters teenaged sons of David Levin during Kristallnacht
1940 Drafted into Wehrmacht as a private
1941 Parachutes into war-torn Crete
1947 Returns to boxing
1954 Returns to America, visiting grave of Joe Jacobs in New York
1957 Buys Coca-Cola dealership in Hamburg-Wandsbek
1981 Helps to pay for costs of Joe Louis's funeral

Related Biography: Boxer Jack Sharkey

Jack Sharkey, born Josef Paul Zukauskas in Binghamton, New York, on October 26, 1907, first got into boxing while he was serving in the U.S. Navy. He engaged in more than twenty-five bouts during his military service, becoming champion of the Atlantic Fleet. In 1924, shortly before leaving the service and while stationed in Boston, he changed his name and turned professional. He won his first three professional fights, only to lose his fourth on a poor decision. Although he avenged that loss, he was knocked out by Chilean Quintin Romero-Rojas in his 10th fight. He also lost decisions to Jim Maloney, Charley Weinert, and Bud Gorman, but he beat Maloney twice in rematches and defeated the highly rated Johnny Risko and Jack Renault.

On July 21, 1927, Sharkey was knocked out by Jack Dempsey, but he bounced back from that defeat to score a number of major victories, including defeats of Jack Delaney and Tommy Loughran. He also knocked out British heavyweight champ Phil Scott, earning himself a match on September 26, 1930, with Germany's Max Schmeling for the vacant world heavyweight title. After almost knocking out Schmeling in the third round, Sharkey landed a low blow in the fourth round and was disqualified, giving Schmeling the title.

Sharkey and Schmeling met again in a rematch on June 21, 1932, at the Long Island City Bowl in New York City. It was a close match, although many observers felt that Schmeling definitely had the edge. However, Sharkey won the split decision and took the championship, prompting Joe Jacobs, Schmeling's manager, to shout, "We wuz robbed!"

Sharkey married Dorothy Pike in 1925. The couple had three children. Carefully husbanding his boxing earnings, he retired from the ring in 1936. Living in Boston with his family, he managed a neighborhood bar and refereed local boxing and wrestling matches. Later in life, he and his wife moved to Epping, New Hampshire, where he lived until his death in 1994.

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