Everybody knows who Max Schmeling is: the German who, at the height of Nazi fervor in 1938, was knocked out in the first round by heavyweight champ Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium. The famous clip:
The referee who counts out Schmeling, by the way, is Art Donovan Sr., father of Artie Donovan, the Colts’ Hall of Fame defensive tackle. Art Sr. worked no fewer than 18 of Louis’ bouts. “‘Little Arthur’ was the kid on the subway from the Bronx who carried his father’s small bag with his gray referee’s uniform in it downtown to him on fight nights,” Bill Gildea wrote in The Washington Post in 1986.
As you heard the narrator say, Schmeling had held the title for two years himself earlier in the ’30s. He also was the first man to defeat Louis — in 1936 on a stunning 12th-round knockout. Indeed, their short-lived rematch might have been the most emotionally charged fight of all time, what with the Brown Bomber’s desire for revenge, Adolf Hitler’s naked racism and Germany’s growing militarism.
Anyway, that’s Max Schmeling (in case you needed a refresher course). As for Steve Hamas, his opponent in tonight’s featured bout, he’s largely fallen through the cracks of boxing history.
Before he climbed in the ring as a professional, though, he spent a season as fullback with the Orange (N.J.) Tornadoes, one of the many teams that came and went in the NFL’s early years.
Truth be known, Hamas was probably a better fighter than footballer. A two-time college champion at Penn State, he tore through his first 29 pro opponents, knocking out 26 and decisioning the others. (Among his victims was former Frankford Yellow Jackets back Tex Hamer, who didn’t fare nearly as well between the ropes as Steve did.)
After KO-ing ex-lightweight champ Tommy Loughran in two rounds, Hamas climbed high enough in the rankings to earn a shot at Schmeling. It was a good time to catch him. For one thing, the German had just been TKO-ed by Max Baer (who would go on to win the heavyweight crown a year later). For another, he didn’t train all that hard for his bout against the pride of the Orange Tornadoes, perhaps because he thought of him as more of a media creation than a polished fighter.
Sure enough, Hamas absolutely hammered Schmeling when they met at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall in 1934, winning a unanimous 12-round decision. In the New York Daily News, Paul Gallico wrote that Max “was a 10-round target for Hamas’ straight left in the face. . . . Nobody [had] ever cut Schmeling before.”
Naturally, this set up a sequel 13 months later — in Hamburg, where the atmosphere was a tad different. Instead of 13,000 screaming Americans, there were 25,000 screaming Germans.
The fighters have emerged from their dressing rooms and are about ready to begin. Let’s go up to the ring.
Alas, that ninth-round knockout was the end of Hamas’ boxing career. He experienced temporary numbness in one his legs afterward, and the scare convinced him to hang up his gloves. His place in history remains secure, though — as the only ex-NFL player to beat a former heavyweight champ.
Sources: pro-football-reference.com, boxrec.com.