Former World Champion Schmeling Dies at Age 99
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Feb 4, 7:00 AM (ET)
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - Former world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling, who fought two unforgettable bouts with the great American Joe Louis in the 1930s, has died at the age of 99.
The German sports agency SID said Schmeling was buried in his home town of Hollenstedt Friday, two days after his death.
The wife of his close friend Herbert Woltmann said Schemling had not recovered after catching a bad cold at Christmas.
Schmeling won the vacant world title when he defeated Jack Sharkey in 1930 and his sensational knockout of Joe Louis in 1936 confirmed his position as one of the greatest boxers of his era.
The return fight two years later, won by Louis with a first round knockout, was promoted as a battle between Nazi Germany and the United States, although Schemling was not a Nazi and had a Jewish trainer.
Schmeling was born on September 28, 1905 in the village of Klein Luckow, near Prenzlau, north of Berlin.
He started his career in 1923 and in the following year he was the German amateur light-heavyweight champion.
In 1930 he was crowned world heavyweight champion in controversial fashion, when Sharkey was disqualified for a low blow which sent Schmeling to the canvas in the fourth round.
Defeats to Max Baer and Steve Hamas followed and many wrote Schmeling off but be bounced back to beat them both and earn the right to challenge Louis.
The American was undefeated in 27 fights and regarded as unbeatable when Schmeling faced him in New York on June 9, 1936, silencing 60,000 spectators by knocking out his opponent with a fierce right in the 12th round.
Wins over Harry Thomas, Ben Foord and Steve Dudas followed and then came the rematch on June 22, 1938, also in New York.
Schmeling struggled in the years after World War II, a conflict during which he served in the army but was discharged early because of a knee injury.
Needing money, he briefly returned to the ring in 1947-48 before retiring at the age of 43 with a professional record featuring 70 fights -- 56 wins including 38 inside the distance, 10 defeats and four draws.
He acquired business skills and worked for Coca-Cola, staying fit and trim well into his 90s through a daily half-hour workout.
Even though he had long retreated from public view in Germany, he was recently voted as one of the top German sportsmen of the last century, taking sixth place in a ZDF television survey in which 100,000 viewers took part.