Joe Louis searches Max Schmeling for an opening during their first fight in 1936.
The Golden Age of boxing begins in the 1920s, with the reign of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. Described by Bert Sugar as "
the greatest fistic box-office attraction of all time
," Dempsey drew acclaim for his punching power and more than 60 first-round knockouts.
With Dempsey's retirement, however, interest in boxing dwindled until a new champion emerged, Joe Louis. Known as "The Brown Bomber," Louis' race wasn't a handicap among fans in the same way as Johnson before him. Louis was a nationwide hero after he defeated Max Schmeling in the first round of a rematch between the two fighters in 1938. With war looming in Europe, the match became symbolic of the struggle between democracy and fascism. When asked whether his home country would prevail in the war against the Axis Powers, Louis famously replied, "We'll win because God's on our side."
One superstar boxer would give way to the next during the golden age of boxing. Louis' boxing career reached its twilight just as another now legendary boxer, Rocky Marciano, achieved its peak. Known for his determination, his toughness and a right-handed punch called the "
," Marciano would win the heavyweight title and go on to six title defenses during a professional career unblemished by a loss or a draw. Even
, known for his braggadocio, could not confidently say he would have beaten Marciano had the two met at the height of their careers.
Boxing's popularity during this era was aided by media and the spread of technology. Dempsey fights drew fans on the radio, and movie reels carried highlights of Louis' and Marciano's matches, among other great fighters of the era. Television would eventually bring boxers right into the living rooms of their fans.
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