on Mon 21-Jul-2008:
By "the 1930s," I really mean the times following Gene Tunney's retirement to the start of WW2, which I think make for a neat, tidy era. This is just something to chew on.
1. Joe Louis: Well, duh Who else was going to head up this list? Louis was not just the dominant champ of the 1930s - if you consider how infrequently past champs fought, he was the first truly dominant heavyweight champion period.
He kayoed Paulino Uzcudun and Kingfish Levinsky, as well as former champs Max Baer and Primo Carnera on his way to the title. Right there he knocked off four of the world's best heavyweights in only his second year as a pro fighter. After taking the title from Braddock, he defeated John Henry Lewis, Billy Conn, Arturo Godoy twice, Tony Galento, and avenged his sole defeat to Max Schmeling in spectacular fashion. This was the period of the pre-war Joe Louis, where his legend was built. He rules the era like a colossus.
2. Max Baer: Ah, "Madcap" Maxie Baer, the underachieving clown prince of heavyweight boxing. He was a brilliant talent - Jack Dempsey thought so - and we saw a glimpse of what Baer could have done if he had been as dedicated as Louis after he pulled himself back together from the Frankie Campbell tragedy. He beat Paulino Uzcudun and Tuffy Griffiths, and stopped Max Schmeling and Primo Carnera. There ought to be no doubt in anyone's mind that the only reason Baer lost the fight with Jim Braddock is that he didn't want to win it; after becoming champ, it seems very much like whatever fire that was in Baer's belly went completely out.
The bottom line, however, is that while Baer did nothing of note after he got the title, he did some pretty impressive things before winning it, and that is why I think of him as #2.
3. Max Schmeling: I often muse on what would have happened if Schmeling had not been completely ripped off in the original "we wuz robbed!" stinker, rigged decision in his rematch with Jack Sharkey. Regardless of what the record books say, he beat Sharkey twice, and it's hard for me to see him losing to Primo Carnera. If Schmelin had enjoyed a decent title reign - and one he clearly deserved - he would be the #2 on this list. Alas...
On top of beating Sharkey, he scored two wins and a draw against Paulino Uzcudun, and of course his famous stoppage of the comer Joe Louis. In the prime of Schmeling's career, his only losses were to Louis, Baer, and Steve Hamas.
4. Primo Carnera: Surprised to see Primo Carnera here? Don't be. The guy didn't win all his fights because of the mob - and I've always felt that allegations that Carnera relied on rigged decisions to be wildly overstated. To even win the title in the first place, he had to knock out Jack Sharkey, something Schmeling couldn't do. His win against Paulino Uzcudun was legitimate; his win over Tommy Loughran was not. Against this, he was stopped by Baer and Louis.
5. Jim Braddock: The number 5 slot was strictly between Braddock and Sharkey; that Braddock carries it says more about Sharkey than Braddock. Contrary to what the film would have you believe, the only truly formidable fighter he met on his way back to the title was John Henry Lewis, and Lewis was a true light heavyweight and the smaller man. To top it off, Braddock lost the title in his first defende, and no one really doubts that a focused, motivated Baer would have destroyed him. Still, the guy had character and guts, and compared to our #6 ...
6. Jack Sharkey: Well, where to start. Before the period in question, a young Sharkey was knocked out by an old Jack Dempsey. As noted, he lost two fights to Max Schmeling (or that is what the record books ought to say). He was knocked out by Primo Carnera and Joe Louis, and outpointed by Kingfish Levinsky. His only really good win was over Tommy Loughran, but that has to be balanced against losing the rematch. Like Braddock and Baer, he lost the title on his first defense. Unlike Braddock and Baer, he should never have won it in the first place, and has a string of high profile defeats to his name.