Died on this day: Max Baer

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In training in Atlantic City, N.J., in preparation for his forthcoming fight with Max Schmeling, former heavyweight champion, at Yankee Stadium, New York City, on June 8, Max Baer, (above) punches the bag to develop his arms and timing.

One of the hardest-punching heavyweights in one of the division’s golden eras, and a colorful character outside the ring. The great Max Baer died on a day like today, 63 years ago.

Maximilian Adelbert Baer was born on February 11, 1909 in Omaha Nebraska. His family’s search for a better life took him to California at an early age, where he started his career in 1929.

Soon enough, a ring tragedy would mark his early years. The death of Frankie Campbell, his opponent in his 27th pro bout, after sustaining severe head trauma in their fight on August 25, 1930 almost convinced Baer to quit boxing. He did continue fighting, but with his spirit broken by his foe’s death he would lose four of his next six fights. His conquerors, however, were some of the best fighters the division had to offer back then (Paulino Uzcudun, Johnny Risko, Ernie Schaff and Tommy Loughran), and Baer would soon regain his best form at least until tragedy struck again when Schaff died after his rematch with Baer in 1932 (even though Schaff had another fight after Baer, the damage sustained in that prior fight was mentioned as a cause of his demise).

Only two fights later, Baer would have his first Ring Fight of the Year performance when he all but dismantled former champion Max Schmeling in New York, in a fight that would lead to his heavyweight championship bout against Italy’s Primo Carnera in 1934. Baer demolished the towering but clumsy champion in 11 rounds and lifted the Ring heavyweight belt in what would be a short-lived title run.

In his next outing, he faced an inspired and motivated former light heavyweight fringe contender who was considered an 8-1 underdog to beat Baer – but he did. Jimmy “The Cinderella Man” Braddock earned a hard-fought decision on the same venue and almost exactly one year to the date after Baer won his belt, ending his championship run with a bang after the fight was named Fight of the Year by The Ring.

It was raining on Baer, and then it poured when his next foe was announced. The great Joe Louis took Baer to school, stopping him in the fourth round on his way to heavyweight greatness.

Baer hit the comeback trail at full speed, scoring 19 wins (with 16 stoppages) in 1936 alone before losing in October to end the year with a still amazing 20-1 record. But his best years were behind him, and he racked up a 7-3 record in the next five years, retiring after a stoppage loss to Lou Nova in 1941.

Baer’s final ring record was 71–13, with 53 of those wins being by knockout. A partial list of his victims includes fighters like Kingfish Levinsky, Tony Galento, Max Schmeling and Tommy Farr. After his win over Schmeling at the height of Nazi Germany’s rise, Baer (son of a Jewish father and a Scotch-Irish mother) started wearing a star of David on his trunks, and would do so for the rest of his career.

As an actor, he appeared in over 20 films, and he even had his own comedy show with fellow former champ Maxie Rosenbloom. His namesake son became a popular TV star in the 1960s as well.

He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.

Diego M. Morilla has written for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.

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