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Max Baer's Professional Boxing Career
He turned pro in 1929, progressing steadily through the ranks. A ring tragedy little more than a year later almost caused him to drop out of boxing for good.
The death of Frankie Campbell
Baer fought Frankie Campbell (brother of Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer Dolph Camilli) on August 25, 1930 in San Francisco and in only 2 hits, knocked him out. Campbell never regained consciousness.
After lying on the canvas for nearly an hour, Campbell was finally transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he eventually died of extensive brain hemorrhages. An autopsy revealed that Baer's devastating blows had knocked Campbell's entire brain loose from the connective tissue holding it in place within his cranium.
Although he has never been documented as boasting of the death of Campbell, it launched him into an infamous status of being a killer in the ring. The death was used for promotional purposes to make Baer seem deadly, and dangerous.
In the case of Frankie Campbell, he was charged with manslaughter. Although he was eventually acquitted of all charges, the California State Boxing Commission still banned him from any in-ring activity within their state for the next year. He gave purses from succeeding bouts to Campbell's family, but lost four of his next six fights. He fared better when Jack Dempsey took him under his wing, and although it is a little known fact, Baer put Campbell's children through college.
This publicity was further sensationalized by Baer's return bout with Ernie Schaff, who had bested Baer in a decision a few years earlier. At the close of the 10th round, Baer nailed Schaff square in the temple with what some witnesses claimed to be the hardest right hand that ever connected in boxing. Schaff was saved by the bell, though he ended up losing the bout by way of decision. Several minutes passed before Ernie Schaff was revived and able to stand under his own power. Schaff was never quite the same after that bout. He complained frequently of headaches and his ring performance lagged immensely in succeeding bouts. Six months after the Baer fight, he died in the ring after he took a pathetic jab from the behemoth Primo Carnera. Although Carnera was vilified as a "man killer", it was obvious he had died as a result of damage inflicted during his bout with Baer.
Although outwardly Baer seemed indestructible and remained a devastating force in the ring, the death of Campbell and the accusations he received over Ernie Schaff's demise profoundly affected Baer; according to his son, actor/director Max Baer, Jr., he cried and had nightmares over the Campbell incident for decades afterwards.
Max Baer and Max Schmeling
In 1933, Baer (with a Star of David embroidered on his trunks , which he swore to wear in every bout thereafter) boxed Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium, dominating the rugged fighter from Germany into the tenth round when the referee stopped the match. Because Baer defeated Schmeling, Hitler's favorite, and Baer had a Jewish father, he became a hero to the Jewish people, although he was raised Catholic (his mother's faith).
Max Schmeling was anything but a Nazi. His manager was Jewish, and Schmeling hid some Jews on Kristalnacht, the night the Nazis went on a rampage against Jews and businesses, and helped them escape. His losses to the part Jewish Baer and subsequently to the African-American Joe Louis definitely made him more of an embarrassment to the Nazis. He later became a good friend of Louis's and even paid for his funeral.
Baer defeated the likes of Walter Cobb, Kingfish Levinsky, Max Schmeling, Tony Galento and Tommy Farr. He was Heavyweight Champion of the World from June 14, 1934, when he knocked out Primo Carnera, to June 13, 1935.
Max Baer and the "Cinderella Man" James Braddock
Max Baer boxed in eighty-four professional fights from 1929 to 1941. In all, his record was 72-12-0 (53 knockouts), which makes him a member of the exclusive group of boxers to have won fifty or more bouts by knockout. He fought Lou Nova in the first televised heavyweight prizefight, on June 1, 1939, on WNBT-TV in New York. His last match was another loss to Nova, in 1941. Baer and his brother, Buddy, both lost fights to Joe Louis, Buddy's two losses to Louis coming in world title fights.
He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1968, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1984 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995
In 2003, Ring Magazine published its list of the one hundred greatest punchers of all time in boxing, as voted by the its writers. Max Baer was number 22.
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