The boxing world united in tribute today to the former world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling, who has died at the age of 99.
Schmeling’s foundation announced his death this morning but did not immediately venture any more details.
German Schmeling held the world title from 1930 to 1932 and in his later career was forced to fight against attempts by the emerging Nazi regime to champion him, and the resulting prejudices that came with it.
In his later years he would offer his advice to the Klitschko brothers who would both go on to emulate him by claiming versions of the world heavyweight title.
The Klitschkos’ personal manager Bernd Boente said the brothers had lost an idol who had a major impact upon their careers.
Boente said: “The Klitschkos found Max Schmeling a close friend and they visited him at his house on a number of occasions.
“He was a mentor to them and a symbol of everything they tried to achieve. He always told them they had to go to America if they were to succeed, and they took his advice.”
Schmeling, who was born in September 1905 in Brandenburg, became the first heavyweight to win the world title on a foul.
Protesting a low blow in his bout against American Jack Sharkey at Yankee Stadium in 1930, the officials agreed and crowned Schmeling as Europe’s first champion.
Schmeling lost the title in a rematch with Sharkey two years later, but achieved arguably his greatest success in 1936 when he knocked down and stopped the previously unbeaten US prospect Joe Louis in a non-title match.
Two years later, by which time Louis was champion, the rematch was unfairly hyped into a good versus evil battle between the model American citizen and the German with perceived links to the emerging Nazi regime.
Louis’ brutal one-round knockout of Schmeling signified an end to the German’s top-level career.
In later life Schmeling came to be known as one of sport’s finest ambassadors and a generous man who would help to pay a stricken Louis’ medical bills.
British heavyweight great Henry Cooper today paid tribute to Schmeling and recalled meeting the former champion in London in the 1960s.
Cooper told the Press Association: “Max came up to the Thomas a Becket gym on a PR visit and I remember what a striking figure of a man he was.
“It is a great shame to lose one of boxing’s great characters who will go down in history as one of the best.”
Promoter Frank Warren added: “Max was a tough old guy and boxing certainly did not do him any harm.
“He was anti-Hitler and a really good human being. He has got to be up there amongst the finest European heavyweights.”