Boxing used to be a big event for the Fourth of July weekend. Many famous bouts took place that weekend, including Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries (1910), Jack Dempsey-Jess Williard (1919), Dempsey-Georges Carpentier (1921), and a big one for the locals was the W.L. “Young” Stribling-Max Schmeling bout in Cleveland on July 3, 1931.
The bout, which took place 90 years ago on Saturday, was the first event to take place in the old Municipal Stadium. Ring Magazine called it The Fight of The Year.
Schmeling had won the title a year before by defeating Jack Sharkey with a controversial ending. With Sharkey dominating the action the entire way, Schmeling went down claiming a low blow at the end of the fourth round. Officials awarded the fight to Schmeling.
Pushed for a rematch with Sharkey, Schmeling declined, taking the fight with Stribling.
“Young” Stribling got his nickname after turning professional at 14, fighting in all divisions from bantamweight to heavyweight. Newspapermen gave him the moniker to go with Pa Stribling and Ma Stribling, a pair who had toured as vaudeville entertainers before settling in Macon, Georgia. Instead of training, he fought constantly, often facing questionable competition in small towns throughout the country. He earned the derogatory title King of the Canebrakes from the well-known sports writer Damon Runyon.
For this fight, Strib, as he was called by his family, set up a training camp at Geauga Lake Park and, according to books “King of the Canebrakes” and “Greatest Champion That Never Was,” he overtrained, reaching his peak two weeks before the fight. By July 3, he was worn out.
Schmeling, who is remembered mainly for his fights with Joe Louis in 1936 and 1938, trained in Pennsylvania. One of the famous stories of the pre-fight was that Strib, who was a pilot, took a plane, flew it over Schmeling's training camp, and was yelling at him.
As for the fight itself, it was fairly one sided. Stribling took an early lead, but began tiring early. Schmeling, a very hard-hitting, deliberate fighter, kept up a steady pounding, hurting the Georgian in the ninth round.
In the 15th round, Schmeling connected with a hard right that dropped Stribling. Strib got to his feet, but referee George Blake stopped the fight with just 14 seconds left. It was the only time in his career of about 280 bouts that Stribling had been stopped.
Two years into the Great Depression, the fight had a gate of $349,000, about $6.2 million in today’s money. It was seen by about 35,000 people. Tickets ranged from $3 to $25. Instead of a guaranteed price, the fighters received a percentage with the champion getting 40% and the challenger 12.5%.
Stribling continued to fight but was killed as a result of a motorcycle wreck in Macon in October 1933. He was only 28.
Schmeling lost his title the next year to Sharkey in a controversial 15-round decision. After stopping Louis in 12 rounds in 1936, he was destroyed by Louis in one round two years later.
After World War II, he became an executive in Coca-Cola in Germany, living to the age of 99 in 2005.