Worst Heavyweight Championship Bout After A Car Accident
By Robert Brizel, Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
Among the most unique and challenging questions posed, have there been major boxing matches held after one of the scheduled participants was injured in a car accident? The first reaction would be such a bout would have to be either cancelled or postponed. Boxers such as Vinny Paz, Renaldo Snipes, Joe Frazier and Roberto Duran have been injured in car accidents. The serious affects incurred by boxers after car accidents are not in dispute.
However, when dealing with ticket sales and money put up by promoters, this is not always the case. One particular historical bout comes to mind: Joe Louis versus Buddy Baer II.
In their first world title confrontation on May 23, 1941, Buddy Baer knocked Joe Louis through the ropes in the first round. Louis knocked down Baer twice in the sixth round. The bell rang. Louis, who did not hear it, rushed across the ring and knocked out Baer after the bell. Louis was not disqualified. Baer was carried back to his corner. Baer got disqualified in the seventh instead when he was unable to answer the bell as he was still out.
A rematch was held January 9, 1942 at Madison Square Garden. Before the bout, Buddy Baer was seriously injured in a car accident. The true extent of the injuries sustained by Buddy Baer were not publicized before his rematch with Joe Louis to protect the rematch.
On Christmas Eve in 1941, Baer was in a car accident, in which Baer and his trainer Issy Kline were riding in a car driven by Jerry Casale, a training camp assistant. Their car collided with another car driven by a Wilma Wilkins. The following day, United Press International reported heavyweight challenger Buddy Baer of California suffered face scratches and bruises as a result of the car accident. Physicians stated his injuries were so slight they would not interfere with the Joe Louis rematch. On January 3, 1942, Baer and his trainer Casale were named as co-defendants in a $36,000 damage suit filed by Wilkins and her husband. Anna Griefenhein, the actual owner of the car Casale was driving, were also named in the suit.
In the rematch, Louis knocked down Buddy Baer three times in the first round, and knocked him out for good at 2:56 of the first round. The bout was the worst heavyweight mismatch ever because the facts surrounding the bout were misrepresented. Louis and promoter Mike Jacobs donated their earnings to the Naval Relief Fund, while Baer donated a sixth of his purse. Good intentions aside, where was the flaw? It was not until after the bout the true facts emerged surrounding Buddy Baer’s car accident.
After Baer was knocked out, he countersued the driver of the other car, Ms. Wilkins (and her husband) for $150,000 in damages. Trainer Kline, driver Casale, and car owner Griefenhein also countersued the couple. Baer’s attorney Howard Lawn said the suit was delayed until after the fight rather than jeopardize attendance. The Associated Press reported on January 23, 1942, Buddy Baer’s bill of complaint said the heavyweight contender had suffered torn muscles and tendons in the right shoulder area as a result of the car accident. Normal use of the right arm was impossible, and caused numbness whenever Baer received an ordinary punch on the head as a side effect.
Seven years of waiting and legal fees later for both sides, the countersuit case went to trial in New York. Neither side received any compensation nor had to pay any damages in the 1949 court decision, in all probability because the case took too long to go to trial.
The two title bouts with Louis were the last two bouts of Buddy Baer’s professional career. Baer finished his career with 53 wins, seven losses, and an incredible 49 knockouts. The two losses to Louis were the only times Baer was stopped. The real culprit, though, was the Christmas Eve 1941 car accident. Buddy Baer sustained permanent injuries, and should never have been allowed to fight the rematch with Louis.
Baer took the payday, perhaps to help pay his medical bills, perhaps because his career was in effect over and he decided to go through with the rematch with Louis anyway. The promoter decided the show had to go on. Much like the washed up broke ex-champion Jim Jeffries was not allowed by promoter Tex Rickard to back out of his farce title bout with Jack Johnson, Mike Jacobs had put together an exciting fight card of six fights with Louis versus Buddy Baer in the main event. The five undercard bouts preceding Louis versus Buddy Baer II all went the distance that night at Madison Square Garden, so when Louis finished Baer off in the first round, nobody felt cheated. The fiasco was buried in time.
Whoever the physicians were who did the prefight physical examination of Buddy Baer, and cleared him to fight his rematch with Joe Louis, should have had their heads examined. Since Buddy Baer was known to be seriously injured before the bout, his bout with Louis should have been cancelled, and his boxing license should have been revoked for medical reasons. A fighter should never be knowingly allowed by a state athletic commission to box in a bout injured. Buddy Baer, brother of former world heavyweight champion Max Baer, died July 18, 1986 at age 71, in Martinez, California. In retirement, Buddy worked as a U.S. Marshal for the California State legislature, an actor in Hollywood films, and owned a bar in Sacramento, California. Buddy and Max were known as good guys. Buddy Baer remains largely forgotten historically by the boxing establishment today.