The Wild Story of Müller v Stretz III
The post war years were a very turbulent time for the newly partitioned Germany. Hitler’s ‘scorched earth’ retreat policy had intended to leave nothing for the allies to fight with, in reality it left German citizens with nothing to live with. There was little to no infrastructure; power lines, bridges and railways had all been destroyed. Agricultural land had been ripped apart by shells and tanks, almost no livestock survived.
The Ruins of Berlin
This meant that food was scarce and day to day civilian life was perilous, but this was not the worst cost. German society was having to come to terms with the fact that it was a society divided into victims, perpetrators and bystanders. The Nazi state had waged the bloodiest war humanity had ever seen, and comited the most egregious crimes against their fellow man. Now that war was at home, in the minds, as the persecuted lived next door to the persecutor.
The series of war crimes trials started by Nuremberg were ineffective and small scale. Most of those involved in the horrors simply went back to their old lives, as did those Germans who’d survived persecution. Combined with hunger, rationing and a lack of self determination, both east and west were at boiling point.
Since long before the monstrous fascists claimed power in Europe, boxing has been a lens through which society is reflected back at itself. The transatlantic power struggle reflected in the infamous Heenan v Sayers. The bigotry of a post slavery world, in Johnson v Jefferies and Burns. As Peter Müller stepped into the ring to take on his rival Hans Stretz, on the 7th of June 1952 it was to be his turn to play out the struggles of his nation wearing ten ounce gloves.
Ten thousand of Müller’s countrymen had packed into the Eisstadion, in Köln, West Germany that night, all excited to see what promised to be one of the most thrilling all German bouts that had taken place since the war.
The pair had met twice before, with Stretz taking them both. He had first knocked Muller out in 1949, starting a fierce rivalry. When the pair met again two months before the infamous 7th of June fight, the fight was for the German Middleweight title that Müller had won two years prior against Carl Schmidt. Müller was disqualified in just the third round, as a result of repeated low blows. However, due to the fights exciting nature and controversial ending a rematch was promptly scheduled.
Müller v Stretz II
The first seven rounds went by fairly routinely, with Müller the aggressor, leaping into the try and counteract the superior height and reach of Stretz. Stretz though continued to have success counter punching and moving, frustrating Müller.
It all boiled over though in the eighth though as Müller began to find more success with his attacks and Stretz was forced to grab hold of Müller with his long arms. Müller continues to punch as Referee Max Pippow forces his way in between the fighters.
Müller flies back in but once again is tied up by Stretz’s outstretched arms. Hejerks and writhes desperately trying to punch his opponent. Again Pippow pulls him off. Again he launches at Stretz.
A thunderous left hook and right uppercut land before again he is grabbed behind the neck by the clawing gloves of Stretz. This time though as Referee Pippow comes to separate the fighters he is greeted by a huge overhand right from Müller that instantly knocks him unconscious.
Müller Knocks out Pippow
Losing all control Müller has deliberately knocked out the referee so he can get back to the business of hurting his opponent. Like a frenzied predator he turns back to the stunned Stretz who is looking down at the felled Pippow, and starts bombarding him with heavy punches.
Both corners rush into the ring as Stretz absorbs blow after blow. As his trainer pulls him off the injured Stretz he throws punches at them before charging into Stretz’s corner and continuing his rampage. Once he has bludgeoned them out of the ring he goes for his own corner who are trying to calm him down.
He then proceeds to knock out his manager and father-in-law Jupp Thelen, with a savage series of blows. He then charges out of the ring and punches his way back to his dressing round, under heavy bombardment from the spectators.
Müller attacks Thelen
The German boxing commission, who’s officials had rushed into the ring to come to the aid of the still unconscious Pippow declared a disqualification victory for Stretz. While he celebrated victory in the ring West German police had escorted Müller to a psychiatric hospital in Cologne for an 8 day observation.
Müller was “banned for life” by the commission as a result of the incident, but as is still the case today, this didn’t last long. Despite his criminal actions in the ring he was back fighting only a year later. He would even go on to earn big pay days against a who’s who of the 1950’s middleweight division. He was defeated by Carmen Basillio, Gene Fullmer, Laszlo Papp, Joey Giardello and even an emerging Dick Tiger.
Müller and Stretz fought to a draw in their fourth encounter in 1955. The fight, like the country, was quieter by then. West Germany had begun to prosper, they had joined NATO and established a democracy. The Marshall plan had given huge infrastructure grants for the rebuilding of continental Europe.
I think the 1952 bout, and the psychological break Müller suffered in the eighth round are symptomatic of the tensions present outside the ring. The Eisstadion was simply a microcosm of the internal struggle Germany was having with itself, but most importantly the struggle within every German.
The shakey first steps away from tyranny and into the unknown, and the fear, anger and violence that brings.
Ewan for SimBoxx.