Boxer Max Baer Was So Strong That He Accidentally Killed His Opponent

Despite his controversial depiction as a cruel murderer in the ring in the movie "Cinderella Man," per New York Daily News, boxer Max Baer was, by all accounts, a pretty nice guy who liked entertaining crowds much more than he liked fighting. So how did he end up killing his opponent in the ring?

According to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Max Baer was an exceptionally strong fighter and an audience favorite in the boxing ring. Born in 1909, he began professionally fighting in 1929.

On August 25, 1930, between 15,000 to 20,000 fans gathered at Recreation Park in San Francisco, California for a boxing match between Frankie Campbell, the hometown favorite, and Max Baer, an up-and-comer (via Sports Illustrated Vault). But the fight was filled with issues from the very start. During training, Campbell weighed in at just 179 pounds, while Baer was 194 pounds. While Campbell insisted he would weigh 185 pounds by the time of the weigh-in, some people around him worried that he was sick. He and his managers insisted he was in fighting shape.

The fight begins

Frankie Campbell appeared out of it from the jump; while Baer (above) was getting ready to fight, Campbell was staring out at the crowd (via Sports Illustrated Vault). Baer pummeled Campbell, and between the rounds, Campbell told his second (or trainer), "Something feels like it broke in my head." At that time, fighters were literally encouraged to fight until they dropped. In next two rounds, Campbell seemed to do well.

Frankie Campbell also had a reputation for "playing possum" during rounds, making his opponents think he was hurt and letting their guard down before Campbell would come out swinging once more, reports SF Gate. Plus, according to Max Baer's official website, he had been scolded for not knocking his opponent out in a previous match, and was determined not to make that mistake again. He also feared the audience would think the match was predetermined, so Baer was fighting his hardest that night.

But in the fifth round, Baer delivered a devastating right hook to Campbell, hitting him in the face as he approached the neutral corner, according to SF Gate. He probably wasn't expecting such a hard punch. Sports Illustrated Vault reports that Baer kept hitting Campbell over and over as Campbell clung onto the rope. One of Baer's punches smashed Campbell's head into the metal corner bar. In those days, boxers had a responsibility to keep punching as long as their opponent was standing, or until the referee stopped the fight.

Campbell's horrific cause of death

When Baer did finally stop hitting Campbell, the referee signaled that Baer had won the match (via SF Gate). But Frankie Campbell was in really bad shape. He remained unconcious, with the referee, medics, trainers, and Max Baer all by his side for the next 30 minutes. An ambulance transferred Campbell to a hospital, where he died at age 26.

According to Max Baer's official website, Baer began crying "inconsolably" when he heard about his opponent's death. There was no doubt in anyone's mind about what had killed Frankie Campbell — they had all witnessed it.

 A brain specialist confirmed that Campbell hadn't been hit on the back of the head, but rather that the repeated jaw punches were the cause of death. The brain specialist who examined Campbell added another gruesome detail: the boxer's brain had been "knocked completely loose from his skull." Per Sports Illustrated Vault, Campbell's official cause of death was a double cerebral hemorrhage.

Max Baer was never the same

Per Daily News, Max Baer took a long time to come to terms with Campbell's death. He had constant nightmares and crying spells about the death. Seeking to help the Campbell family, he paid for Frankie Campbell's children to attend college. Max Baer's official website reports that Campbell's wife forgave Baer for his role in her husband's death. Baer also supported Campbell's widow with an exhibition fight that raised thousands of dollars for the Campbell family.

Baer was charged with manslaughter after Campbell's tragic death. The judge reportedly warned Baer that he was in trouble, but Baer only expressed dismay for Mrs. Campbell. While the manslaughter charges were dropped, Baer was still barred from boxing in California for one year. He spent much of that year in depression, haunted by the death, barely able to sleep or eat, and hiding out inside his house and chain smoking. 

Baer continued to fight, per Sports Illustrated Vault, but he was never quite the same as before the Campbell fight. He spent several years being more gentle and careful with his opponents, and embraced the showmanship aspects of fighting instead of winning matches. After regaining his confidence, Baer went on to become the 1934 world heavyweight champion.