Boxing in the 1930s was affected by one of the biggest economic struggles in the history of the United States: The depression era. Because of the suffering American economy, many boxers were offered lower purses, and they would not fight for low amounts of money. When the decade began, the world Heavyweight title had been vacant for almost three years. There was a world Middleweight champion, Mickey Walker, but he was more interested in pursuing fights with the best Heavyweight contenders, instead of facing his own contenders down at the Middleweight division.
The Heavyweight division, during 1930 to 1937 in particular, could be compared to the Heavyweight division of the 1980s. Six champions were crowned before Joe Louis began his legendary run as Heavyweight champion in 1937. He retired in 1949, still being the world’s Heavyweight champion.
Boxing matches were so popular in the 30’s that they spurred the sales of radios. The Depression did hurt gate receipts, but radio also cut into profits as more and more Americans tuned in to ringside coverage. The career of Joe Louis paralleled the rise of boxing on the wireless and contributed significantly to the popularity of other sports reported over the new medium, Friday Night Fights became an institution. Joe Louis defended his world heavyweight crown three times in 1938, a record in boxing history. His most memorable match was against the former champion Max Schmeling. Louis beat the German in 2 minutes and 4 seconds, battering him so badly that Schmeling was hospitalized for 10 days. More than 70,000 people attended the fight in Yankee Stadium in New York City. Earlier that year, Louis had knocked out Nathan Mann at Madison Square Garden, and Harry Thomas in Chicago Stadium.
Boxing in the 30,s was Americas second most popular sport, next to baseball, though much of the attraction had a lot to do with the heavy gambling that accompanied the bouts. During this period many families were out of a job, thousands of youngsters took up boxing and sport was a means to idle the hours away. The depression left the Americans short on money but if an upcoming fight was going to be a sensational one—even in the lean years of the Depression—fans tried to scrape up good money to see it.
Boxing began expanding into Latin America in the 1930s: Sixto Escobar became the first world champion from Puerto Rico by defeating Baby Casanova, who had also been crowned at the start of the decade. Baby Arizmendi conquered the first world title for Mexico in 1934. For his part, Kid Chocolate became the first world champion from Cuba.
Three world champions won world titles in three different divisions; a feat no single fighter had accomplished since 1903: Tony Canzoneri, Barney Ross and Henry Armstrong cemented their place in boxing history by achieving the feat; Armstrong was the first, and will be the only, world champion to reign in three divisions at the same time. Boxing rules since ban boxers from reigning at more than one division at a time.