Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sharkey vs. Carnera

Jack Sharkey and Primo Carnera, both born on this day (Sharkey in 1902 in Binghamton, New York, and Carnera in 1906 in Sequals, Italy), were participants in one of the most infamous heavyweight title matches of all time in 1933.

Sharkey's real name was Joseph Cukoschay or Zukauskas (depending on the source) -- he took the name "Sharkey" after a former leading heavyweight contender, Sailor Tom Sharkey, after leaving the Navy himself for a boxing career. He fought his way within striking distance to the heavyweight title with victories over Harry Wills and Mike McTigue, among others, before losing under controversial circumstances to ex-champion Jack Dempsey in 1927, getting knocked out by Dempsey while protesting to the referee over an alleged foul by Dempsey.

Controversy continued to dog Sharkey in two bouts against champion Max Schmeling: in Sharkey's first title try in 1930, he lost to Schmeling on a foul; in 1933, he beat Schmeling to take the heavyweight title, though critics complained Schmeling appeared to be the winner on points.

Carnera was a dull-witted 6' 5-3/4", 270 lb. circus strongman, "discovered" by an American boxing manager and brought to America in 1930, where he was allegedly unwittingly boosted up the heavyweight rankings in a series of bouts which had been fixed by Owney Madden and the other mobsters who controlled his purses.

Carnera first faced Sharkey in 1931 before Sharkey, then styled as the American champ, had wrested the world title from Schmeling. It was Carnera's only loss that year. In 1933, though, Carnera beat Jack Sharkey in a suspicious six-round knockout, thought to be a fait accompli arranged by Carnera's mob backers, to become the heavyweight champion. He successfully defended his title against two nonentities before being trounced by Max Baer. In his last celebrated fight, he was hammered by Joe Louis in 1935, and he retired from boxing in 1937.

Carnera later appeared as one of the big, ugly strong men in the film Mighty Joe Young (1949), and stinted as a TV wrestler. Sharkey, who many feel never really boxed to his ability, retired to become a champion angler. Carnera died in 1967, and Sharkey in 1994 -- both continuing to deny that the 1933 fight was fixed. Sharkey's reputation was rehabilitated with his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame shortly before his death, but Carnera is still widely regarded as a big man with paper hands.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharkey reminds me a bit of Richie the Finisher.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read up a lot on this period. Carnera was a decent fighter by the time he became champ. He defended the title against the Light Heavy Champ and #5 Heavyweight Contender. He went 6-7 Rounds with Louis which is no small task at that time. He was a decent Heavy Weight and very strong/brave considering he had no amateur training. Boxing is heart and guts too.

9:36 PM  
Blogger RSchuler said...

Points well taken. Certainly the fact that Sharkey has made it into the IBHOF should take some of the tarnish off of Carnera's reputation -- after all, if Sharkey didn't take a fall, then Carnera couldn't have benefited from a fall Sharkey didn't take.

9:57 AM  

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