How great was former heavyweight champion Max Baer? A better question might be, how great could Max have been had he taken his sport, his craft, his way of making a living, more seriously.
When he had a point to prove and fought with due diligence, Baer was an awesome fighting machine, one blessed with real firepower, a good chin, better than average speed, and a physique to rival any big man in history.
But when Baer was too busy partying, when he was too busy enjoying life to take training and his upcoming opponent seriously, when he was “Mad Cap Maxie” more than he was Mad Max, Baer could look ordinary.
When he won the world title from the towering Primo Carnera in June of 1934, the world saw a combination of both Baers.
On the one hand, Baer wanted to destroy Carnera. He wanted to win the world title. On the other hand, Baer found himself having so much fun in the fight with the lumbering giant who made for great target practice. He could not bring himself to close the show.
Carnera, who had well-documented mob ties (his handlers perhaps fixing many of his fights; the Italian giant proving a box-office hit due largely to his freakish size and weight), had no chance against the turned-on
Six times in the opening two rounds, defending champ Carnera was blasted to the canvas by his 210-pound challenger (Da Preem weighed a monstrous 263).
Baer was utterly ruthless in the opening two rounds, smashing Carnera to the mat again and again. Baer was laughing as he sent the brave but wholly out of his depth champion south.
Carnera, who had, shall we say, questionable boxing skills, was being shown up in a brutal fashion. 11 times in all, Carnera went down, his ankle badly injured during one fall. Yet, again and again, Carnera got back up.
Primo had heart, if not too much else other than size. But should Baer have finished off his prey in the second round? Baer was enjoying the beating he was administering, and he either could not or did not end matters.
Carnera actually won the odd round as the fight dragged on. Then, in the 11th, Carnera was sent tumbling twice more, and referee Arthur Donovan stopped the prolonged mugging. Carnera was as shellshocked as can be, with some reports saying the only thing a dazed, still out of it Primo could say to the press in his dressing room after the fight was “Holy Jesus. Holy Jesus.”
Baer had taken a man apart about as nastily as any man could ever be taken apart – piece by piece. Baer partied after the win, soon losing the crown to heavy underdog James J. Braddock. Carnera was fed to top names such as Joe Louis and Leroy Haynes, with both of them stopping him.
Carnera passed away in his native Sequels in 1967, aged just 60. Baer, a joker to the last, suffered a fatal heart attack in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Upon experiencing chest pains and calling for a doctor, Baer replied, “No, dummy, I want a people doctor” when asked if he wished to see the house doctor. He was just 50 years old.