On This Day In ’33: Primo Carnera KO’s Jack Sharkey To Win World Heavyweight Crown

Fixed fights. Dives. Set ups. Throughout his quite fascinating ring career, Italian giant Primo Carnera is said to have, quite unwittingly – “controlled” as he was by his mob handlers – been involved in a number of the dark sides of the sport of boxing. Carnera was exploited, we know that. The likeable, intelligent and brave fighter was used by his unscrupulous handers as soon as he walked off the boat upon arriving in America.

“Da Preem” was physically strong, he had heart and he could punch some. But an elite heavyweight? No. Carnera was far better suited to the wrestling ring (where he found success and happiness in his later years, this after every bit of his use in the boxing ring had been scooped up). Carnera took some savage beatings in the ring; his hammerings at the hands of Max Baer and Joe Louis seeing the bemused giant take what are, all these years later, hard to watch destruction jobs.

But Primo was a world heavyweight champion. Only the question remains – did “The Ambling Alp” win the crown fair and square, or was the fix in?

It was on this day in 1933 when Carnera KO’d Jack Sharkey with a big right uppercut to the chin at Madison Square Garden in New York. But almost instantly, and over the coming years, there was talk of a tank job on the part of defending champ Sharkey. For one thing, Jack had dished out a real beating to Carnera in a previous meeting, this in October of 1931. On this night, Sharkey decked Carnera, he had him “on the verge of a KO on half a dozen occasions” (this from a report of the day) and he busted shut one of Primo’s eyes over the course of a clear 15 round win.

Yet in the return, Carnera took out Sharkey with one punch? Was Primo ever a one-punch KO artist? Did the finishing right hand look more like a “push punch” than a genuinely deadly blow? There were tales of the odds on the fight shifting dramatically before the fight, with Carnera now being the betting favourite. Some fans felt, and still feel, the way Sharkey almost invited an uppercut – this by changing his style to that of a crouching fighter – gave Primo the signal to throw the finishing shot. We will never know for sure.

To his dying day, the proud Sharkey insisted the fight was on the level. “I’d never have done anything like that. I was raised Catholic. I was raised to be honest,” Sharkey said after the fight. Carnera never knew whether he had won legitimately or not. All these years, indeed decades later, and fight fans still debate Carnera KO 6 Sharkey. Watch the film and make up your own mind: was the fight and its ending on the level or not?

Sharkey suffered just four stoppage defeats during his career – to Carnera, to Joe Louis, to Jack Dempsey and, in his 10th pro outing, to Quintin Romero Rojas. Sharkey had a fine chin no doubt. Did Carnera really crack it with one shot on this day in 1933?

Discuss if you care to.

Final records: Carnera – 88-14(71). Sharkey – 37-13-3(13).