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Boxers of Yesteryear - Primo Carnera

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Primo CarneraOne of the great heavyweight boxers of yesteryear is undoubtedly the Italian, Primo Carnera “the Ambling Alp” he stood at 6 feet 5 ½ inches and had a physique to match.

Until December 19, 2005, when the 7 ft 1 inch, 147 kg Nikolay Valuev won the WBA title, Primo Carnera held the record as the world’s heaviest heavyweight champion.


Primo Carnera was born on October 26, 1906 - in Sequals, then in the Province of Udine, now Province of Pordenone, Italy.


The Ambling AlpProfessional Career: Carnera had his first professional debut on September 12, 1928 in Paris against Leon Sebilo whom he knocked out in the second round. He won his first six bouts and then lost to Franz Diener by disqualification in round one at Leipzig. Then, he won seven more bouts in a row before meeting Young Stribling. He and Stribling exchanged disqualification wins, Carnera winning the first in four rounds, and Stribling winning the rematch in round seven. In Carnera's next bout he avenged his defeat to Diener with a knockout in round six.

In 1930, he moved to the United States, where he toured extensively, winning his first seventeen bouts there by knockout. George Godfrey broke the streak Philadelphia by disqualification in the fifth round. Carnera lost a decision to Jim Maloney in Boston to finish 1930.

The year 1933 was one of the most important years in Carnera's life. On February 10, he knocked out Ernie Schaaf in thirteen rounds in New York City. Schaaf died two days later. For his next fight, Carnera faced the world heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey. The championship date was June 29, at the Madison Square Garden Bowl at Long Island. Carnera became world champion by knocking out Sharkey in round six. The fight came under the eye of fans and sportswriters alike when the uppercut that KO'd Sharkey was believed not to have landed. Rumours of a mob fix were brought up once again causing some to maintain Sharkey threw the fight.       


At close quarters Carnera pounded Sharkey's body and the champion retreated. While retreating Sharkey slipped to the floor but arose immediately. Carnera rocked Sharkey with a left and right to the head. At close range Carnera whipped two long rights to the body. After Sharkey missed a right to the jaw Carnera crossed a hard right to the jaw. Sharkey landed a right to the jaw, but Carnera came back with a right uppercut to the chin and floored Sharkey for the full count.


Rumors of fight fixing by the Mob were rife and many maintained that Sharkey threw the fight.

He retained the title against Paulino Uzcudun (who was attempting to become the first Spaniard world heavyweight champion) and Tommy Loughran, both by decision in 15 rounds, but in his next fight June 14, 1934 against Max Baer, Carnera was knocked down 11 times and was defeated in 11 rounds.

Evidence that was to emerge in later year’s leaves little doubt that the uneducated but likable 6ft 7in Italian giant was duped into believing he was the most awesome fighting machine the world had ever seen and that he was exploited by mobsters.

However while it is more than likely that some of Carnera’s opponents were paid to take a dive, there is also evidence to suggest that the great Italian was not aware of what was going on and that many of the wins that got him his title shot against Sharkey were more the results of astute matchmaking rather than match fixing.

The book East Side, West Side: Tales of New York Sporting Life 1910-1960 took the rumors a step further, stating that "Most of the Italian giant's opponents were pushovers, paid to take a dive or too frightened to stand up for three minutes in a row". Jack Sharkey himself had to deny rumors about him taking a dive in his world championship fight with Carnera, swearing that he had not.

If one were to doubt the boxing abilities of Primo Carnera, his raw courage can never be doubted. When losing the title to Max Bear in his third defence, Carnera was floored 11 times before the contest was stopped.



Max Baer made good his boasts when he defeated Primo Carnera, and so became heavyweight boxing champion of the world, at Long Island, New York, last night.

After one of the most amazing contests in the history of the ring, he gained the decision in the eleventh round on a technical knockout, the referee intervening after Carnera had been knocked down. Throughout the contest Baer laughed and taunted his rival, whom he knocked down ten times. Carnera damaged his ankle early in the fight.




After that, Carnera won his next four fights, three of them as part of a South American tour that took him to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as boxing two exhibitions in the southern American continent. But then, in his next fight of importance, on June 25, 1935, he was knocked out in six rounds by Joe Louis, who would become world heavyweight champion in 1937. The fact that Carnera survived 6 rounds with the great Joe Louis in itself proves that - Carnera was a better boxer than later historians / publications would have us believe.

Carnera Vs Joe Louis

In 1938, Carnera, a diabetic, had to have a kidney removed, which forced him into retirement until 1944.

Carnera’s athletic abilities were undoubtedly unique; in 1946 he managed to do what few professional boxers have ever managed to do by becoming a professional wrestler and was immediately a huge success at the box office. For a few years he was one of the top draws in wrestling. Carnera continued to be an attraction into the 1960s. Max Baer refereed at least one of his wrestling matches.



Carnera used his wrestling earnings to open a liquor store in California – with his wife Giuseppina Kovacic. In 1953 they became American citizens. They settled in Los Angeles, where and had two children, one of whom became a medical doctor.

In 1956 the film - The Harder They Fall - a thinly disguised account of the Primo Carnera boxing scandal, (featuring Humphrey Bogart in his last film before his death in 1957). based on the 1947 novel by Budd Schulberg came out in cinemas.

Carnera by now a very sick man had return to his native Sequals, Italy Carnera was deeply hurt, aghast and utterly shocked by the film. According to his children in their book “My Father, Primo Carnera”. By Umberto and Giovanna Carnera. he said "That's not true, that's not true. That is not my story," he said. "I haven't done any harm to anybody, why do they want punish me? I have retired from boxing, why do they want to treat me so badly?”. "I come home to die and my ungrateful country pays me back like that." Carnera’s daughter emphases about her father "He told us that he never knew and that the decision only depended on the boxing ability of the opponents. He was too naïve. We are sorry to say so, but it is like that".

A few years back, in a nationwide poll, Carnera was voted among the 20 most important Italians of the 20th century.

Primo Carnera – Professional Boxing Record - won 88 (KO 72) + lost 14 (KO 5)

Primo Carnera – Professional Wrestling Record - 152 wins, 14 losses, 19 draws and 2 no contests in 187 wrestling matches.

He retired from wrestling in 1961

Carnera died in 1967 of a combination of liver disease and complications from diabetes.








Carnera among the 20 most important Italians of the 20th century.