A Brief History
On February 10, 1933, Primo Carnera, a heavyweight boxer called “The Monster” by Time Magazine, dealt Ernie Schaaf fatal blows during a boxing match in New York City. The hapless Schaaf died 4 days after the match.
Digging deeper, we find Carnera as the heaviest heavyweight boxing champion of his day (a record held until 2005) and at 6’7″ (an exaggeration by an inch and a half), also listed as the tallest (again until 2005 when Nikolay Valuev won a title). Also known as the “Ambling Alp,” Carnera was an Italian fighter who was dogged his entire career by allegations of being under mob control and fighting in fixed matches. Fixed or not, Carnera won 89 of 103 fights and won the world heavyweight championship 4 months after the Schaaf fight, defeating the reigning champion Jack Sharkey.
Unfortunately for Primo, his own reign was to last just under a year, as Max Baer took his crown on his third try after two successful defenses by Carnera. An interesting note, the son of Max Baer, Max Baer Jr., played the strapping, but not too smart character of Jethro Bodine on the 1960’s television show The Beverly Hillbillies.
Boxing’s giant strongman was KO’d by diabetes and kidney disease in 1938 and had to retire from boxing when he had a kidney removed. Still active in other fields, Carnera acted in many films and became a well-known professional wrestler, serving as long-time champ. Some of the interesting roles Carnera played on film include parts in Mighty Joe Young (1949), where he plays tug of war with the big ape, The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933), which also featured Myrna Loy and his future usurper Max Baer, and Hercules Unchained (1959), in which he played a giant, also his last role.
Films and references in films were also made that resembled Carnera’s life (sometimes loosely), notably television’s Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), Cinderella Man (2005) and Carnera: The Walking Mountain (2008). In 1956, a film adaptation of the 1947 book The Harder They Fall about a fighter whose fights were rigged was made. It was reminiscent enough of Carnera that he sued the movie company but lost. More recently, in 2010 the rock band Yeasayer released the song “Ambling Alp” on their Odd Blood album in reference to Carnera.
One of the more cracked episodes of Carnera’s career took place in 1941 when Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator, had Carnera filmed boxing a black African prisoner of war in order to show Italian racial superiority. The 6’3” Zulu, who had no boxing experience, knocked out Carnera instead!
Primo Carnera died in Italy in 1967, aged only 60 years, probably of kidney failure. Plagued by diabetes most of his life, “The Monster,” according to a press release by Jeremy Schapp, also ate like a monster, knocking down “a quart of orange juice, two quarts of milk, nineteen pieces of toast, fourteen eggs, a loaf of bread and half a pound of Virginia Ham” for breakfast! Well, they do say breakfast is the most important meal…
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For more information, please see…
Cayton, Bill, Graham McNamee, et al. Primo Carnera vs. Max Baer: Bill Cayton’s Prime Time Boxing. Cayton Sports, Inc., 2009.
Martinelli, Renzo. Carnera: The Walking Mountain. Monarch Video, 2010.
Page, Joseph S. Primo Carnera: The Life and Career of the Heavyweight Boxing Champion. McFarland, 2010.
And for more of the worst moments in boxing’s history, please see this list.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Primo Carnera receiving the world champion belt on 6 October 1933, is in the public domain in Italy, because its copyright term has expired. According to Law for the Protection of Copyright and Neighbouring Rights n.633, 22 April 1941 and later revisions, images of people or of aspects, elements and facts of natural or social life, obtained with photographic process or with an analogue one, including reproductions of figurative art and film frames of film stocks (Art. 87) are protected for a period of 20 years from creation (Art. 92). This provision shall not apply to photographs of writings, documents, business papers, material objects, technical drawings and similar products (Art. 87). Italian law makes an important distinction between “works of photographic art” and “simple photographs” (Art. 2, § 7). Photographs that are “intellectual work with creative characteristics” are protected for 70 years after the author’s death (Art. 32 bis), whereas simple photographs are protected for a period of 20 years from creation.
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