- Category : Boxer
- Type : PSE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Wishes 2
Primo Carnera (Italian pronunciation; October 26, 1906 – June 29, 1967) was an Italian boxer, nicknamed the Ambling Alp, who became the world heavyweight champion.
His career was controversial. Some believe Carnera was "owned" by underworld figures who manipulated his career by fixing his early fights not only for monetary gain but also to give him a shot at the world heavyweight title.
Born in Sequals, then in the Province of Udine, now in the Province of Pordenone, Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Italy), Carnera was touted in America as being 6' 7" tall and thus the tallest heavyweight in history (up until that time), but he was actually 6′ 5½″ tall (197 cm).He fought at as much as 275 pounds (125 kg). December 19, 2005, when the 7' 1", 147 kg Nikolay Valuev won the WBA title, Jess Willard who stood 6' 6½" was the tallest champion in boxing history.
At a time when the average height in Italy was approximately 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) and in the United States 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m), Carnera was considered a giant. Though an inch shorter than Willard, he was around 40 lbs heavier and was the heaviest champion before Valuev in boxing history.
He enjoyed a sizable reach advantage over most rivals, and when seen on fight footage, he seems like a towering giant compared to many heavyweights of his era, who were usually at least 60 pounds (27 kg) lighter and 7 inches (18 cm) shorter. One publicity release about him read in part: "For breakfast, Primo has 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." His size earned him the nickname "The Ambling Alp." Time Magazine called him "The Monster".
Primo Carnera silent newsreel 1933
September 12, 1928 was the date of Carnera's first professional fight, against Leon Sebilo, in Paris. Carnera won by knockout in round two. He won his first six bouts, 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 in Philadelphia by disqualification in the fifth round. Carnera lost a decision to Jim Maloney in Boston to finish 1930.
In 1932, Carnera faced the tallest heavyweight in history up to that point, Santa Camarão, a 6' 9" Portuguese fighter who was 31⁄2" taller. Carnera won the fight in a 6th-round decision
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 causing some to maintain Sharkey threw the fight.
He retained the title against Paulino Uzcudun (who was attempting to become the first Basque world heavyweight champion) and Tommy Loughran, both by decision in 15 rounds, but in his next fight on June 14, 1934 against Max Baer, Carnera was knocked down 11 times and was defeated in 11 rounds.
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 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.
For the next two and a half years, he had a rather ordinary record, winning 5 and losing 3 of 8 total fights. But in 1938, Carnera, a diabetic, had to have a kidney removed, which forced him into retirement until 1944.
In 1941, Carnera was hand-picked by Mussolini to take part in a propaganda film in North Africa. In order "to prove the inferiority of Negro race" a boxing match was set up between Carnera and a 6 foot 3 inch Zulu POW by the name of Kay Masaki. Even though Masaki had no boxing experience, he went on to knock Carnera unconscious with one punch.
Alleged mob influence
Carnera's manager, Lou Soresi, stole much of Carnera's money and left him nearly broke. Because of Soresi's connection to mobster Owney Madden, it has always been speculated across the boxing world that most of Carnera's fights were fixed. 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.
The rumors dogging Carnera started early in his career, after he arrived in the United States. Underworld figures began to exert control over boxing in New York in the period after the 1927 defeat of longtime champ Jack Dempsey by Gene Tunney, who retired from prizefighting after beating Tom Heeney in 1928. From 1930 to 1933, the world heavyweight title was held by Max Schmeling and Jack Sharkey. Madden's lieutenants, by manipulating Carnera's early fights, were able to manufacture a sterling record that gave him a shot at the heavyweight title.
According to boxing historian Herbert Goldman, Carnera was "very much mob controlled." Carnera met his first serious heavyweight contender, Young Stribling, in 1929, and won when Stribling fouled him. In a rematch, he fouled Stribling. His 1930 fight against California club fighter Bombo Chevalier in Emeryville was considered fixed, and Carnera was banned from fighting in California His 1930 match against George Godfrey was controversial as Godfrey was disqualified in the sixth round when he was clearly getting the better of Carnera.
Time Magazine, in an October 5, 1931 cover story on Carnera before he won the heavyweight title, commented on his odd career.
"Since his arrival in the U. S., backed by a group of prosperous but shady entrepreneurs, Carnera's career has been less glorious than fantastic. His first opponents—Big Boy Peterson, Elzear Rioux, Cowboy Owens—were known to be incompetent but their feeble opposition to Carnera suggested that they had been bribed to lose. Suspicion concerning the Monster's abilities became almost universal when another adversary, Bombo Chevalier, stated that one of his own seconds had threatened to kill him unless he lost to Carnera. Against the huge, lazy, amiable Negro George Godfrey (249 lb.), he won on a foul. But only one of 33 U. S. opponents has defeated Monster Carnera—fat, slovenly Jimmy Maloney, whom Sharkey beat five years ago. In a return fight, at Miami last March, Carnera managed to outpoint Maloney."
Carnera appeared in a short film in 1931 and had a role as himself in 1933 movie The Prizefighter and the Lady, which starred Max Baer and Myrna Loy. (Baer took the heavyweight crown from Carnera the year after the movie's release.) He appeared in many Italian films in the period of 1939 to 1942 and returned to Hollywood for a bit part as himself in Mighty Joe Young (1949). Back in the city of the stars, he acted in a number of movies. His later role in the 1955 British film A Kid for Two Farthings was critically acclaimed.
Attempted comeback and wrestling career
In 1945, he attempted a comeback to boxing, and he won his first 2 fights. But after losing to Luigi Musina 3 times in a row, he quit boxing for good. Carnera's record was 89 wins and 14 losses. His 72 wins by knockout made him a member of the exclusive club of boxers that won 50 or more bouts by knockout.
In 1946, he became 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 wrestled from 1946 to 1962. He won his debut on August 22, 1946 when he defeated Tommy O'Toole in California. On October 23, 1946, Carnera won his 41st consecutive wrestling match by defeating Jules Strongbow. On November 19, 1946, Carnera beat Harry Kruskamp to remain undefeated at 65-0-0.
Primo Carnera won 120 straight wrestling matches (119-0-1) before suffering his first defeat to Yvon Robert in Montreal, Canada on August 20, 1947. Carnera's biggest victory was on December 7, 1947 when he defeated former world heavyweight champion Ed "Strangler" Lewis.
In May 1948, Carnera took a 143-1-1 record against world heavyweight champion Lou Thesz. Thesz defeated Carnera in a world title defense.
In Ring Magazine, August 1962, page 38, Carnera "flattened" Ox Anderson in a heavyweight wrestling match in Los Angeles, California.
Carnera's wrestling career came to an end in October 1962. On October 17, he lost to Jess Ortega in Los Angeles, and on October 25 Carnera lost to The Destroyer. Following these losses Carnera retired from wrestling.
On March 13, 1939, Carnera married Giuseppina Kovacic (whose surname was changed to "Cavazzi" due to the Fascist regime).
In 1953 they became American citizens. They settled in Los Angeles, where Carnera opened a restaurant and a liquor store. They had two children, one of whom became a medical doctor.
Carnera died in 1967 in his native town of a combination of liver disease and complications from diabetes.
Carnera during his championship reign played a fictional version of himself in the 1933 film The Prizefighter and the Lady starring Max Baer and Myrna Loy. In the film, he plays the heavyweight champion who barely holds onto his title with a draw decision after a wild fight with Baer. The film, ironically, was made just the year before Carnera fought Baer for real, in a bout that was as wild as the film version, but ended with a KO loss for Carnera.
The movie Carnera: The Walking Mountain, directed by Italian director Renzo Martinelli, is the story of Primo Carnera's life, with Carnera's role played by Andrea Iaia. The world premiere of the movie took place on April 22, 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Carnera had a non-speaking bit part in the 1949 movie Mighty Joe Young. He played himself in the tug-of-war scene with the giant gorilla. After being pulled by the ape into a pool of water, Carnera throws a couple of futile punches to Joe's chin.
He also played a bully boy wrestler in Carol Reed's film A Kid for Two Farthings (1955) based around London's Petticoat Lane Market where he has a match against a local bodybuilder who is getting married to Diana Dors.
Primo also appeared in at least 10 Italian films between 1939 and 1943, as well as several in the 1950s, like Prince Valiant, in the role of Sligon. His last screen role was as the giant Antaeus alongside Steve Reeves in Hercules Unchained (USA Title, filmed in Italy, 1959, original title Ercole e la regina di Lidia).
Primo features in the 2005 film Cinderella Man, a film about the life of fellow boxer James J. Braddock.
Depictions in popular culture
Requiem for a Heavyweight, Rod Serling's 1956 Emmy Award-winning teleplay for Playhouse 90 directed by Ralph Nelson (who also won an Emmy), focused on down-and-out former heavyweight boxer Harlan "Mountain" McClintock. The travails of McClintock, who was played by Jack Palance (Sean Connery played the part on British television and Anthony Quinn essayed the role in the 1962 film), was thought by many boxing fans to resemble Carnera's life.
In 1947, fighting aficionado Budd Schulberg wrote his novel, The Harder They Fall, a story about a boxer whose fights are fixed. In 1956 a movie with the same name, and based on the novel, was released by Columbia Pictures. In response, Carnera unsuccessfully sued the movie company.