The Other Jack the Giant Killer

By The Fight Film Collector on March 7, 2014
The Other Jack the Giant Killer
This fight appears to have been a legitimate contest and a turning point for both boxers.

The first Sharkey-Carnera fight was held at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, on October 12, 1931. It has largely been lost in history…

Jack Sharkey vs. Primo Carnera I
Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY 1931
16mm Sound Transfer
Speed and Audio Restoration

A recent article I wrote was accompanied with newsreel footage of Jack Sharkey in training for his first fight with Primo Carnera in 1931, including rare footage of Ernie Schaaf. As I described in the piece, Sharkey went on to win a 15-round decision. The victory propelled Sharkey back into contention and to his rematch with Max Schmeling for the heavyweight championship in 1932. Sharkey was given what many regard as a gift decision against Schmeling, and held the title for only one year. I was planning to move on from there, but by chance I recently found and acquired a rare 16mm print of that first Sharkey-Carnera fight. 

The Film

The print arrived marked as part of the Schlitz Famous Fights TV series, which ran for a number of years beginning in the 1950s. Excerpts of this film have been circulated for some time among collectors, and versions have also been posted on YouTube, often as projector screen videos or from old VHS tapes. I wanted to show a clean telecine transfer of some of this film. A drawback of today’s boxing coverage is that it widens the gap between contemporary HD quality and the analog films of earlier eras. Younger viewers are used to seeing fights in amazing detail and have, unfortunately, less appreciation for earlier boxing. The networks today don’t help either. I’ve expressed before my frustration with ESPN for showing classic footage on an as-is basis with little or no picture restoration.

Fortunately this print arrived in excellent condition, with few breaks or scratches. The ring photography was average for the day. The exposure was dark, but the density provides some extra detail often lost in films of this period. Notably, many films made under the bright ring lights were poorly exposed, sometimes to the point of completely blowing out Irish complexions into a ghostly white. There is no live audio, but the great Sam Taub provides the narration. Most famous as a live blow-by-blow radio announcer, Taub delivers a classic style narrative of the fighters and action.

The one drawback of the film is the projection speed. As Steve Lott once explained to me, it was during the Depression of the 1930s that film stock, like most everything, was in short supply. To conserve footage, films were often taken at the silent speed of approximately 16 frames per second instead of the standard 24 frames per second established for sound movies. Movie theaters may have slowed their projectors to compensate at the time, but the surviving prints, such as this one, runs at a speedy 24fps. This is why most early 20th century fight films appear more like Keystone Cop movies than historic sports events. For this video, I not only slowed the film down to standard speed, but I kept Sam Taub’s narration is as well. If Sam sounds a little lethargic, it’s because he’s actually speaking about a third slower than normal, though I kept his voice at a natural pitch.

“…a long way to climb to reach that chin.”—Jack Sharkey

The first Sharkey-Carnera fight was held at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, on October 12, 1931. It has largely been lost in history. It wasn’t a title fight, and the rematch two years later was an upset that forever cast a shadow over both fighters. This fight, however, appears to have been a legitimate contest and a turning point for both boxers. Carnera had come up the ranks very quickly, and suspiciously, and was still a question mark as a title contender. Sharkey needed the win to secure a rematch with Schmeling. The fight was not as close as some contemporary descriptions indicate. Despite being five inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter than Carnera, Sharkey shook the bigger man repeatedly throughout the contest, including a knockdown in the fourth round. The Barrier Miner Daily wrote, “Well advised by his seconds, Sharkey continued to rip into the body, which forced Carnera to drop his guard. Then Jack would crack Carnera’s jaw so hard that he wobbled repeatedly, but did not fall. The eleventh and twelfth were like a terrier worrying a St. Bernard. Carnera was weary and staggering in the fourteenth, and just before the final bell reeled and swayed drunkenly on the verge of a knockout, as Sharkey riddled his head with lefts and rights in a tempest of battering that left him unable to defend himself.” It was a decisive win. 

Primo lost the fight but won the public’s respect. He proved to be a courageous boxer, and while not a resourceful fighting machine, he was durable, strong, and very agile for a man his size. Since the entire film of the fight is nearly 50 minutes long, I’ve included only the last two rounds. I wanted to show how Sharkey closed the show. Jack had a good night, in front of 30,000 spectators who watched the match in weather “so cold that most of the spectators wore mufflers and overcoats.” Not only moving well to evade Carnera’s attacks, Sharkey was very effective at getting inside Primo’s defenses, closing the distance to finish the fight with the kind of action rarely seen today among heavyweights. At the final bell, Sharkey rejoices, discarding his mouthpiece and pushing referee Gunboat Smith aside as he follows Carnera to his corner to pay respect.

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Jack Sharkey -vs- Primo Carnera I 1931 (16mm Transfer, Speed Corrected)

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  1. ST 03:19pm, 03/13/2014

    Sharkey had a teacher for this fight, and it wasn’t his trainer. It was the man he had just fought the previous July -Mickey Walker. Undersized Sharkey fought Big Carnera the way undersized Walker fought Big Sharkey, and it worked just as well.

  2. bikermike 07:58pm, 03/10/2014

    THis was all before my time…...maybe Ted can clear this up LOL….
    ...but didn’t Canera leave Boxing so fkn broke he couldn’t afford to pay attention…..and made what money he had…via the pro wrestling tour ??

    Boxing was not kind to ‘DA PREEM’

  3. bikermike 07:55pm, 03/10/2014

    we are more informed ...due to the contributions of THE FIGHT FILM COLLECTOR

    THanks.  SHarkey was a good fighter….I never got a clear picture about that second match with Canera….I know it haunted Jack until the day he left us

  4. Jim Crue 07:16am, 03/09/2014

    Good comments and I agree Mike Silver. Those who think the Klitchkos belong as top ten all time great HW’s must then include Carnera. And Primo had a better chin.

  5. Mike Silver 06:53am, 03/09/2014

    The mob guys just didn’t throw Carnera in without having him trained properly. He was always in terrific condition and was taught how to box.  “The Ambling Alp” was not a stupid man. He learned his lessons well, especially how to use a left jab and footwork and was remarkably agile for his size.  He also was difficult to hurt and had great heart. So how does a 6’ 202 pound boxer defeat a 6’ 5 1/2” 261 pound giant? He outboxes him (drives Carnera crazy with those feints) and outspeeds him—and in this case even outpunches him! Sharkey would have done the same to the Klitchkos—as would many other quality heavyweights in the 195 to 210 pound range who were active from the 1920s to the 1970s.

  6. Jim Crue 02:46pm, 03/07/2014

    I was at the first Italian American Boxing Hall of Fame dinner in Chicago in 1977. All the greats were there. LaMotta, Basilio, Sammy Angott, and on and on. Primo Carnera’s wife was there as was his son who was an MD. He gave a short speech about his dad and told us he changed his name..and he did not tell us what he changed it to.

  7. Eric Jorgensen 11:32am, 03/07/2014

    Nice article, FCC, as usual.  Ted, I agree 100%.

  8. Ted Spoon 10:52am, 03/07/2014

    Especially compared with today’s giants, Carnera wasn’t half bad. Nicely done, FFC. Sharkey was a brilliant fighter at one point, make no mistake. I’d say the more measured Sharkey of 1927-1931 was, overall, the most talented out of all the post-Tunney/pre-Louis champions; he could punch, take one, fight on the inside, outside, plus boasted good speed and stamina. Schmeling was more consistent and has the big Louis win, but I’m not so sure he whips a pin-point Sharkey - that first fight was not going his way…

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:18am, 03/07/2014

    FFC-Simply great contribution to….Eric and Mike Casey on target as always….clear to me at least that Primo was never really taught to sit down on his punches with many thrown while he was literally up on his toes.

  10. Mike Casey 07:42am, 03/07/2014

    Excellent, FFC! Eric is quite right about the much maligned Carnera. Often forgotten too is how great Jack Sharkey could be when he played it straight and put a hold on his volcanic temperament.

  11. Eric 07:15am, 03/07/2014

    While certainly not a talented fighter, Carnera doesn’t appear to be as horrible as I had often heard him described. His left jab appears not that bad at all, and the guy was at least always in shape. When you think that the huge Carnera probably never had proper boxing training or any kind of “legit” ring experience before taking on fighters like Sharkey, Max Baer, and Joe Louis, he did remarkably well. Imagine someone without proper training and just a little experience in allegedly “staged” fights or fights against stiffs having to face killers like Baer or Louis in legitimate fights. Carnera had a heart as huge as his body and I’ve great admiration for him as a man. People have to realize he fought the murderous punching Baer with an injured ankle for most of their fight, and still lasted into the 11th round. In a battle of giants, Carnera licks Willard in my opinion.

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