Sunday 30 September 2018

Primo Carnera - "Oaf, Bum or Legitimate Champion?"

Primo Carnera photographed by Edward Steichen

Was Primo Carnera an “oaf, bum or legitimate champion?” The question is posed in a video uploaded onto youtube by ‘Reznick’ who makes very engaging boxing videos.

Carnera, who reigned as world heavyweight boxing champion from June 29, 1933 to June 14, 1934, is a much maligned fighter. Although 6 foot 6 inches (1.98 m) tall and weighing as heavy as 275 pounds (125), Carnera was a poor boxer whose career was manipulated by mobsters who managed to steer him to the heavyweight championship before his frailties were finally exposed. After his boxing career was over, Carnera turned to professional wrestling, a pursuit in regard to which he displayed a far greater level of proficiency.

In 1956, he sued the Columbia films, the company responsible for making Budd Schulberg’s The Harder They Fall, on the grounds of “invasion of privacy” because the character “Toro Moreno” appeared to have been modelled on him.

He lost the suit.

Although Carnera may have been marginally more talented than the fictional “Moreno”, there is only so much revisionism that can be accomplished in assessing the skills of the man who was known as the ‘Ambling Alp’.

Carnera was an active boxer at the time of Mussolini and was, albeit reluctantly, used as a symbol of fascist Italy. But just as Italian fascism has long been exposed as being not so benign -the myth that the trains ran on time unfortunately endures- the fraudulent aspects of the sporting achievements of the time, notably that of the World Cup-winning national football team of the 1930s, as well as Carnera’s own world boxing title winning feat have also been duly revealed.

He died in 1967, on the anniversary of his heavyweight title win.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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