By Bobby Mac
Time for all Da Preem’s grumpy old critics to retire their sagging vitriol against Da Preem to their jars of old dentures in the cabinet.
With a record of 88-14-0, 72 KO against a cast of HOFers in his era, there is no heavy champion save a couple of fringe claimants with more wins. Big George comes the closest with 76-5-0, 68 KO, with George being also considered something of a giant in his day. Yet a prime George would be dwarfed next to the gargantuan Carnera.
Yes, I can hear the hue and cry over comparing Carnera to Foreman, but those would be tiny teacups overflowing of no concern. Their blinkered tunnel vision crops the wide scope of boxing history to their own discredit.
Da Preem is a complex case study in the fabled stories of Giants that occur in every culture and who’s boxing career somewhat parallels his modern day equivalent, Big Niko Valuev, both highly intelligent men with no boxing backgrounds who turned pro guided by unsavory management more interested in exploiting freak value than developing boxing legends.
Da Preem, however, was a rare heavy champ in the manner of Dempsey and Baer in that he becomes a star of note in Hollywood movies, something greater champs coming after him never achieved. One can only imagine the tales of his exploits in Hollywood during the time he was feted as royalty.
Like all streaking meteors, Primo reached an apex of brightness before flashing out in a spectacular display of slugging and mauling when he succumbed to Max Baer in his last championship bout.
Then the dark days followed. A kidney disease robbed him of his stamina and strength that necessitated a kidney removal during the darkest days of the 1930’s leading up to World War 2. He finally had to accept that he could no longer box in those most desperate hours, completely abandoned by his handlers with no support.
But Primo proved to still be a champ, coming off the deck well past his prime as a sick man to fight an enemy much greater than him when he joined anti-fascist Italian loyalists. He was wounded in an heroic losing battle as their group of ragtags were overwhelmed by Mussolini and German Nazis stamping their own murderous mark upon history.
After the war, in spite of making million$ in his prime for his handlers, Primo was as penniless, destitute, shoeless and hungry as any of his Italian peasant brethren. However, he was still blessed with his formidable size and champion’s heart, so he embarked on a long barnstorming career as a ‘rassler and referee across the American and European landscape, always introduced as the former Heavyweight Champion of the World.
This article is not really designed to comb through the formidable record of Carnera which shall stand on it’s own merits in due time once the winds of prejudice against the big Italian blow out, but rather pay homage to the lasting charisma and spectacle that he brought to depression era boxing, no doubt attracting the largest overall gate totals in history when added together.
Here’s well past it post prime Primo featured in one of the great iconic cult classics of all time, Mighty Joe Young, with an impressive display of eye popping physical prowess for sure:
Primo in merry olde England where he and Young Stribling were imported to put on a royal dustup:
Holy Mittendorf, look at the mitts they put him in to keep his hands off!
Flattening Goodtime Charlie Chaplin: