Jack Sharkey

World Heavyweight Champion: 1932-1933

Jack Sharkey was a veteran four months short of his 30th birthday when he got his second crack at the world title. Many thought he would have gone on to beat Schmeling in their first meeting had it not been for that infamous low blow. The tough Bostonian’s Achilles’ heel was undoubtedly the erratic nature of his performances. He could look a world-beater one day and a second-rater the next. Fans wondered which Sharkey would turn up for his rematch with Schmeling, at Long Island, on 21 June 1932. Jack Sharkey was born Joseph Paul Zukaushaus on 26 October 1902, the son of immigrant Lithuanian parents. He grew up in Binghamton, New York. His first taste of boxing came when he joined the US Navy in 1920. When he left the service four years later, he had done well enough as an amateur to persuade a manager that he could make the step up to the professional ranks.

Sharkey takes name from heroes

The name under which he rose to become a top contender was derived from two of his boxing heroes: current champion Jack Dempsey and Sailor Tom Sharkey, who had lost to Jeffries on points in 1899. Although his record wasn’t unblemished, Sharkey took a lot of scalps. He was skilful, a good puncher and light on his feet. In 1927 he came up against the man whose Christian name he’d appropriated. Jack Dempsey had lost his title to Tunney and was looking for a tough warm-up before an attempt to regain the crown. Sharkey had the former champion reeling early on, and later said he was just one punch short of putting his hero away. He couldn’t find that knockout blow, however, and Dempsey recovered to win in the seventh. The ex-champion put in a succession of pulverising body punches which Sharkey thought were low. He turned to the referee to remonstrate, leaving his jaw temporarily unguarded. Dempsey needed no second invitation and ended proceedings with a huge left hook. Despite the result, many regard those early rounds against Dempsey as Sharkey’s finest display in the ring.

Bounces back against Camera

Tunney retained his title with the famous Long Count victory over Dempsey. Sharkey was in the frame to meet Gentlemen Gene but could only draw with Tom Heeney in the eliminator, and it was the latter who got the opportunity instead. When he lost to Schmeling two years later in such controversial circumstances, Sharkey must have thought that his chance had passed him by. Yet he bounced back with a destructive performance against the man-mountain from Venice, Primo Camera. The ex-circus performer did well to survive the 15-round duration of the fight, for Sharkey’s tutored fists had rendered him a sorry sight by the end.

New York was keen to proclaim Sharkey as the heavyweight champion of the world. He was hardly that, but he had done more than enough to earn a rematch with Schmeling. It was to be as controversial as their first encounter, though for very different reasons. The fight went the full 15 rounds, but neither the reporters nor the crowd had much doubt that Schmeling had retained his title.

Fortunate decision

The former group included Gene Tunney, who put aside patriotism to make Schmeling ‘a comfortable winner’. The referee, former contender Gunboat Smith, and one of the judges saw it differently. Sharkey was undoubtedly fortunate to take the crown on a split decision. Schmeling hid his obvious disappointment and went over to congratulate a stunned Sharkey. The German’s manager, Joe Jacobs, was less sanguine, yelling: ‘We were robbed!’ A year later, Sharkey’s first defence saw him matched against Camera, the man he had beaten so convincingly between the two Schmeling fights. His pre-fight comments suggested that he didn’t rate Camera’s boxing ability and that the contest would go the same way as the first. The Ambling Alp gave two reasons why it would be different this time. Firstly, he was better developed, both physically and in terms of boxing ability. Secondly, he revealed that two days before his first meeting with Sharkey he had been involved in a car crash which left him unconscious for an hour. The 26-year-old thought he could beat Sharkey and go on to hold the title for several years, for he couldn’t see anyone coming through the ranks who would pose a serious threat. He was half right.

Jack Sharkey

Born: October 26 1902 Died: August 17 1994 World Heavyweight Champion: 1932-1933 American Heavyweight Champion: 1929-1936 Record: Won 38 (14 Kos) Lost 13 Drawn 3

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