Born Joseph Paul Zukauskas - October 26, 1902 in Binghamton, New York, was the son of Lithuanian immigrants. Little is known of his early life, as a young man he moved to Boston were he enlisted in the Navy, just after World War I. Sharkey entered boxing by accident. He soon established notoriety as the best boxer aboard any vessel on which he served. During his brief returns home (to Boston) he took part in his first fights for pay, the first taking place on January 24, 1924 against one Billy Muldoon, who was dispatched inside of a round. By the time of his honorable discharge just short of a month later, he had won a second fight and was already earning write ups in the Boston papers.
He was in the Navy stationed in Boston in 1923 when he heard a smoker would be held and the promoter was looking for fighters.
Sharkey volunteered, lying that he'd had 39 fights in the Navy, and he was offered $100 for four rounds. "For $100, I would have fought the entire Navy," he once recalled.
The promoter insisted on a new name, and thus was born Jack Sharkey, a combination of Dempsey, then the heavyweight champ, and another fighter named Tom Sharkey.
Although not lacking heart and determination, Jack Sharkey’s place in the annals of boxing history is nonetheless overshadowed by the other heavyweight champions of his time; he had the misfortune to be born at a time when he could find himself in a ring with such boxing greats as Dempsey, Louis, Carnera and Schmeling and in fact is the only man to have the distinction of having faced both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis in prizefights.
Partly because he was a bit better at boasting than he was at boxing, Sharkey was not a popular figure with the press. His outspokenness and cantankerous nature made him one of the most controversial and quotable fighters in ring history. Over the years he fought a futile battle with the newspapers because the more he railed against them and showed his temper, the more they quoted him.
Sharkey often referred to newspapermen as the "the lowest form of labor."
In his 1926 New York City debut, Sharkey fought at no less a venue than Madison Square Garden. His opponent, Eddie Huffman, was no contender but was still a favorite over the Bostonian. The unknown Sharkey boxed well enough over ten rounds to take the decision and earn notice in fight circles as an up-and-coming heavyweight. Five follow-up wins led to a match with future hall of famer Harry Wills, who was considered at the time to be the fighter all of the top heavyweights made a point to avoid. To the surprise of many, Sharkey clearly outboxed the veteran Wills who retaliated with an illegal backhand blow that got him disqualified in the thirteenth round. It was Wills? first defeat in four years and Jack Sharkey was now a major contender for Gene Tunney’s heavyweight
To start off 1927, Jack stopped former light heavyweight champ Mike McTigue in twelve rounds and then Boston rival Jim Maloney in five. Then it was on to a match with his own idol, former champion Jack Dempsey. The winner was scheduled to meet Tunney for the title. On July 21, 1927 at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sharkey proved too fast and too hungry for the aging and rusty Manassa Mauler. He clearly outboxed Dempsey and was amassing a wide points lead going into the seventh round when, believing himself to have been fowled by a low blow from Dempsey, Jack turned to the referee to complain. At the very moment, Dempsey landed a classic left hook directly to Sharkey’s chin. Sharkey, who had dropped his guard when complaining to the referee, immediately fell forward onto the canvas and was counted out while clutching his groin and moaning in agony.
Sharkey never tired of recounting his July 21, 1927, loss to Dempsey in Yankee Stadium.
"I turned to the referee to complain I was getting hit low, and I got hit with a haymaker," he once recalled. "That was that. I was out on the canvas.
In 1929, in a fight held in Yankee Stadium, Jack Sharkey knocked out the former light-heavyweight champion, Tommy Loughran to win the United States heavyweight title. His victory earned him the opportunity to fight for the vacant world title against the German contender, Max Schmeling. In their June 12, 1930, championship fight, Sharkey was disqualified in the fourth round after delivering a punch that landed below Schmeling's belt. This is the only occasion in boxing history when the heavyweight championship was won by disqualification.
In October 1931, Sharkey defeated Italian heavyweight, Primo Carnera, and was then given another chance to fight for the title. On June 21, 1932 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City, New York, Jack Sharkey defeated Max Schmeling, winning a fifteen round split decision. But again success came with bitterness. Many in the crowd felt that Schmeling had gotten the better of the action and the Garden echoed with chants of ‘robbery’. Plans for a rematch were ruined when Schmeling lost his 1933 fight to Max Baer.
So the new champion, supposedly under pressure from mob figures, decided to face Primo Carnera once more on June 29, 1933.
Though he again proved himself superior in speed and skill, Sharkey was rendered unconscious by a huge right uppercut directly below his jaw in the sixth round. Afterward, the press surged with accusations about Sharkey taking a dive, though the man himself denied such rumors to his dying day.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FRIDAY, JUNE 30, 1933
JACK SHARKEY vs PRIMO CARNERA
They exchanged long lefts to the head, then clinched. Carnera sent a left to the top of the head and followed with a left to the body. Sharkey missed a left and right to the jaw and Carnera held. At close quarters Carnera pounded Sharkey's body and the champion retreated. While retreating Sharkey slipped to the floor but arose immediately. Carnera rocked Sharkey with a left and right to the head. At close range Carnera whipped two long rights to the body. After Sharkey missed a right to the jaw Carnera crossed a hard right to the jaw. Sharkey landed a right to the jaw, but Carnera came back with a right uppercut to the chin and floored Sharkey for the full count. The round went 2 minutes 27 seconds
After incurring two more losses before the close of 1933, Sharkey was considered by many to be a shot fighter. He took an entire year off before returning in 1935. In his next four fights, all against mediocre opposition, Sharkey could only manage two wins. He was then placed in the ring as a name opponent for up-and-coming sensation Joe Louis on August 18, 1936. Floored four times inside of three rounds before suffering a knockout, Jack never fought professionally again. In retirement, he owned a bar, often worked as a referee, and often earned money from various personal appearances. He died on August 17, 1994 at the age of 91, just months after his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
1932 Heavy Weight Champion of the World
Born: October 26, 1902 Died: August 17, 1994
Total Bouts: 55
Won: 38 Lost: 13
Drew: 3 KOs: 14
No Decisions: 1
"Dempsey hit me the hardest because he hit me $211,000 worth, while Louis only hit me $36,000 worth." Jack Sharkey
Jack was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994