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Ernie Schaaf

Sport: Boxing

Born: September 27, 1908

Died: February 14th, 1933

Town: Elizabeth

Frederick Ernest Schaaf Jr. was born September 27, 1908 in Elizabeth. A big child who went by his middle name, Ernie, he was one of seven children. His father made deliveries for a local brewery. Ernie idolized Mickey Walker and was drawn to boxing. He began training after school around the age of 13. At the age of 15, with his parents’ consent, Ernie enlisted in the Navy. He served on the same ship with another fighter, Jack Sharkey, who encouraged him to pursue his passion—and then beat him to a pulp.

In 1925, Ernie—who was 5’11” and weighed 175 pounds—entered the All Services Championship in Brooklyn. He knocked out favorite Jim Harvey in the semifinal after falling behind on points, and then beat Henry Nealon with a first-round KO to win the heavyweight title at the age of 17. After leaving the Navy in 1927, Ernie moved to Massachusetts and turned professional, working with manager and trainer Phil Schlossberg, like Ernie an ex-Navy fighter.

Ernie grew three more inches and bulked up over 200 pounds. By 1930, he was considered a heavyweight contender—a distinction amplified with a victory over Max Baer in Madison Square Garden. Three months earlier, Baer had knocked out Frankie Campbell, who later died from his injuries. Around this time, Sharkey bought Ernie contract and became his de facto manager. The problem was that Sharkey was also a heavyweight contender, which meant Ernie would have to wait longer for a title shot. Worse, if Sharkey won the title, Ernie would have to fight his own manager—something that had never happened before. And that’s exactly how it worked out, as Sharkey took a split decision from Max Schmeling in 1932.

Meanwhile, that same year, Ernie lost badly to Baer and also to Stanley Poreda—but also beat Tony Galento and Young Stribling. On February 10, 1933, Ernie stepped into the ring against 6’6” Primo Carnera despite suffering the after effects of a bout with the flu. Despite giving up almost 50 pounds to Carnera, Ernie was a slight favorite. The 15-round bout drew a standing room only crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Throughout the fight, Ernie tried to work Carnera’s body, but he was sluggish and paid a price every time he moved in close. He bloodied the Italian heavyweight’s nose and by the middle rounds both men looked exhausted and resorted to long clinches, which drew the ire of the fans. By the 10th round Carnera began delivering consistent shots to Ernie’s head. Ernie made it to the 13th round, but a thunderous left jab sent him to the canvas. And the fight was over. It was the first knockout of Ernie’s career.

Ernie was still unconscious when he was carried into the dressing room. He was moved across the street to a hospital, where he drifted in and out of consciousness. His left side seemed paralyzed and he was given his last rites the following evening. On the 13th, surgeons operated to relieve pressure on Ernie’s brain. He passed away at the age of 24 in the predawn hours of the 14th. An autopsy revealed that Ernie had died from a cerebral hemorrhage, but that he was also suffering from meningitis, which might have started the previous summer as a result of the beating he took from Baer.


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