Jack Sharkey not only won the world heavyweight championship but was responsible for the classic sports expression: We wuz robbed.
Along the way, it was a a controversial fight that inspired the phrase, We wuz robbed.
Becoming Jack Sharkey
He was born Joseph Paul Zukauskas on Oct. 26, 1902, in Binghamton, N.Y., the son of Lithuanian immigrants. As a young boy his family moved to Boston.
He ran away from home as a teenager. In his own words,
I slept in YMCAs, worked the bars and shoveled coal, worked for the Diamond Match Company, and I come back to New York, scared to go home, and the money ran out and I had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and I joined the navy, five cents in my pocket.
He took up boxing in the navy, where he won 38 fights. His ship’s home port was Boston, and he fought for pay on liberty in the city. He was told he couldn’t fight under the name Joseph Zukauskas, so he chose the names of his boxing idols: Jack Dempsey and Tom Sharkey.
By the time Sharkey was honorably discharged, he was earning write-ups in the Boston newspapers and earning good money for boxing.
Sharkey was a powerful boxer who could take punishment, but didn’t always focus and fought erratically. “I was a hothead,” he later said. “You could never tell what I would do.”
In 1927 he faced Jack Dempsey in a fight to determine who would take on heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Sharkey turned his head to complain to the referee that Dempsey hit him with a low blow and Dempsey knocked him out.
Two years later he won the heavyweight championship of the world, and he bought a $100,000 house in Chestnut Hill.
We Wuz Robbed
In 1930 he lost a fight for the vacant heavyweight championship to Max Schmeling on a foul. The referee ruled he hit Schmeling below the belt.
Sharkey described Schmeling as ‘a methodical, cruel, terrific puncher.’ Two years later, they faced each other again, and Sharkey was declared the winner though Schmeling seemed to have outboxed him.
After the match, Schmeling’s manager, Joe Jacobs, uttered those classic words, “We wuz robbed.”
Sharkey later said the fight was fixed.
If Jack Sharkey inspired “We wuz robbed,’ while working, he came up with a second oft-quoted comment in retirement.
He finished his career in 1936 after Joe Louis knocked him out in Yankee Stadium. Sharkey’s career record was 38-14-3, with 13 knockouts.
He saved his money and opened a saloon named Jack Sharkey’s in Boston, but closed it in 1943. (There was another Sharkey’s in New York City, a private boxing club famously painted by George Bellows.)
He earned a living as a boxing and wrestling referee. He and his family moved to Epping, N.H., in 1954, where he pursued his love of fly fishing.
He and Ted Williams teamed up to promote the sport at sporting shows. He was asked at one show whether he preferred fishing to boxing.
“It doesn’t pay as much,” he replied, “but then the fish don’t hit back.”
Jack Sharkey died on Aug. 17, 1994, at the age of 91 in Beverly, Mass.
To see a video of Jack Sharkey fighting Jack Dempsey, click here.
This story about the phrase, We wuz robbed, was updated in 2022.