Two Walcotts, Two Champions By R. Richard (Feb 26, 2010) Doghouse Boxing
The first Joe Walcott was born in Demerara, British Guyana on March 13, 1873, and died October 1, 1935. He was nicknamed, 'The Barbados Demon.' Walcott, stood only five feet 1.5 inches tall, but was a formidable fighter who fought from 1890 to 1911, becoming the world welterweight champion. The National Police Gazette of Oct 27, 1894 stated, “ His neck is 18 inches and his chest expanded is 41 inches, which is remarkable for a man of his weight.” Walcott's best fighting weight was 142 pounds.
Walcott spent part of his youth in Barbados. As a youngster, he set out to see the world, and got a job as a cabin boy on a ship sailing to Boston in 1887. He soon settled in Boston, working as a piano mover, porter and other odd jobs. Later, he landed a job in a gym and learned both boxing and wrestling. From 1887 to 1889 , Walcott boxed and wrestled as an amateur. In February of 1890, Walcott fought his first professional bout, a two round knockout victory.
Walcott then fought many professional bouts. Unfortunately, Walcott was treated as a typical Negro fighter of his era. Walcott lost some fights, where he had clearly defeated his opponent. Walcott sometimes would have to fight two fights in the same night, or fight major bouts with only a few weeks between.
Walcott's only significant losses were to George 'Kid' Lavigne, and Dixie Kid. His fights against Lavigne were 'handicap' bouts where, because of contractual agreements, Walcott was forced to come in greatly under his normal weight. Walcott, a natural welter because of his brawny build, trained down to 136 for the first fight with Lavigne, which he lost on a 15 round decision. Walcott had to almost kill himself to make the weight and was physically drained before the fight started. The second fight was for Lavigne's World Lightweight title, which means Walcott had to weigh 133 pounds (then the lightweight limit) on the day of the fight. Walcott had no strength and faded badly in losing by 12th round TKO. The loss to Dixie Kid is significant because Walcott lost the title, though by foul in the 20th round.
Walcott severely injured his right hand in a gun accident during a celebration in 1904. Initial news reports, such as the Philadelphia Record of Oct 18, 1904, indicated that Walcott's hand might have to be amputated. Although his hand was saved, Walcott wasn't same fighter after the accident and in fact he did not fight again for two years.
Walcott first challenged for the lightweight crown on October 29, 1897, but was TKO'ed by the champion George 'Kid' Lavigne in the 12th round. He was also unsuccessful in his first attempt to win the world welterweight title when he was outpointed by 'Mysterious' Billy Smith on December 6, 1898. Walcott finally won the welterweight title on December 15, 1901 in Toronto, Ontario from James 'Rube' Fern via a 5 round TKO. The Police Gazette reported that, “Walcott turned Fern into a jelly in five rounds."
Walcott was widely recognized as the best welterweight in the world long before he won the title. The Police Gazette of Jan. 11, 1902 stated, "From a technical standpoint three or four fighters have been recognized as welterweight champion, but it was apparent to men who have knowledge of prize ring affairs that they only held that tile on sufferance because of an obvious desire to avoid meeting with a black man who was conceded to be their superior.”
On April 4, 1904, Walcott defended his title against Dixie Kid. Walcott was winning the fight handily when the referee disqualified Walcott for no apparent reason in the 20th round. The match was disregarded as a title bout when it was discovered that the referee had bet on Dixie Kid to win the match.
Walcott also fought the well known Sam Langford to a draw in 1904. Sam Langford was already a great fighter by the time Walcott fought him to a draw. It was only two years later that Langford was able to go 15 rounds with future heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, and went on to become the most feared fighter in the world, knocking out nearly all the top heavyweights. Langford stood five feet 6.5 inches tall and and weighed 185 lb in his prime.
Three weeks after fighting Langford, Walcott met Joe Gans, World Lightweight champion, in a non-title fight. The Gans fight occurred on September 30, 1904, in San Francisco and was scored a draw after 20 rounds. That is the equivalent of Oscar de la Hoya fighting Felix Trinidad and the winner facing Shane Mosley within a month. Two weeks after the Gans fight, Walcott badly injured his right hand during a celebration. While he would return to the ring in 1906 (losing his welterweight crown to William "Honey" Mellody via a 15 round decision in 1906. Attempting to regain the title later that year, Walcott was knocked out in 12 rounds by Melody.) Walcott never regained his old form, losing most of his subsequent fights. Unable to get another title shot, Walcott eventually retired in 1911.
Walcott' final official record was 150 fights: 81 wins (34 KOs: 30 draws; 24 losses and 15 no decisions. (Walcott claimed that there were more fights.)
Nat Fleischer rated Walcott as the greatest welterweight fighter of all time, and in 2003 he was included in the Ring Magazine's list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time.
It was Joe Walcott, the Barbados Demon, welterweight champion of the world from 1901-1904, who actually coined the phrase, "The bigger they are the harder they fall." Bob Fitzsimmons certainly popularized the saying before he faced Jim Jeffries, but it was Walcott who first said it. The phrase belonged to Walcott, who despite his short stature was extremely successful against much larger and heavier opponents. He had fantastic stamina and durability as well as a proven punch. A natural welterweight, he was one of the greatest 'pound for pound' fighters in boxing history and fought men weighing from lightweight to heavyweight during his career.
Walcott squandered a fortune earned in the ring. In 1924 he spent three years in jail for assault. Eventually Walcott found employment as a custodian at the old Madison Square Garden. Walcott was struck by a car and killed in 1935, thus, ending the existence of Barbados' greatest boxer.
Nat Fleischer called Walcott, "A sawed off Hercules, an abnormally powerful puncher." He also said, "Men who fought him were sorely handicapped … for all his opponents were taller, and their blows usually landed on his shoulders or on top of his granite skull. Probably more men ruined their hands on Walcott than on any other scrapper of that day."
Walcott was just 5 feet' 1.5 inches tall and never weighed more than 148 pounds. However, he had a long reach and a Herculean physique that gave him tremendous power. He had great durability that allowed him to absorb the kind of punishment that would have finished most fighters. He was also an accomplished boxer who studied and learned from the likes of George Dixon and Bob Fitzsimmons. His success against men of much higher weights leads one to believe that no modern welterweight could have gone the 20 round distance with him.
Perhaps the Chicago Herald-Examiner wrote a fitting epitaph on Aug 22, 1932 when Joe was hospitalized with a heart attack, "Some veteran boxing experts rate Walcott as the greatest fighter of his weight the ring ever knew. Only a 'heavy' lightweight, Walcott earned the sobriquet 'Giant Killer' by the easy manner in which he topped light heavyweights and heavyweights."
Joe died on Oct. 4, 1935 after being struck by a car in Massillon, Ohio.
Both Nat Fleischer and Charley Rose rated Joe Walcott the # 1 all time welterweight. Walcott finished # 4 in the 2005 IBRO (International Boxing Research Organization) poll of its members. Cox's Corner considers him among the top 5 all time welterweights.
Perhaps one of the finest tributes to Walcott, was the career of (Jersey) Joe Walcott. American, Jersey Joe, whose original name was Arnold Cream, had often heard his Bajan father boasting about the Barbados Demon. Cream who had been an extremely succesful amateur, decided to adopt the name of his Dad's idol, upon his entrance into the professional ranks. The rest is history. Jersey Joe Walcott is remembered today as one of the greatest light-heavyweights that ever lived and a classy World Heavyweight Champion.
The second Joe Walcott was born Arnold Raymond Cream (January 31, 1914 February 25, 1994) in Merchantville, New Jersey. His parents very probably lived in Matchville, a black neighborhood just outside of Merchantville. He was better known, during his boxing career as Jersey Joe Walcott. Jersey Joe eventually became the World Heavyweight boxing champion. He broke the world's record for the oldest man to win the World Heavyweight title when he earned it at the age of 37.
He was the son of immigrants from Barbados. Walcott's father died when he was 13 years old, so he quit school and took a job working in a soup factory to support his mother and 11 siblings. He also began training as a boxer. He decided that he needed a catchier name than Arnold Cream and so he took the name of his father's boxing idol, Joe Walcott, the former World Welterweight champion from Barbados.
Jersey Joe debuted as a professional boxer on September 9, 1930, fighting Cowboy Wallace and winning by a knockout in round one. After five straight knockout wins, in 1933, he lost for the first time, beaten on points by Henry Wilson in Philadelphia.
Early in his career, Walcott, then a rising star in the Lightheavyweight division, was making his customary walk to the ring for one of his fights. He felt a hand on his arm, thinking it was just one of his many fans, he ignored it. However, the grip persisted. Walcott turned around to see a bum of a man smiling at him. "How do you do son?" said the man. "My name is Joe Walcott too - the original Joe Walcott.” The young Walcott was aghast, he couldn't believe this shabby individual standing in front of him, was the legendary Joe Walcott. It couldn't be the man his father had boasted so much about. The young Walcott immediately swore to himself right then and there, that he wouldn't end up like that. To ensure that there would be no confusion over himself and the original Joe Walcott, the young Walcott added the monicker 'Jersey,' in front of his name, since he was born in New Jersey.
Jersey Joe Walcott built a record of 45 wins, 11 losses and 1 draw before challenging for the world heavyweight title for the first time. Walcott lost early bouts against world-class competition. He lost a pair of fights to Tiger Jack Fox and was knocked out by contender Abe Simon. From 1941 to 1945 Walcott fought only 3 times. He was living at the poverty level and boxing had failed to pull him out of the dregs. It appeared the sun had set on his career and there would be no more chances for the 31 year old fighter. But with the end of the war there was a dearth of heavyweights to fill out boxing cards. Local gambler and owner of a sports club, Felix Bocchicchio, heard of Walcott's plight and offered to manage him. At first Walcott refused, saying, "Fighting never got me nothin' before, and all I want now is a steady job so my wife and kids can eat regular. I'm over 30 and just plain tired of it all.”
Bocchicchio bought food for the Walcott family, put coal in the bin and got Joe's fighting license renewed. Jersey Joe then went on the comeback trail.
Things began to improve in 1945 when Walcott beat top heavyweights such as Joe Baksi , Lee Q. Murray, Curtis Sheppard and Jimmy Bivins. He closed out 1946 with a pair of losses to former light heavyweight champ Joey Maxim and heavyweight contender Elmer Ray, but promptly avenged those defeats in 1947.
On December 5, 1947, he fought Joe Louis, when Walcott was thirty three years of age, breaking the record as the oldest man to fight for the world heavyweight title. Despite dropping Louis in round one, and once again in round four, he lost a 15 round split decision. A key to Walcott's success against Louis was the use of a tactic called the 'Walcott Shuffle.' Walcott would shuffle his feet so that first the right and then the left were the lead and he would then pivot his body to match. It was almost impossible to tell from which side the next punch would come.
Most ringside observers and boxing writers felt Walcott deserved the win, and so there was a rematch on June 25, 1948, when Louis prevailed once again, this time by a knockout in round 11.
In June 22 of 1949, Walcott got another chance to become world heavyweight champion, when he and Ezzard Charles met for the title left vacant by Louis with his retirement on March 1, 1949. However, Ezzard Charles prevailed, winning by a decision in 15 rounds. Walcott was disappointed, but eager to see his dream of being a champion come true, he continued to box and in 1950, he won four of his five bouts, including a three round knock-out of future world light heavyweight champion Harold Johnson.
On March 7 of 1951, Walcott and Ezzard Charles fought for a second time and once again Charles won a 15 round decision to retain his world title. But on July 18, 1951 Jersey Joe Walcott joined a handful of boxers who claimed the world title in their fifth try, when he knocked out Ezzard Charles in seven rounds in Pittsburgh, to finally become world's heavyweight champion, at the relatively old age of 37. This made him the oldest man ever to win the world heavyweight crown (a distinction he would hold until George Foreman won the title at age 45 in 1994.)
Walcott retained the title on June 5, 1952, with a 15 round decision victory in Philadelphia against arch-enemy Ezzard Charles. On September 23, 1952, in spite of having a comfortable lead on his challenger, he lost his title to Rocky Marciano, by a knockout in round 13. There was a rematch in Chicago, on May 15, 1953, and the second time around, Walcott was again defeated by Marciano by a knockout in the first round.
Jersey Joe didn't go away from the celebrity scene after boxing. In 1956, he co-starred with Humphrey Bogart and Max Baer in the boxing drama, The Harder They Fall. In 1963, he tried professional wrestling, losing to Lou Thesz. Thesz pinned Walcott in the fifth round, but has stated that Walcott knocked him (Thesz) down and most likely out in that fifth round. As he fell to the floor, he relied on instinct, grabbing Walcotts knees, taking him down with him and stretching him out for the pin.
In 1965, Jersey Joe refereed the controversial World Heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. Walcott lost the count as Ali circled around a floored Liston and Walcott tried to get him back to a neutral corner. Then Walcott looked outside the ring (presumably to the ringside count keeper) as Ali and Liston went at each other before Walcott instructed them to keep on fighting, then Walcott approached the fighters and abruptly stopped the fight. Walcott would never be appointed as a referee after this bout. It should be said, however, that most of the controversy surrounding this fight had nothing to do with Walcott, as this was the famous fight with the 'phantom punch.'
Arnold Cream (Jersey Joe Walcott's legal name) became Sheriff of Camden County in 1972, serving for three years. He then became Chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission from 1975 until 1984, when he stepped down at the mandatory retirement age of 70.
In 1991, Jersey Joe Walcott was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY.
One final note is that perhaps the two most famous 'bajans' (persons from Barbados) were neither born in Barbados.