Two articles ago, I explained what the recency effect was. And depending on the outcome of situation, the recency effect might be a good thing for the person involved or not. Unfortunately for “Jersey Joe Walcott’’, he is best remembered for that bone-crushing knockout loss he sustained at the hands of the Brockton Blockbuster, Rocky “The Rock’’ Marciano at the end of the 13th round of their championship. It’s a shame because there was definitely far more-than-meets-the-eye when it came to Walcott.
Arnold Raymond Cream
Once upon a time, there was Arnold Raymond Cream. Born in Merchantville, New Jersey, as for many other African-Americans back then (and still today), life was no sunshine and rainbows for the young Arnold Cream. His father, an immigrant from St. Thomas (Danish West-Indies), died when Arnold was older 15. Cream quit school at 15 and worked in a soup factory to support his mother and 11 other siblings. He also started boxing around the same time and made the jump to the professional ranks only a year later at age 16. Yes, men were men back then (even before they were supposed to be men).
Pro debut and the Birth of “Jersey Joe Walcott’’
Cream made his pro debut on September 9th 1930 against Cowboy Wallace. He won by first round knockout. Cream chose to fight under the alias “’Jersey Joe Walcott’’ to honor his childhood hero Joe Walcott, a welterweight champion from Barbados. Walcott added the prefix “Jersey’’ to avoid any confusion between them. Walcott had a record of 45-11-1 before challenging for the heavyweight title for the first time.
Diffusing a Bomb
On December 5th 1947 Walcott challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden. At the time, Walcott, 33, broke a record for being the oldest man to fight for the heavyweight title. Despite knocking Louis to the canvas twice, once in the first and the second time in the fourth, Louis managed to pull off a 15-round split decision victory. Many fans however believed that Walcott deserved the win.
The Bomb Went Off
The outcome of the first fight and the controversy which ensued set the stage for a rematch against Joe Louis on June 25th 1948. Only this time, the “Brown Bomber’’ left no doubt in anybody’s minds and knocked out Walcott in the eleventh. In spite of it all, Walcott found a way to floor Louis yet again in the third.
The Beginning of a Saga against the Cincinnati Cobra
After Louis vacated his heavyweight title, Walcott faced Ezzard “The Cincinnati Cobra’’ Charles on June 22nd 1949 for the vacant title at the Comiskey Park in Chicago. Despite standing both 6’0’’ tall with an identical reach of 74’’, the lighter Charles used his slightly superior speed and mobility to move in and out of range to land the cleaner shots, even though Walcott possessed himself cat-like reflexes and could change position on a dime. The bulkier Walcott thus played the role of the aggressor during most of the fight. The fight went toe-to-toe on several occasions, but Charles ending up winning it by unanimous decision.
The March 7th 1951 rematch held at the Detroit Olympia Stadium was basically a repeat of the first fight with Charles winning yet again by a 15-round unanimous decision. What may have turned the tide in Charles’ favor was the 9th round knockdown he scored on Walcott. As Charles was about to shoot a left hook, Walcott walked right into the punch which turned out in the end to be a quarter swing which dropped Walcott like a bag of bricks.
Third Time’s the Charm
On July 18, 1951, Walcott challenged yet again reigning Heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A determined Walcott showed as aggressive in the early rounds as he had been in the previous fights. Charles’ strategy was to do exactly what he had done in the previous fight: to let Walcott run out of steam by the middle rounds and to come on and pick up momentum afterwards. Charles was in fact a 5 to 1 favorite coming into the fight. Walcott however had other plans. In the seventh round, the intensity between the two was still very high. After the referee broke off both men from their respective clinch, Walcott simply strolled head on towards Charles.
Both men were known to be excellent counterpunchers and thus far, Charles always seemed to have had the last word. But not this time. As Walcott was about to cross ”no man’s land”, Charles threw a jab which Walcott skillfully slipped; and as Charles was ready to follow up with a right hand, Walcott nailed Charles flush on the jaw with a clobbering left hook which would have made even Joe Frazier frown. At long last, Walcott’s dream had come true and was deservingly crowned heavyweight champion of the world.
The End of the Saga against the Cincinnati Cobra
Walcott and Charles met for a fourth and final time on June 5th 1952 at the Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. Only this time, the roles were reversed: Walcott was the defending champion while Charles was the challenger. As always, the fight was evenly matched and both fighters had their moments of glory. Walcott however was very sharp coming into this fight, even matching hand speed and taking the lead early as he had previously done. Perhaps Charles once again expected the aging Walcott to fade by the later rounds but that didn’t happen. Walcott managed to hold on to his lead and ended up walking away with a unanimous decision win, the same way his arch-rival had done in their first two fights. One of the best rivalries in boxing history had finally come to an end.
A Puncher’s Chance: Suzie Q, I love You
Walcott finally met his Waterloo when he faced off the relentless Rocky Marciano on September 23rd 1952 at the very same venue he had last fought Charles. Considered small by heavyweight standards both in height (5’11’’) and in weight (184lbs), what Marciano lacked in size, he more than made up in relentless aggression and guts. Moreover Marciano’s level of conditioning was second-to-none. Whenever he prepared for a fight, he’d engaged himself in one of the most grueling training regimens ever seen back then. As if that wasn’t enough, Marciano could take as much as he could give; and he was definitely the ”generous” type. In spite of it all, the aging Walcott was dominant and held his own more than well throughout the fight. He landed many nice shots and frequently managed to stop Marciano in his tracks whenever he tried to bore in. Walcott even floored Marciano early in the fight. Heading towards the final stretch of the fight, Walcott was way ahead on the judges’ scorecards. It was thus clear by that point that Marciano needed a knockout to win the fight.
But as previously mentioned, Marciano was as game and as fierce as they came and wouldn’t go down easy. At the end of the thirteenth round, ”The Rock” managed to back up Walcott into the ropes and pin him there. And then it happened. Marciano threw his famous ”Suzie Q”, which consisted of a short left (jab) followed by a bone-crushing rear straight right. To add insult to injury, Walcott was completely defenseless as he seemed himself to be lunging in to throw a punch when he got slugged. He thus took the full brunt of Marciano’s “Suzie Q” moving forward. As Marciano’s trainer Charley Goldman once said, when Marciano nailed you with his famous “Suzie Q”, the damage could be measured on the Richter scale. Walcott’s seemingly lifeless body lying prostrated head first on the canvas is testament of Goldman’s claim.
To this day, Marciano’s blow is still considered one of the most devastating punches in boxing history. Marciano became champion and went on to retire undefeated whereas for Walcott, it was the end of a dream he had been chasing for so long. It’s ironic to think that had both fighters fought today with the 12-round limit, Walcott would’ve likely won by unanimous decision. But that’s boxing. And as the saying goes: everything happens for a reason.
Retirement, Post-boxing, and Death
On May 15th 1953, Walcott squared off once again against Rocky Marciano. Only this time, the second fight was an anticlimax by comparison to the first one. Marciano knocked Walcott out in the opening round which many observers, including Bert Sugar, considered to be a dive. The assumption was that Marciano was peaking and highly regarded as the new face of boxing, whereas father time had long been calling for Walcott. Following his second KO defeat in a row at the hands of the Brockton Blockbuster, Walcott announced his retirement from boxing.
He retired with a final record of 51-18-2, 32 KO’s. Afterwards, Walcott played alongside movie star Humphrey Bogart and former boxer Max Baer in the boxing drama The Harder They Fall. He also had a part alongside Robert Culp in Cain’s Hundred. After trying his luck in wrestling, Walcott refereed the controversial Ali-Liston rematch in which a confused and overwhelmed Walcott lost the count after Ali floored Liston with his famous Phantom-Anchor Punch.
Walcott never refereed another fight. He later worked for the Camden County Corrections Department. He ran for Camden County Sheriff and won the election on his second attempt. He was appointed as chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission from 1975 until 1984, stepping down at the mandatory age of 70. Jersey Joe Walcott died on February 25th 1994 at the Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, New Jersey at the age of 80. The official cause of death was complications linked to Diabetes.
Personality Traits and Fighting Style
Walcott was a true testament of the old-school style of boxing. He had an unconventional style; at times he seemed very flat-footed, and at times he could pull some nifty fancy moves. He could punch, wasn’t an easy target to hit, and proved to be a very good counterpuncher. One thing’s for sure: he was cagey and game. Both as a fighter and as a man, he was especially known for his grit, perseverance, and dignity. The two losses at the heavy hands of Marciano shouldn’t have any negative incidence whatsoever on his career and on his accomplishments both inside and outside the ring.
Walcott knocked down the great Joe Louis three times, became at the time the oldest boxer to challenge for the heavyweight title at 33 and finally became the oldest heavyweight to ever win the heavyweight title, a record which was broken decades later by a certain George Foreman. Walcott’s 4-fight saga against Ezzard Charles, who is considered the best light heavyweight in boxing history, is considered one of the best rivalries in boxing. Walcott is also part of a small group of boxers to ever win a title on their fifth attempt. Walcott finally became the first African- American to serve as County Sheriff and was later on inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.