Friday, January 31, 2014

Jersey Joe Walcott's 100th Birthday

Jersey Joe Walcott defeated Ezzard Charles
for the heavyweight championship in 1951.

Jersey Joe Walcott's boxing career is worthy of more study than I can give it here.

Walcott, who was born 100 years ago today, doesn't tend to show up on Top 10 Heavyweights of All Time lists (although you will often find him in the Top 20). He was regarded as a bit of a journeyman, I suppose, never managing to win a title until late in his career — but he stood tall in bouts with two of the greatest heavyweights of all time, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano.

He knocked Louis down twice when they met the first time, but Louis prevailed in a split decision on the judges' cards. There are people today who will tell you Walcott won that fight. Enough people thought so at the time that they met in a rematch about 6½ months later. Louis scored an 11th–round knockout on that occasion.

In addition to two losses in title fights with Louis, Walcott lost two title fights with then–heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, but he took the title from Charles in his third try on July 18, 1951. He was 37 years old, the oldest to win the heavyweight championship. Charles had just turned 30 less than two weeks earlier.

Walcott returned the favor by giving Charles the first shot at the title nearly a year later. He retained his title by virtue of a unanimous decision.

Only a handful of heavyweight champions are remembered more for fights they lost than fights they won, and Walcott is one of them. He is probably best remembered for his second title defense, which he lost to Marciano in September 1952. It does help to remember, though, that Walcott was 38 years old; Marciano had turned 29 three weeks earlier.

According to all accounts I have read and heard, it was quite a fight. It was named Fight of the Year for 1952.

As I say, Marciano won the fight with a 13th–round knockout, but Walcott challenged him. Marciano had a reputation for knocking out his opponents early, frequently in the first round, but Walcott didn't go down so easily. Early in the first round, Walcott staggered Marciano with a right, then knocked him down with a left hook.

It seemed that Walcott, who had dismissed Marciano as "amateurish" prior to the fight, may have been right in his assessment.

But as the fight went on, and the boxers began to tire, Marciano seized control and, eventually, knocked out Walcott in the 13th round.

They met in a rematch eight months later, and Marciano made quick work of his foe, knocking him out in the first round.

In 1994, at the age of 80, Walcott died less than 10 miles from where he was born.

No comments: