Jersey Joe Walcott: The Fighter Who Never Gave Up
By Simon Graham
One of the most persistent boxers of the 20th century, Jersey Joe Walcott refused to give up his dream of winning the world heavyweight title. Long after most boxers would have abandoned all hope, Walcott battled on.
His early career was very hit and miss never really heading in any significant direction, in between fights Walcott had to take manual labour jobs to feed his wife and family, during his stop-start boxing career Walcott was never really on the radar to reach championship level status until a chance sparring session with Joe Louis who was training for the Max Schmeling fight came up, Walcott promptly dropped the champion with a left hook resulting in him being sent home.
Eventually, Walcott fought his way up the ranks and into championship contention by the time he got the call to fight Louis for the heavyweight title he was already 33 and was given little to no hope of winning, Walcott boxed brilliantly dropping the champion twice before the fight went to the scorecards, everyone ringside was ready to cheer on the new champion but the majority decision went to Louis who left the ring under a crescendo of boos.
Walcott fought with his hands low an open target for some of the heaviest hitters in the ring, using sublime footwork he would switch from an orthodox stance to a neutral stance and then switch again to southpaw totally confusing his opponents. This style would allow Walcott to feint mid-movement, set traps and lead his opponents into his punches. Walcott’s ring movement allowed him to continually sidestep and slip incoming shots giving him the ability to counterpunch with nonstop head movement, his ring craft was both crafty and creative.
There has been a resurgence over the years with many modern-day boxers adopting then adapting Walcott’s unique style which for that era could be deemed as ahead of its time. If you study Walcott’s movements, it clearly bares striking resemblances to elite fighters today.
Very little fight footage exists of Jersey Joe’s earlier career, famous footage today shows him in the twilight of his career fighting against such greats as Louis, Rocky Marciano and Ezzard Charles, but if Walcott looked that good at such an advanced age one can only imagine how much better he looked in his prime years, an example of this could be to compare a young Cassius Clay to an ageing, Muhammad Ali.
In 1951 at the age of 37, Walcott became the oldest boxer ever to win the world heavyweight championship knocking out Ezzard Charles with a devastating left hook lead in round 7 a record that would stand for 43 years, a year later he would lose the title in dramatic style to Rocky Marciano.
After his second defeat to Marciano, Walcott retired taking a job as a correctional officer working with troubled teenagers, he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame with a career record of 71 fights, 51 wins 32 of which were KOs, a masterful creative fighter who in my opinion should have been a champion long before he eventually did.