by By Peter Silkov The Boxing Glove
The Night Jersey Joe Walcott Made Arnold Raymond Cream Champion Of The World In the end, it took just one punch, a dynamite left-hook to the face of Ezzard Charles, and ten seconds later Jersey Joe Walcott was heavyweight champion of the world. One could argue that Walcott was champion as soon as the punch had landed. It was an irrepressible force upon impact, and the devastation produced was visible on the face of the reigning champion as he fell forward senseless onto his face. To those with a keen sense of boxing knowledge, it seemed clear that this was one of those blows that would render the receiver unable to beat the fatal count of ten seconds.
Just after impact, Charles fell onto his right knee, his head bowed, where he froze for a moment. Almost as if he were in prayer. Then he pitched down the rest of the way forwards, coming to rest with his face pressed into the canvas. He looked like someone taking a long overdue slumber.
Jersey Joe had entered the ring that night in Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a 37-year-old 5-to-1 underdog, against a man who had already beaten him twice. When he left the ring some thirty minutes or so later he held in his gloved hands the richest prize in sports. Such is the beauty of boxing.
Charles was ‘out’ even before the skin of his face stuck upon the ring canvas. In fact, the connection between canvas and face may well have ‘awakened’ Charles and provoked his improbable attempt to regain his feet in time to continue the fight and the 9th defense of his world title. Yet his senses were too widely scattered and although he made a courageous attempt to beat the count, he failed. Even as he lay prone upon his face the courageous Charles tried to regain his feet by wearily pushing at the canvas with his arms. At this point, it seemed almost as if his arms were working separately from the rest of his body as if they were the only conscious part of the fallen fighter. As the count reached six Charles managed to raise his head, and at the count of eight he had managed to get to his knees. The soon to be ex-heavyweight champion of the world then wobbled back drunkenly onto his feet, just as the count reached the fatal 10. Yet no sooner had the soles of his boots regained their acquaintance with the canvas, then Charles was falling again, this time backward onto his back, where he lay glassy-eyed and confused as his cornermen rushed to the now ex-champions aid.
In victory, the victor was almost rendered unconscious himself with the shock of what he had just accomplished. The spectators, whom earlier had sat largely unmoved by the action unfolding before them during previous rounds, had themselves been energized into an excited frenzy by the sudden turn of events, with many of them taking to their feet and trying to get into the ring itself. What ensued in the next minutes was a kind of jubilant frenzy which only sport at its best, and in particular boxing (although this writer is biased) can produce.
Surrounded by an ever-growing mass of spectators, who flooded into the ring and launched themselves at their new hero. Pulled upon by his cornermen, as they sought to protect him from the expanding throng of excited human beings who were filling the ring. Jersey Joe Walcott, the new heavyweight champion of the world, breathing heavily, fell to his knees and murmured in a voice that was all but totally drowned out by the tumult surrounding him, ‘Thank God!’.
Later when he had composed himself enough to speak to reporters, Walcott had exclaimed about his victory “I felt 16 years old again!”
Up until the sudden conclusion, the fight seemed to be following the same unspectacular pattern of the previous two encounters between these two men. The night had exploded into life with the sudden match-ending punch that must go down as one of the most spectacular and clinical one punch finishes that have ever been seen in a heavyweight championship bout.
It had been just one left hook that had caused this explosion of excitement and uproar. It brought about one of the biggest upsets the division had seen, up until that time. One punch had beaten the 5-to-1 odds laid against the challenger. One punch, but that punch had taken over 20 years to land. 20 years of blood, bruises, and heartbreak. Years filled with sweat, frustration, victories, and disappointments. At the age of 37 (although some sources made Walcott closer to 42 or 43 years in age) Jersey Joe had withstood more highs and lows than is probably in a single fighter’s career. His resilience to the lows, and his ability to bounce back from each setback, again and again, was the reason why he had just become the oldest man to capture sport’s greatest crown at the age of (at least) 37. Walcott also gained the distinction of becoming the first man to win the most prestigious title in boxing at his 5th attempt.
The crowd knew. They had followed his journey from the first Louis match when he had appeared out of nowhere to give the great Joe Louis the hardest fight of his already legendary world title reign. Many of the spectators, who were on their feet after seeing Walcott land that dynamite punch upon Ezzard Charles, were the same people who booed and protested loudly three and a half years earlier when the judges failed to give the verdict to Walcott at the end of his first fight with Joe Louis. It seemed, to many that night, that Jersey Joe had been robbed by the judges of a famous and improbable, yet well-deserved victory. Until that night Walcott had been unknown to the average fight fan, despite a career going back 17 years. He had flummoxed, frustrated, bewildered and out-boxed the champion with his swift-footed, herky-jerky style of boxing. Not only that, but Walcott had hurt Louis several times, and floored him twice. Jersey Joe was like a wasp in the ring, buzzing around and around, in and out, and he had a sting.
21 out of 32 ringside boxing writers had Walcott the winner at the conclusion of his first fight with Louis, while Louis himself was so convinced of his defeat that he attempted to leave the ring before the verdict was announced. Yet Walcott was not crowned champion that night against Louis, instead, in many peoples eyes, he was robbed of a historic against all odds victory, the kind of which only comes to a man once in a lifetime.
Six months later Walcott had another shot at immortality when Louis granted him a second shot at his world title. Once more Walcott gave ‘The Brown Bomber’ fits with his speed and style, but this time Louis caught up Jersey Joe in the 11th round and knocked him out. Ironically this time Walcott had been leading on two of the three judges cards. Walcott’s dream, the dream he had held since he first pulled a pair of boxing gloves onto his hands over 17 years earlier seemed to be gone.
How many chances at greatness does one man get in life?
After Joe Louis announced his retirement from the ring following his 11th round knockout of Walcott, Jersey Joe and Ezzard Charles were matched together to fight for the now vacant World heavyweight crown. On June 22, 1949, Charles out-pointed Walcott over 15 rather uninspired rounds to gain NBA recognition as the worlds heavyweight champion. It had been Walcott’s third shot at destiny and this time he had failed to sparkle.
Ezzard Charles was a brilliant boxer in his own right, who in many ways is only now gaining the accolades that he so deserved during the time he was active in the 40s and 50s. Yet Charles and Walcott together seemed to nullify each other’s abilities. When matched together, except for some sporadic outbursts of action and excitement, their fights were mainly underwhelming to most spectators. Especially taking into account what people expected from a world heavyweight title fight at the time.
The fans wanted blood and guts, wild exchanges of powerful punches. Not the kind of cerebral boxing matches that they got when Walcott and Charles were matched up together.
Despite the underwhelming nature of their first fight, Charles and Walcott faced eachother again on March 7th, 1951, with Walcott entering the match on the back of an upset points defeat to the raw yet tough Rex Layne. Charles, who was proving himself to be a fighting champion, despite the lack of recognition from the fight fans at large, was making the 7th defence of his world title.
For the fourth time, Walcott found himself the bridesmaid rather than the bride, as he was once more out-pointed over 15 rounds by Charles. With Walcott the sentimental favourite, the crowd had booed the verdict, yet those boos didn’t bring his dream any closer. After four shots at the greatest prize in sport, it seemed that Jersey Joe had missed his chance at immortality and would go down as one of boxing’s nearly men. A man who could have been champion save for the scores upon one judge’s scorecard.
Yet fate is a funny thing, and sometimes immortality is a combination of being at the right place at the right time but also making sure you are at the right place at the right time.
With his advanced age and the years he had put into his career, Walcott could easily have accepted his fate as a runner up who had come so close and yet so far, and simply hung up his gloves. After years of struggle, he had earned enough from his losing attempts at the world championship so that he and his family now lived comfortably in the family home in Camden New Jersey. He was no-longer wondering where his next meal was coming from as he had so often earlier in his career.
Yet Jersey Joe Walcott was still hungry. He still held onto that flickering dream of being heavyweight champion of the world. Perhaps if anything, after coming so close yet failing four times, the dream was even stronger now for Walcott. Even if few outside his immeadiate circle still believed it possible. Perhaps Jersey Joe Walcott wouldn’t let Arnold Raymond Cream quit before his dream had been fulfilled.
So Joe didn’t hang up his gloves. He didn’t quit after the Louis rematch. He didn’t quit after the first bout with Ezzard Charles or even after the second defeat to Charles. Jersey Joe wasn’t a quitter and perhaps, more than anything else, this is the clue as to how in the end he managed to achieve the seemingly impossible.
Then came that stroke of luck which sometimes blesses the talented, but more often than not blesses those who show the kind of stubborn endurance, and belief, in the face of failure that Jersey Joe displayed throughout his long career. With genuine challengers for his world title scant on the ground, Ezzard Charles found himself facing Walcott for the third time on that fateful night of July 18, 1951.
This time something was different, there was an extra spark in Walcott, the kind that he hadn’t had perhaps since his two fights with Joe Louis. Maybe this time he knew that this 5th chance at his dream had to be his last chance.
The bout started out much like their previous two encounters, with both boxing cagily, and seemingly waiting for the other to make a move or a mistake. People had expected Charles to take more of the initiative in this bout in order to beat Walcott by a wider margin than previously and remove him from contention as a challenger. However, Charles was content to play the waiting game and let Walcott be the aggressor. For his part, instead of using his usual style of tricky movement and countering, Jersey Joe was more happy to hold his ground this time and deliver more telling punches than in their previous encounters. Although Charles edged the first two rounds with his more effective jab, Walcott’s strategy began to bear fruit in the 3rd round when he seemed to hurt Charles with two left-hooks to the body. He also landed a left hook to the face which opened a cut underneath the champions right eye. From this point, Walcott the eternal challenger began to gain control of the fight, seemingly growing stronger as the match went on, perhaps with the growing belief that this time, this time, he would not finish second.
As the rounds progressed Charles continued to box smartly with his jab, but there was an ineffectiveness now in his work. Walcott had his own jab working, and furthermore, he was landing rights and lefts to the body that seemed to be draining Ezzard. While Charles punches looked to be bouncing harmlessly off Walcott when they landed, Jersey Joe’s own blows seemed to be landing with a touch more weight. The two exchanged jabs in the 4th and 5th rounds, but Walcott’s punches were becoming more telling. Ezzard was visibly shaken by a right hand in the 4th, while in the 5th round the defending champion seemed to be hurt twice, as his challenger switched from head to body in some of the best exchanges of the fight. Ezzard fought back but his punches lacked sting in comparison to Jersey Joe. In the 6th round, Walcott started looking to land the left hook more as he became visibly more confident, with the concentration and determination etched upon his face.
Then in the fateful 7th Walcott finally landed that left hook. The left hook that had taken 21 years to reach its destination. Back then he hadn’t been Jersey Joe Walcott, but Arnold Raymond Cream, born in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, on January 31, 1914, (although there were always whispers that the year of Arnold Cream’s birth could be somewhat earlier than 1914). Officially Arnold Cream began his career on September 9, 1930, with a 1st round knockout of Eddie Wallace. Cream weighed 152 pounds in that early endeavor, with a long long road ahead of him before he would reach anything like the success that he dreamed about every-time he clenched his gloved hands.
It was not until some three years later on July 28, 1933, against a certain Henry Taylor, (whom he knocked out in the 1st round) that Arnold Cream became Jersey Joe Walcott. Arnold took the name of the old ‘Barbados Demon’ Joe Walcott, who had ruled the welterweights and been one of the most feared fighters pound-for-pound during the 1890s and early 1900s. Perhaps he had hoped that some of the old Demons magic would rub off upon him.
There was little magic for the first decade of Jersey Joe Walcott’s career. He struggled to find fights, and when he did get fights, he was seldom well-prepared for them as he often went into his early fights hungry. Jersey Joe’s early career was so sporadic and full of ups and downs that he was forced to take work elsewhere, working in construction, as a porter, a janitor, and many other areas of menial employment in order to feed his growing family. At one point Walcott was forced to go on relief and provide for his family with 9 dollars 5 cents a week. Several times Jersey Joe retired from the ring and almost gave up on the dream that in his lowest moments seemed to have become just a memory. But Walcott, a humble yet determined man, believed that God would help him achieve his goal if he just kept his faith in himself and continued to work hard to reach it despite all the hard years and the setbacks.
Walcott’s career only really began to take off in 1945, when, after having just 2 fights in five years, he returned from another lay off of 7 months, with new management in the shape of Felix Bocchicchio. Under the guidance of Bocchicchio, who promoted fights in Walcott’s adopted home town of Camden New Jersey, Jersey Joe finally began to get regular fights, and produced a streak of 18 wins in 21 matches. These included victories over notable fighters such as Joe Baksi, Lee Q Murray, Curtis Sheppard, Jimmy Bivins, Lee Oma, Joey Maxim and Elmar Ray. The wins over Maxim and Ray avenged two of the defeats that Walcott suffered during this time and qualified him for his first title shot against Joe Louis.
It would take a little longer for Jersey Joe to realize his dream after his controversial 1st defeat to Louis, but finally, after 21 years he achieved what he had dreamed about all those years earlier.
Eleven months after landing that historic left-hook Jersey Joe successfully defended his World Heavyweight title against the man he took it from, convincingly out-pointing Ezzard Charles over 15 rounds. After successfully defending his world crown Walcott declared “This proves that I’m really champion, this proves it wasn’t any lucky punch in Pittsburgh. I had him all the way. This win meant more to me”.
The successful title defence against Charles made Walcott at 38 years of age, the oldest man to successfully defend the World heavyweight crown. That and his record of being the oldest man to win the heavyweight title would stand until 1995 when George Foreman regained a portion of the world heavyweight championship against Michael Moorer. (Ironically with a spectacular one-punch knockout).
Perhaps some of Joe Walcott’s old demon magic had rubbed off upon Arnold Raymond Cream after all.