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IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…
IN our July 11, 1951 edition, we previewed the third meeting between heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles and veteran challenger Jersey Joe Walcott: “If Jersey Joe Walcott never gets any further than having made five attempts to win the world’s heavyweight title, he will have established a record on that fact alone. Twice he has fought Joe Louis for the championship; twice he has gone in against Charles. Next Wednesday, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, he meets the ‘Cincinnati Flash’ for the third time over 15 rounds. This is Old Joe’s last fling – it must be. He will be 38 next January, whereas Charles is 29. The closest Walcott has come to winning the title was that first time when he met Louis.”
On that night, in December 1947, Walcott lost by split decision and “for the first time in his career, Louis left the ring amid boos.” We believed that “had Walcott stood in and traded punches in the final round he might have clinched the verdict. But he retreated throughout the session with Louis in hot pursuit and all he achieved was the distinction of making Joe miss more than he had ever done before.”
So convinced was the editor of Police Gazette, as we later reported, he went to the extreme of announcing that: “Jersey Joe is to be presented with a $2,500 diamond-studded belt, emblematic of the world’s heavyweight title.”
Louis won the rematch six months later, announced his retirement and relinquished his title. A year on, Walcott was matched against Charles for the vacant NBA title, but lost by unanimous decision. In March 1951, Charles outpointed him again, this time for the undisputed title. After 21 years in the ring it seemed Jersey Joe simply wasn’t destined to ever wear the real belt. Then on July 18, 1951, as yet again he challenged Charles, we were given a fairytale ending: “Before 28,000 fans, the wily old veteran tossed over a neat left hook in the seventh round and his dream had come true. The winning punch exploded against the champion’s chin and Charles dropped flat on his face. He tried hard to pull himself up and seemed to have been on the point of beating the count, then tumbled on his back in a neutral corner. As soon as the fight was over pandemonium reigned in the arena. The ring was flooded with officials, cameramen and ringside spectators, while Jersey Joe wept with happiness and the deposed champion sat on his stool in bewilderment.”
Walcott, whose real name was Arnold Raymond Cream, took the ring name Jersey Joe Walcott as a tribute to the welterweight Joe Walcott, the Barbados Demon.
Having become the oldest man in history to win the heavyweight championship, Jersey Joe then became the oldest to defend it, once again facing – and defeating – his old adversary and 3-1 favourite Charles. “Without any doubt,” we stated, “Walcott is a fistic wonder, not so much on his boxing skill, but on the fact of his age – he is 39 next birthday on his own admission – and his excellent physical condition.”
Walcott’s 23-year-long career finally came to an end following two consecutive knockout defeats by Rocky Marciano.
“Age doesn’t seem to matter with this clean-living athlete,” wrote BN editor Gilbert Odd. “When I talked to him in New York he maintained that it was the life we lead in our ’teens that dictates condition in middle age. There is no doubt that Walcott is an amazingly conditioned athlete. After 23 years in the ring, he can still go 15 rounds at a pace that outstrips many a younger man. Even his enemies have to acknowledge that he is the most astonishing of all the heavyweight champions.”
After his boxing career, Walcott worked as a referee until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. His most famous, and infamous, assignment was the controversial Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965 that was an utter shambles from beginning to end.
He devoted most of his retirement days to directing special projects for the New Jersey State Department of Community Affairs, aiding handicapped and retarded children.
Jersey Joe Walcott, never forgotten.
Born: Jan 31, 1914, Merchantville, NJ, Died: Feb 25, 1994 (aged 80), Debut: Sep 9, 1930, Weight: heavyweight, Record: 51-18-2 (32)