Obituary: Jersey Joe Walcott

Arnold Raymond Cream (Jersey Joe Walcott), boxer: born Merchantville, New Jersey 31 January 1914; married 1933 (two sons, four daughters); died Camden, New Jersey 26 February 1994.

JERSEY JOE WALCOTT was a great heavyweight in the decade immediately following the Second World War, a decade dominated by two of the greatest sporting figures of all time, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. Walcott fought both twice - and almost beat both.

But Walcott was more than a 'nearly man'. In Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, on the night of 18 July 1951, he produced a classic feint, followed by a perfect left hook to the chin of Ezzard Charles, the man who had succeeded Louis as champion. Charles crumpled spectacularly to be counted out 55 seconds into the seventh round.

With that moment of supreme artistry Walcott became the oldest man to win the world heavyweight championship. He was 37 years and five months old. The record, in spite of recent efforts by George Foreman, still stands.

Walcott's full fight record will never be known. He was born Arnold Cream in Merchantville, New Jersey, in 1914, and his early bouts went unreported. He was certainly boxing professionally by 1930. He took his ring name from Joe Walcott of Barbados, who held the world welterweight title at the turn of the century.

Throughout his youth, he did nothing to suggest he deserved to bear the old man's name. He was a club fighter, working the circuit in New Jersey and Philadelphia. These were the years of Joe Louis's scorned 'Bum of the Month Club', in which the champion put his title on the line with a frequency that alarmed traditionalists but gave a string of lesser fighters a chance to tell their grandchildren they fought for the heavyweight championship of the world.

Jersey Joe wasn't even good enough to get into the club. Abe Simon, who was a member, knocked him out in six rounds in 1940.

By 1944 Walcott's career had long dried up. He was just another statistic on the state welfare list, with a wife and six children he could not feed. To combat poverty, he took up boxing again in earnest at the start of 1945. Amazingly, he began to get results. He out-pointed the quality heavyweights Joe Baksi, Lee Oma and Jimmy Bivins and won two out of three against the future light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim.

When a Louis-Walcott fight was proposed the New York Commission said it could only be an exhibition. Pressure from Mike Jacobs, the promoter, and Louis, who as usual was strapped for cash, made them relent.

The public and bookmakers voiced the commission's original fears. Even at odds of 15-1 for Walcott, there were few takers. Nevertheless, a crowd of 18,194 filed into Madison Square Garden, paying a house record of dollars 216,477 in December 1947.

Walcott, the supposed fall guy, was a revelation. He dropped Louis twice and danced clear of most of his ponderous attacks to collect what seemed a clear 15-round decision. In fact, to howls from the crowd and shrieks of disbelief from the Walcott corner, Louis was given a split-decision win. 'Those boos went right down to my bones,' admitted Louis.

In the re-match in June 1948 Walcott again floored Louis but was knocked out in round 11.

Louis retired but Walcott went on. Twice he lost title fights with Ezzard Charles, a good champion who suffered because he succeeded a great one. But on that summer night in Pittsburgh in 1951, more than 20 years after he began fighting for a living, Walcott found his place in history.

He did beat Charles again but then lost the title to Rocky Marciano in Philadelphia in 1952. Marciano, a crude slugger with a mighty right hand, was on the floor in the first round and badly cut. The bell saved him in the 11th. But in the 13th he landed the right hand he christened 'my Suzy Q' and Walcott was knocked out, at first suspended on the ropes and then sliding to the canvas like a rag doll slipping off a shelf.

'I felt the great, deep hurt of losing a fight that was so one-sided,' he said.

In the return Walcott was a shot fighter. He lost in one round and retired.

A devout Christian and family man, he kept his links with boxing for the rest of his life. He refereed the second fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston in 1965 when Liston was knocked out by a so-called phantom punch in the first round.

In later years he was the New Jersey state boxing commissioner. He was still an occasional visitor to big fights even after a fall from a crowded ring apron in the late 1980s had disabled him.

A few years ago at a big fight the ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced him with typical boxing overkill.

'Here with us tonight is a man who was so great they named a whole state after him - ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Jersey . . . Joe . . . Walcott]'

The giant crowd stood as one to applaud.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'