Ken Jones: 'The Toy Bulldog' who cocked a fist at Al Capone

The late Edward Patrick "Mickey" Walker, the fist fighter, is best remembered in the annals of boxing as the middleweight who had the best left hook and the biggest thirst in the business. If it hadn't been for the one, the thirst, the other, the hook, might have made him the only 150lb heavyweight in modern history.

The late Edward Patrick "Mickey" Walker, the fist fighter, is best remembered in the annals of boxing as the middleweight who had the best left hook and the biggest thirst in the business. If it hadn't been for the one, the thirst, the other, the hook, might have made him the only 150lb heavyweight in modern history.

When he wasn't fighting the bottle, Mickey Walker was often fighting heavyweights. The only difference was he could hold his own with heavyweights. He found them so easy to hit and beat, he even fought them dead-drunk on occasion to even the odds a little.

One such was the eve of the 1930 Kentucky Derby when the pocket-sized Walker climbed in with a 15st 10lb, 6ft 3in brute named Paul Swiderski. You have heard of fighters staggering out of the ring. Walker staggered into it. Anywhere else, and his police escort would have arrested him as a common drunk.

Actually, Walker, known otherwise as 'The Toy Bulldog,' was an uncommon drunk. He hit the floor so often in the first round of that contest, the referee never bothered to come out of a crouching position - he knew Walker would be right back - and Walker's manager, the foremost ring larcenist of all time, Doc Kearns, reached over and rang the bell with a water bottle while there was still a half-minute to go in the session.

Kearns's reward was a punch in the jaw from Walker because in his condition he couldn't tell friend from foe. Kearns recovered in time to pull a fuse and plunge the arena into darkness the next time Walker went down. Trouble broke out, police were called, and when order was restored, Walker was sober and Swiderski was sunk.

This is only one of the riotous instances recalled in a dog-eared copy of Walker's biography "The Toy Bulldog And His Times" which I borrowed from a friend and have just finished reading. Walker, who held the undisputed welterweight and middleweight championships, had 141 fights in his 100-proof life. He was married seven times, once squandered almost half-a-million dollars on one trip to Paris and was thrown out of hotels for brawling in half the major cities of the world.

Once, in Hollywood, he bought half of Laurel Canyon from the screen actor Lloyd Hamilton for $55,000 when both were in their cups. When he sobered up, Walker sold it in panic for $58,000 - or about $7m less than it was worth.

Walker palled around with Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone. He once ran across a ballroom floor to take a punch at Edward, the Prince of Wales. He actually cocked a fist at Capone before a friend stepped in. "You saved his puss," Walker grumbled. "I saved your life," the friend corrected.

He was a front-man for a bootlegger, yet he spent half-a-million dollars trying to learn polo and to crack society. He was the middle-weight champion of the world and a leading contender for the heavyweight title but he was stopping gutters like a Bowery bum. He lost the the most important fight of his career, to the heavyweight Max Schmeling in 1932, because he trained on a golf course - not on golf, on champagne. The caddy carried the bottles. Walker carried the clubs. No one kept score but on his worst holes Walker used up three bottles.

Many good boxers have taken good care of themselves while they were fighting and turned to drink when they were through. Walker, who often held victory parties before the fight, reversed the trend here too. One day in 1939, while the radio crackled the news of the start of the Second World War, Walker found himself on the toot with a cast of characters he shouldn't even even have been talking to. At the age of 38, he hoisted a glass of beer and announced, "Gentlemen, this is my last drink. I'll never take another as long as I live."

He never did. Walker filled the void in his life with painting, a notion that came to him while watching a movie on the life of Gauguin. Although some unkind critics suggested he should have taken the boxing gloves off first, his art was exhibited widely. "It is the only thing," Kearns cracked, "that could keep Mickey Walker on canvas." His fight friends were even more impressed. "Could Picasso get off the floor 14 times against Swiderski?" they asked.

While Walker's lifestyle is not recommended to athletes in any field, his colourful career, and that of many former great champions, serves to remind us that boxing is better served by the past than the present.

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