Arnold Raymond Cream (January 31, 1914 - February 25, 1994), better known as Jersey Joe Walcott, was a world heavyweight boxing champion. He became the oldest man to win the heavyweight title at the age of 37. A smooth, agile fighter and consummate counter-puncher, he started his professional career as a lightweight and fought in obscurity for nearly 15 years, finally rising in the ranks and earning two title shots against Joe Louis. Although he lost both of his fights against Louis, most commentators believe he deserved to win the first bout, in which he knocked the champion down twice.
Walcott finally won the title from Ezzard Charles, whom he fought three times, losing the first two and winning the third. In so doing, he became the oldest man to hold the heavyweight championship until the era of George Foreman. Walcott lost his title in 1952 to Rocky Marciano. He compiled a lifetime record of 51 wins, 18 losses, and two draws.
After retirement, Walcott worked as a fight referee, professional wrestler and an actor, playing a part in the 1956 film The Harder They Fall. He became a sheriff in Camden, New Jersey in 1972 and was on the New Jersey State Athletic Commission in 1975. He died of complications of diabetes in 1994.
Background and early career
Walcott, the the son of poor immigrants from Barbados, was raised with 11 brothers and sisters in Merchantville, New Jersey. After the death of his father when he was 13, he began working in a soup factory to support his family. He also began training as a boxer. He took the name of his boxing idol, Joe Walcott, the welterweight champion from Barbados, hence his nickname, "Jersey Joe."
He debuted as a professional boxer on September 9, 1930, fighting Cowboy Wallace and winning by a knockout in round one. After five straight knockout wins, in 1933, he lost for the first time, beaten on points by Henry Wilson in Philadelphia. Later that year, he became the light-heavyweight champion of south Jersey by knocking out Al King.
Walcott built a record of 45 wins, 11 losses and one draw before challenging for the world title for the first time. He lost early bouts against world-class competition. He fought a pair of losing fights to Tiger Jack Fox and was knocked out by contender Abe Simon. He retired for two years in the early 1940s, working in the Camden shipyards. In 1945, Walcott returned to the ring, earning an impressive string of victories at the age of 31. Walcott beat top heavyweights such as Joe Baksi, Lee Q. Murray, Curtis Sheppard and Jimmy Bivins. He closed out 1946 with a pair of losses to former, light-heavyweight champ Joey Maxim and heavyweight contender Elmer Ray, but promptly avenged those defeats in 1947.
On December 5, 1947, Walcott was given his first world title chance, breaking a record for being the oldest man to challenge for a world title at the world heavyweight title. Despite dropping the champion, Joe Louis, in round one and once again in round four, he lost a 15-round split decision. Most ringside observers and boxing writers felt Walcott deserved the win, and a rematch was fought on June 25, 1948. The second time around, Walcott was able to knock Louis down again, but the champion prevailed by a knockout in round 11.
On June 22, 1949, Walcott got another chance to become the world heavyweight champion when he and Ezzard Charles met for the title left vacant by Louis. Charles prevailed, however, by a decision in 15 rounds. Walcott, disappointed but determined to see his dream of being a champion come true, pressed on, and in 1950, he won four of his five bouts, including a three-round knockout of future world light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson.
On March 7, 1951, he and Charles fought once again, and Charles retained the world title with a 15-round decision. But on July 18 Walcott knocked out Charles in seven rounds in Pittsburgh to finally become world heavyweight champion at the relatively old age of 37. This made him the oldest man ever to win the world heavyweight crown, a distinction he would hold until George Foreman won the title in 1995.
Walcott retained the title with a 15-round decision victory, again, against Charles. Then, on September 23, 1952, he lost his title to Rocky Marciano by a knockout in round 13. Walcott dropped Marciano in round one and was ahead on all scorecards when Marciano landed his "Suzie-Q" to defeat Walcott by a knockout.
There was a rematch on May 15, 1953, in Chicago, but the second time around, Marciano retained the belt by a knockout in the first round, when Walcott attempted to become the first man in history to regain the world heavyweight crown. Walcott retired after this bout, remaining retired for the rest of his life.
Walcott did not directly attack, rather he subtly lured his opponent to him. Employing “the Walcott Shuffle,” he created innovative punching angles that took adversaries by surprise. Walcott not only feinted with his hands, but with his shoulders and upper body. Opponents were often thrown off balance as Walcott deftly avoided their attacks until the moment he unloaded a variety of devastating, unexpected punches on them.
Walcott's style was characterized by a grace and smoothness that made him appear at ease even in the midst of a heated bout. A consummate counter-puncher, his style has been compared by modern commentators to akido, the martial art that controls an attacker by redirecting their momentum-using it against them-instead of blocking it. While training for a bout against a fighter who had a ferocious left hook, Walcott was asked if he was concerned, he replied, “Nope. I'll take his left hook and put it in his pocket.” Walcott's low key, confident attitude was a perfect match for his boxing style.
Walcott maintained his celebrity status well after his boxing career ended. In 1956, he co-starred with Humphrey Bogart and Max Baer in the boxing drama The Harder They Fall. In 1963, he worked as a nationally known professional wrestler, losing to Lou Thesz in a widely watched match.
In 1965, he refereed the controversial world-heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. Walcott lost the count as Ali circled around the floored Liston and Walcott tried to get him back to a neutral corner. Then Walcott looked outside the ring to the ringside count keeper as Liston recovered and the boxers resumed fighting again. Walcott then approached the fighters and abruptly stopped the fight, declaring Ali the victor. Walcott would never be appointed as a referee again after this bout. However Walcott's poor refereeing did not contribute significantly to the major controversy surrounding this fight, namely the supposed "phantom punch" of Ali, which caused many to believe that Liston had lost intentionally.
Walcott became Sheriff of Camden County in 1972, and then chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission in 1975 until 1984, when he stepped down at the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Jersey Joe Walcott was one of the smartest fighters in the game, creating a variety of ingenious angles to throw punches, all the while feinting with his shoulders and deceptively shuffling about. He had perfected his craft since turning professional in 1930 and had finally won the heavyweight championship on his fifth attempt at the age of 37 in 1951. Walcott's innovative techniques in the ring helped span boxing styles from the earlier "bruisers" who used brawn and sheer power to destroy opponents, to crafty, modern-era fighters who "out-thought" their adversaries. His accomplishments include:
- Winning the heavyweight title against Ezzard Charles on July 18, 1951.
- Being awarded the Edward J. Neil Trophy for Fighter of the Year in 1951.
- Successfully defending his title against Charles on June 5, 1952.
- Being inducted into the Ring Hall of Fame in 1969.
- Being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
- Frazier, Joe, and William Dettloff. Box Like the Pros. Collins, 2005. ISBN 978-0060817732
- Hatmaker, Mark, and Doug Werner. Boxing Mastery: Advanced Technique, Tactics, and Strategies for the Sweet Science. Tracks Publishing, 2004. ISBN 978-1884654213
- Sugar, Bert Randolph. Boxing's Greatest Fighters. The Lyons Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1592286324
- West, Cornel. The African-American Century. How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country. Free Press, 2002. ISBN 0684864150
All links retrieved May 4, 2018.
- Jersey Joe Walcott Biography sports.jrank.org.