Walcott attacks Charles in fight three. Photo by Bettmann/ Getty Images
A talented heavyweight champ who shuffled his way towards greatness against some of the best men of his era. The great Jersey Joe Walcott was born on a day like today, 109 years ago.
Arnold Raymond Cream was born on January 31, 1914 in Merchantville, New Jersey. He became a professional boxer in 1930 under his assumed name, a variation on the name one of his idols who also bore a striking resemblance to him, former welterweight champ Barbados Joe Walcott. The only modification was made to indicate his own origin.
He became one of the best and most avoided heavyweights of one of the best eras in the division, dominated by the great Joe Louis.
Walcott’s opportunity to try to take the title from Louis finally came in December of 1947, when as a 33-year old he became the oldest man to challenge for the heavyweight crown at that time. He dropped Louis twice in the fight but lost by split decision in what was considered an outrageous call. Public pressure demanded a rematch, and it came six months later, with Walcott losing by stoppage in 11 rounds.
Upon Louis’ retirement, the vacant title was disputed between Walcott and fellow all-time great Ezzard Charles, with Charles winning both the vacant title bout and the rematch.
But in their third meeting on July 18, 1951, Walcott made use of his trademark “shuffle” (a deceiving shift in pace and direction, staged in order to set up a demolishing left hand) to finally stop Ezzard Charles in seven rounds in Pittsburgh. With the win, he became the oldest man to ever lift the heavyweight crown at age 37, a record he held until then-45-year-old George Foreman broke it in 1994.
After defending the belt against Charles in a fourth meeting, Jersey Joe met his match in the form of young unbeaten gun Rocky Marciano. After dropping Marciano in the first round, Walcott finally succumbed to the power of the infamous “Suzie Q”, the name Marciano gave to his vaunted overhand right, being knocked out in the 13th round.
After another stoppage loss to Marciano, Walcott retired in 1953 with a record of 49-20-1, and 31 stoppage wins to his credit.
A significant portion of his fame came, however, after his ring years were over.
He was first recruited as an actor, co-starring alongside Humphrey Bogart and Max Baer in the Budd Schulberg-written drama The Harder They Fall. He acted in a few more television series and movies, and he also became the first African-American to be elected as Sheriff of Camden County, New Jersey. He later served as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission for 10 years.
And then, in one of the lowest moments of his ring career, Walcott was called on to referee the heavyweight championship rematch between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston in Maine, in 1965. In what turned out to be one of the most highly controversial heavyweight title bouts of all time, Walcott fumbled the ball numerous times, losing control of the bout as Ali imposed his antics and took control of the action. When Liston went down from the infamous “phantom punch” and Ali famously stood near him taunting him instead of retreating to a neutral corner, Walcott simply couldn’t adjust to the situation and lost control of the count, in which the ringside timekeeper had reached the ten-count already. Confusion ensued, and after a few embarrassing moments, Walcott realized the enormity of his mistake and halted the bout. He never officiated as a referee again.
Walcott died at the age of 80 years in February, 1994. He had been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Diego M. Morilla has written for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.