Jersey Joe Walcott used the ring. He moved to avoid punishment, but he moved in a way that didn’t suggest avoidance. He danced, but not like Ali. Ali’s dance looked business-like. Walcott’s moves made it seem as though there was music playing with a soulful beat. He would dance, he would glide, he would pivot. He threw counter punches off his pivots as if the strike itself were just another part of a graceful and self-contained groove. His real name, Arnold Cream, was just as appropriate and delightful as his ring name, and it foretold his smooth style.
Jersey Joe Walcott
He was a blue-collar fighter. He fought to put food on the table. When this wasn’t sufficient, he would go into ring inactivity one, two years at a time… and work. The sporadic activity hurt his early career. Al Ettore stopped him in 1936. Tiger Jack Fox stopped him a couple years later. Big Abe Simon stopped him in 1940. Soon thereafter he went on a two-year hiatus that appeared for a time to be permanent.
Under new management and back in action, Walcott should have won the title at age thirty-three when he was on the wrong side of a bad decision against Joe Louis. Knocked out in the rematch, and thirty-four, he appeared to be done.
Four intriguing matches with Ezzard Charles were matches between ring technicians with power. Walcott created a massive deviation in the four-part series when he knocked Charles cold to take his title in seven rounds and become the oldest man to ever win the title at thirty-seven. That distinction would hold for forty-three years until George Foreman regained the title at forty-five.
Defending his title for the second time against Rocky Marciano, Walcott moved for nearly thirteen rounds in his trademark creamy smooth way. He outboxed Rocky and even put him down in the first with a beautiful left hook. He glided. He feinted. He pivoted and punched off his pivots. Dance, glide, pivot, slide. He looked like a dance instructor teaching a clumsy person to dance. He owned much of the fight.
But Marciano was the embodiment of the proverbial Irresistible Force.
That is the ingredient that propelled Marciano to the record books, and it is the factor that dismantled Jersey Joe Walcott. He scored massive points in the never-ending battle between The Irresistible Force vs. The Immovable Object.
Applying constant pressure, Marciano finally caught up with Walcott in round thirteen, landing one of the single most pulverizing punches in heavyweight history. A right hand that traveled perhaps just over a foot in the air separated Jersey Joe from the title and ended his aesthetic reign. He retired after suffering a first round knockout in the return bout.
During the epic battle in 1986 between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler, Leonard made a pivot move, shifting himself in a way that was momentarily confusing to Hagler. He then landed a shot on the momentarily off-balance champion. When I saw it, I thought to myself, ‘Jersey Joe’.
Jersey Joe used the ring in a manner unique among boxers. It seemed he owned it. It seemed he was in a private dance to music only audible to him. Sometimes I feel he should have kept his real name for the ring and simply shortened it to a singular name Cream.
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 1: Louis vs. Ali
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 2: Holmes vs. Frazier
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 3: Liston vs. Foreman
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 4: Imposters unmasked
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 5: Going after Goliath
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 6: Marciano vs. Holyfield
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 7: Brutality borrowed
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 8: A hook for the books (Weaver vs. Tate)
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 9: De La Hoya vs Duran
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 10: The Minister of Defense (Wilfred Benitez)
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 11: Felonies in disguise
Also See: Scar Tissue Part 12: The End of Absolutes
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