Bill Brennan
Name: Bill Brennan
Career Record: click
Alias: Bill Shanks, KO Bill
Birth Name: Wilhelm Schenck
Nationality: US American
Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Born: 1893-06-23
Died: 1924-06-15
Age at Death: 30
Height: 6′ 1″
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Written by Rob Snell   
Monday, 30 April 2007
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Jersey Joe Walcott
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Arnold Raymond Cream was born in the small town of Merchantville, New Jersey, on 31 January 1914. but  during his ring career  fighting as Jersey Joe  Walcott – there were persistent rumours  that he was actually six  or seven years older than he claimed. One of 12 children fathered by labourer Joseph Cream ( 10  of whom survived into adulthood ), young Arnold’s family already had close ties with the fight game: Joseph’s cousin was the old ‘Joplin Ghost’, Jeff Clark. a respected black fighter from an earlier era. who fought an epic 13-fight series  with the great Sam Langford. Cream Senior was originally from St. John Island in the West Indies, and he regaled Arnold with stories of the original Joe Walcott. ‘The Barbados Demon’. who had also been born on St. John. Walcott had been world welterweight champion at the turn of the century, and when Cream Junior launched his career, as a 16-year-old middleweight in 1930, he took the old champion’s name. 

Walcott received £750 for his debut. a first-round knockout of ‘Cowboy’ Wallace in Vineland, New Jersey. Fights were hard to find in those early days and. after winning his first four contests inside the distance, Walcott could not get another fight for over two years. ‘For years I had more work dumping garbage for the Sanitation Department in Camden than I did fighting. and I was mighty glad to get it.’ he used to recall with a characteristic lack of bitterness. Walcott married young, and took what­ever work he could find to support his rapidly-growing family. He and wife Lydia eventually had six children. 

Money was a long time coming Walcott’s way and he revealed as much with a chillingly simple explanation for an early defeat: ‘Well, he hit me in the belly and I’d had so darn little to eat for such a long time that I felt as though I had been broken in half. I wasn’t knocked out by a punch. I was knocked out by the hunger.’ 

JACK’S GYM
 

In 1933. Walcott resumed his career with a couple of first-round wins in his adopted hometown of Camden. New Jersey. before trying his luck in Philadelphia – then. as now, a busy boxing centre. Unfortunately. it was not a happy venture. He lost for the first time in his career, a six-round points defeat against Henry Taylor. and he also missed a golden opportunity to transform his life. During his time in Philadelphia he was trained by Jack Blackburn at the Arcadia Gym at 13th and Terry Streets. Blackburn. once a top-flight boxer himself, recognized Walcott’s potential despite the loss to Taylor. 

When Blackburn accepted an offer to train Joe Louis. he wanted to take Walcott to Chicago with him. However. Walcott fell ill with typhoid and was out of the ring for a year. By the time he had recovered the offer was no longer there. In spite of this, Walcott always remembered Blackburn with affection and respect. saying of him: ‘He wasn’t stern – he was more of a diplomat. He knew how to get his point through without being excited. without being boisterous. He was a wise man: 

By 1935. Walcott was able to fight again and his potent punching brought him five straight wins, four by knockout. In his next fight. in January 1936, he was put in against a world-ranked opponent. heavyweight Al Ettore. for the first time. Unfortunately. Walcott was found wanting and Ettore gave him a bad beating, stopping him in the eighth. 

Walcott bounced hack with a 10-round points win over Willie Reddish, a well-respected performer who later became better-known as the trainer of heavyweight champ Sonny Liston. A couple of months later. Walcott knocked out Phil! Johnson in three rounds. Fourteen years later. he would complete a unique double by knocking out hill’s son. Harold. in the same round. (In 1961, Harold Johnson won the world light-heavyweight title.) 

TALE OF TWO JOES 

Jack Blackburn remembered Walcott from his novice days and. in 1936. hired him as a sparring partner for Joe Louis who was preparing for his first fight with Max Schmeling. What happened next depends on the version you accept.

According to Walcott. •I dropped Louis to his knees with a right hand, and his wife Marva and Blackburn laughed out loud. Joe didn’t like that. That evening. Blackburn came to me and said -I’m sorry. but they’ve decided you ain’t got the right style for Louis. You’ll have to go-. and he counted out my $25 wages for the day.’ 

Louis’s account was, not surprisingly, somewhat different. Jersey Joe looked good when we had our first workout.’ he wrote in his autobiography. Joe Louis: My Life ‘Second workout. I must have hurt him some. Next thing I know, he cut out of camp and never came back.’ 

IN NEED OF RELIEF

By this stage of his career Walcott seemed to have settled for a journeyman’s role. Losses to Billy Ketchell. Tiger Jack Fox (twice). George Brothers. Roy Lazar and Abe Simon slowly ground the ambition out of him. and the fights became ever fewer. He had just two contests in 1939. another two in 1940. and just one in 1941. Disillusioned with the fight game, he drifted away from boxing and during his three-year retirement. between 1941 and 1944, was forced to accept S9.50 a week public relief money. Looking back. Walcott attributed his longevity in the ring to his experiences during those hungry years. 

‘I never knew what an extra dollar was until I was way past 30: he said. ‘I’ve always had such a hard time just getting along that I could never afford am kind of dissipation. not even cigarettes. As a kid I went in for all kind of games. and I kept so busy I didn’t have time to pick up many bad habits. 

‘Now, take Joe Louis. Joe hit the top very early in his life. He did well to last as long as he did. with all that easy living he went through. I was just the opposite. 

BO’S THE KEY

In June 19.4-1, desperate for cash. Walcott made a two-fight comeback. He won both contests. but no further Offers came his way and he began to resign himself to life as an ex-fighter. Then. shortly before Christmas that year. he received a visit front a local underworld figure. The caller was Felix Bocchicchio. a numbers racketeer who was also a big fight fan and the money behind Camden promoter Vic Marsillo. 

Bocchicchio,  who had a business card on which his name was spelt out phonetically as ‘Bo-key-key-o’, wanted to persuade Walcott to give the game one last try. ‘You can’t retire,’ he told him. ‘You’ve got talent.’ ‘I don’t know,’ replied Walcott. ‘Maybe I do. but I haven’t got coal – and it’s coal that keeps my kids warm. 

But despite Walcott’s reluctance to return to the ring. Bocchicchio was adamant. ‘Fight for me and that coal bin will he full tomorrow: he promised. ‘You won’t have to worry where your next meal is coming front. I’ll give you enough to live on even if you don’t fight regularly: 

They shook hands on the promise, and the deal was done. Next morning. a cart-load of coal and a box of groceries were delivered. Bocchicchio recalled that  ‘when I got there, even the chairs and beds had broken legs. I had to get a carpenter to fix doors and windows so they would stay shut. There was no coal in the cellar, no presents for the kids. no meat in the house: 

All that was about to change as Walcott launched the most heart-warming comeback since James J. Braddock came off the welfare rolls to win the heavyweight title from Max Baer in 1935. 

Jersey Joe Walcott’s return to the ring in 1945 was not an immediate success. He won his first fight. stopping Jackie Saunders in two rounds, but a fortnight later was soundly outpointed by Skippy Allen. That, he assumed. would be the end of Felix Bocchicchio’s interest, but the Italian-American had made him a promise and planned to keep it. Walcott went on to beat Austin Johnson in February, and then took revenge over Allen in March. 

Walcott’s first big break came when Joe Baksi, a power-punching contender, agreed to come to Camden for what was seen as easy money. Walcott knew it was the last chance he would get to crack the big time. and even after­wards he referred to that August 1945 points win as the most important victory of his life. 

‘Baksi’s people only took me because they thought I was a washed-up old man, but I licked him.’ he recalled. ‘Once that happened, my whole mental condition changed. When I was a young kid, my big family and my other troubles worked on my mind so I couldn’t get the most out of m fighting. That. I believe, is the real reason why I came hack so good, so late: 

GARDEN TITLE SHOT


Before the  year was out. Walcott had beaten two other top contenders, Lee Murray and Curtis Sheppard. The progress continued in 1946 with wins over Jimmy Bivins and Lee Oma. who later challenged Ezzard Charles for the title. Walcott also lost to future light-heavyweight champ Joey Maxim and Elmer Ray. hut reversed both of these results in 1947, outpointing Maxim twice. Then, 19 fights after he had been persuaded to try one more time, Walcott got his reward – a match with heavyweight champion Joe Louis in Madison Square Garden on 5 December 1947. 

At first, it was announced as a 10-round exhibition. but the New York State Athletic Commission said they would only sanction it as an exhibition if it was over six rounds. After protests by Louis and Mike Jacobs, the Commission upgraded it to a title fight, although the bookmakers were so sceptical of Walcott’s chances that they offered even money he would not last five rounds. Even in the declining stages of his career. Louis’s name was still a crowd-puller and 18,194 paid a Garden record of $216,477. 

However,  if those people had turned up to witness the demolition of a journeyman fighter. what they saw instead was Louis’s humiliation. Walcott floored him in the first round with a right counter. and dropped him again in the fourth as the champ struggled to get into the fight. When the hell ended the 15th and final session. Louis seemed to share the opinion of almost everyone there: that he had lost his title. Disgusted with his own showing. Louis tried to leave the ring before the verdict was announced and had to be restrained by trainer Mannie Seamon. who had taken over after Jack Blackburn’s death. 

When the split decision was announced in Louis’s  favour. the crowd erupted with boos and jeers. The New York Commission urged Louis to give Walcott a rematch, and he obliged. They met again at Yankee Stadium. New York City, on 25 June 1948, in front of a crowd of  42,557. 

Despite his man’s poor display last time out, Seamon had no doubts about what would happen in the return. ‘Walcott will never lick Louis. he told reporters. ‘He had his chance. The championship was in front of him.’

Again Louis found himself on the floor, from a right in the third round, as Walcott took no chances. The result was a fight so dull that referee Frank Fullam told them during the 10th round. ‘Hey. one of you get the lead out of your ass and lets have a fight: 

In the corner before the start of the Ilth. Seamon told Louis. ‘Go and hit him on the chin. Just get 12 inches away from him, and ‘Then you catch him with the first punch give him everything you have.’ 

Louis did just that. hurting Walcott with a right to the jaw and battering him to the canvas. Walcott was still crawling towards the ropes when Fullam completed his count. Louis announced his retirement after the fight. hut Walcott collected his $153.000 purse and commenced a long-cherished project: to buy a home for each of his surviving brothers and sisters. 

Walcott retained his high ranking and was matched with Ezzard Charles for the title vacated by Louis. or at least the National Boxing Association version of it. Charles was an underrated craftsman. who had been even better as a light-heavyweight. He was still little more than that. weighing only seven pounds above the 12st 7lb limit for the fight with Walcott on 22 June 1949. They fought in the same Chicago ring where Louis had dethroned Braddock 12 years before to the very day. and they drew a gate of $246,546 – the top gross for the year in America. 

Charles concentrated his attacks on the body. while Walcott tried to counter with wild rights. Charles had him on the verge of a knockdown in the seventh. 10th and 11th. but Walcott’s experience saw him through. although Charles forced the tight all the way. When the verdict was announced. Charles’s manager. Jake Mintz. a notoriously theatrical individual, pretended to be so overcome that he ‘collapsed in the corner. When he realized, after a minute or two. that nobody was taking the slightest notice of him. he climbed. somewhat sheepishly. to his feet. 

After losing to Charles. Walcott went to Stockholm to take on one of Europe’s best, Olle Tandberg of Sweden. who had outpointed Joe Baksi after Baksi had broken British champion Bruce Woodcock’s jaw. Walcott knocked Tandberg cold in five rounds. and the Swede was quoted afterwards as saying that. ‘I never knew that a man could hit so hard. That’s enough of boxing for me.’

Jersey Joe battled on in 1950, winning four in a row, including another European trip to beat Hein Tell Hoff in Germany. But the year ended in disappointment when Rex Layne a strong young heavyweight, outpointed Walcott.                                          

JOE TAKES THE FIFTH

Bocchicchio kept trying and secured his fighter an unprecedented fourth title shot. once more against Charles. in Detroit. on 7 March 1951. Although Walcott came close this time, the judges thought otherwise. There was a lot of public sympathy for the perennial challenger, who now had good grounds for claiming that he had twice been robbed of the heavyweight title. Bocchicchio exploited the free publicity for all it was worth and got his man a fifth opportunity, in Pittsburgh. on 18 July. 

Just over 28.000 came to Forbes Field to see if the 37-year-old could defy the years. Bocchicchio thought he could do it. and this time Walcott made no mistake. He had previously relied heavily on his right. but for this fight he concentrated on the left hook, shaking Charles repeatedly, before he threw a perfect left hook which wiped out 21 years of failure and disappointment. Charles crashed face first. then pushed himself onto all fours. As referee Buck McTiernan completed the count. Charles collapsed onto his hack. Walcott was overcome, and the people of Camden honoured their new champion with a parade through the streets on  which he had once collected rubbish bins. 

ROCKY PATH

There was – as was the norm in those days – a return fight. This is the third fight and Walcott’s points victory set up a defence against the most dangerous contender on the scene: Rocky Marciano. The youngster’s trainer. Charley Goldman. had every confidence in his man. ‘There is no doubt in the mind of Marciano or myself that the boy will knock Walcott out.’ he said. ‘Rocky hits too hard, with either hand. to lose to a fighter of Walcott’s age.’

But Walcott had no fears. and even less respect. ‘This will be the easiest championship fight I have had: he said. ‘Marciano is an amateur. He wouldn’t have qualified for Joe Louis’s Bum Of The Month Club.’

Fight promoter Jim Norris wanted the fight to be in New York, where it would draw the biggest gate. but Bocchicchio could not get a licence there because of his criminal record. ‘Walcott doesn’t fight anywhere I can’t be the manager.’ he proclaimed. Bocchicchio got the fight switched to the Municipal Stadium. Philadelphia, on 23 September 1952. and the show was a spectacular success. attracting 40.379 customers. 

UNLUCKY 13 

Halfway through the first round. Walcott dropped Marciano with a left hook for a count of three, and gave him sharp notice that this would be a much harder battle than any he had been in before. The punch raised a swelling under the challenger’s left eye. From the second to the fifth round, Walcott’s counter-punching and trade­mark sideways walkaway’ kept Marciano confused. and there was worse to come.

Cuts man Freddie Brown had been hired that morning to work in Marciano’s corner for the princely fee of $50. ‘Rocky came hack to the corner at the end of the fifth round and explained he couldn’t see: Brown explained. ‘Some solution or something – I never did learn What it was – had gotten into his eyes. He was half-blind. I grabbed the water bucket and washed them out. A couple of rounds later it cleared. but if I had lost my head that night maybe Rocky would have lost the title.’ 

Bocchicchio was accused of rubbing capsicum vaseline, a heat-producing petroleum jelln. into Walcott’s gloves. Marciano. though. insisted that the vaseline was on Walcott’s body, between the neck and shoulders, so that every time they came together it rubbed into his eyes. 

At the start of the 13th. Walcott was ahead on the judges’ cards by 8-4, 7-5 and 7-4-1. Even if he lost the last three rounds, he would still have preserved his title with a majority draw. But, 33 seconds into the 13th. Marciano landed a thunderous right. one of the greatest punches in boxing history, which made Walcott collapse to the floor as if he’d been filleted. He fell, noted the immortal boxing writer A.J. Liebling, like flour down a chute. 

‘I felt the great. deep hurt of losing a fight that was so one-sided: Walcott told Marciano’s biographer years after­wards. ‘No fight that I ever fought did I ever feel better or more confident. But after a few days of thinking it over. I realized that I was fortunate to have had the title and to have lost it to a guy who proved to be a great champion.’

In the dressing room. Bocchicchio told reporters: Joe says he wants the return bout. but talk to him tomorrow and tell him it’s time to retire.’ 

ONE LAST PAYDAY 

It might have been better for Walcott’s reputation if he had clone so, but a rematch was arranged for 10 April 1953 in Chicago. Bocchicchio had done a good deal for his man: Marciano. although champion. earned $166,000 for the rematch. while Walcott’s purse was $250.000. 

The fight was postponed until 15 May after Marciano’s nose was allegedly injured whilst sparring. In fact, he had been looking worse than usual in training and there were strong suspicions that the ‘injury’ was strategic. When it finally took place, the rematch was a flop, with Walcott going down for the count in just two minutes 25 seconds of the opening round. Walcott protested angrily that he had beaten the count. But  to no avail. ‘I didn’t hear the count from one to three,’ he said. Then I heard it from three to seven. but I blacked out between seven and ten. I didn’t hear it at all. .and when I jumped up I couldn’t believe I was counted out. That was my last fight. I told myself that right then I  realized that when you can’t recuperate from a punch it’s time to retire.’ 

Charley Goldman told Marciano: ‘You won your second scrap with Joe in the first fight. Remember Walcott’s age. An old guy like that. taking the punches to the body and head you landed in Philadelphia. was worn down to the point at which he just could not take them again.’ Walcott had reached the same conclusion. and  never fought again. 

JOE’S LAST ROUND 

BELOW: Referee Walcott steps in to restrain world champion Muhammad Ali as title challenger Sonny Liston hits the canvas. Jersey Joe Walcott later worked with juvenile offenders. and maintained an interest in boxing with the occasional refereeing stint. Including  a dreadfully poor performance when in charge of the notorious Muhammad Ali versus Sonny Liston rematch. He also served several terms as the New Jersey State Athletic Commissioner, and was very much a part of the boxing scene until his death, in his adopted home town of Camden, on 26 February 1991.

 

 

 

 

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