|JERSEY JOE WALCOTT |
and FELIX BOCCHICCHIO
Walcott fought for the heavyweight championship eight times between 1947 and 1953. He lost gamely in the immortal Joe Louis’s final two title defenses. He split four remarkable bouts with Ezzard Charles—losing twice, then winning once to claim the title and once more to defend it. Then he was defeated in a spirited battle with Rocky Marciano.
Walcott’s performance against Marciano earned him a rematch eight months later, in the latter’s first title defense.
It was May 15, 1953. Marciano, 29, had enjoyed a relentless climb through the ranks of pretenders and contenders since donning the gloves only five years before. Though he was small for a heavyweight at 184½ pounds, the son of a Brockton, Massachusetts, shoemaker was a devastating puncher who had won all 43 of his fights, 38 by knockout. He had knocked Louis out of the ring altogether in one of the great man’s unfortunate comeback attempts.
Walcott came into the rematch at 197¾ pounds. Officially he was 39 years old, but he had confessed to more than that two years earlier. Briefly considering retirement after his second loss to Charles, Walcott had said, “You can tell them the truth; I am 41.” So he might have been 43 when he clambered into the ring to face Marciano. Either way, he was the oldest man to hold the heavyweight title until 45-year-old George Foreman in 1994.
For the first two minutes, Walcott appeared a bit gun shy. He well remembered the straight right to the jaw with which Marciano had knocked him out in the 13th round of their previous fight. This time, Marciano tried a different tack. He threw a roundhouse left hook that dazed Walcott, then followed with a withering right uppercut before Jersey Joe knew what hit him. “It wasn’t a crushing knockdown,” A.J. Liebling wrote, “the kind that leaves the recipient limp, like a wet hat, or jerky, like a new-caught flatfish. This appeared to be a sit-down-and-think-it-over knockdown, such as you might see in any barroom on a night of full moon.”
With hundreds of late-arriving fans still searching for their seats and television viewers rummaging through their refrigerators, ring announcer Ben Bentley hoisted Marciano’s hand in the air at 2:25 of the first round.
Walcott and his manager, Felix Bocchicchio, maintained that referee Frank Sikora had quick counted. “Gentlemen,” Bocchicchio said, “I never saw no robbery equal to this tonight.”
“I could’ve gotten up at two,” said Walcott, “but I was looking at Felix and he told me to stay down. I never heard the referee count past seven. It’s the most ridiculous thing I ever seen.” Many fans agreed that they hadn’t heard Sikora count to ten, but that was not unusual considering the terrific din inside the Stadium. Moreover, Walcott had remained on the seat of his pants, making no move to get up even after Sikora finished counting him out. “I was surprised he didn’t get up,” Marciano commented matter-of-factly.
Actually, few did get up after Rocky tagged them. Marciano defended his title five more times, winning four by knockout, then retired undefeated at the age of 32. There was no one left for him to fight.
Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert.