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Cox's Corner Profiles




Joe Walcott, The Barbados Demon...“The Bigger They Are The Harder They Fall.”

By: Monte D. Cox

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      It was Joe Walcott, the Barbados Demon, welterweight champion of the world from 1901-1904, who actually coined the phrase "the bigger they are the harder they fall." Bob Fitzsimmons certainly popularized the saying before he faced Jim Jeffries, but it was Walcott who first said it. The phrase belonged to Walcott, who despite his short stature was extremely successful against much larger and heavier opponents. He had fantastic stamina and durability as well as a proven punch. A natural welterweight, he was one of the greatest "pound for pound" fighters in boxing history and fought men weighing from lightweight to heavyweight during his career.

      Joe Walcott, the "original", had the power to beat heavyweights; in fact he scored a first round kayo over 180 pound Tom McCarthy fairly early in his career. Walcott fought a number of other light heavyweights and heavyweights. Walcott's manager, Tom O'Rourke, also handled heavyweight contender Sailor Tom Sharkey, whom some historians compare favorably to Rocky Marciano. Sharkey twice went the distance with heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries. O'Rourke once stated, (Fleischer, p. 198-199), "I had to stop Walcott from sparring with the sailor because Joe dumped him on his ear one afternoon in the gym." Walcott hit hard enough to knock out heavyweights. Can one picture modern welterweights such as Delahoya, Trinidad or even Ray Robinson ko'ing a 180 plus pounder? Robinson ventured up to light heavyweight once, running out of gas against Joey Maxim. He never again moved beyond the middleweight limit.

     Walcott often gave weight to opponents and came out victorious. For one of his fights against Dick O'Brien, considered one of the best fighters of his weight, The Aug. 28, 1895 Boston Herald reported "Walcott, according to Tom O'Rourke, weighed 138 pounds, against O'Brien's 150 pounds. This ordinarily would be considered a great handicap. Few fighters would care to give away a dozen pounds. But so certain was O'Rourke that his man would win that he waived the weight." Walcott knocked out O'Brien in 2 minutes and 25 seconds of the first round.

     The Aug, 28, 1895 Police News stated, "Walcott now surpasses any of our welterweights, unless it be (Mysterious) Billy Smith, in the telling execution of a single blow. I do not see how he is to be beaten by any foeman who will give him hit for hit. Any man except a very big man whom he gets his right hand on to fairly and squarely isn't coming up for much more. Walcott in his dumpy, dwarf monitor build, his hardness of flesh, his power of punching and the small surface he offers for return hits, is in a class by himself-different from anything else in the field."

      McCallum wrote (p. 194), “Walcott was something of a physical freak. Despite his size, he had the stamina of a bull.”

      The National Police Gazette Oct 27, 1894, supports this view “His neck is 18 inches and his chest expanded is 41 inches, which is remarkable for a man of his weight”

      The April 20, 1895 Gazette described Walcott’s power thusly, “His delivery was terrific having the force of a pile driver.” One blow from Walcott was said to be equal “to five” of his opponent’s.

      Nat Fleischer called Walcott, (Black Dynamite Vol 3. p 196), "a sawed off Hercules, an abnormally powerful puncher." He also said, "Men who fought him were sorely handicapped...for all his opponents were taller, and their blows usually landed on his shoulders or on top of his granite skull. Probably more men ruined their hands on Walcott than on any other scrapper of that day."

      Walcott was widely recognized as the best welterweight in the world long before he won the title. The Jan. 11, 1902 Police Gazette stated, "From a techincal standpoint three or four fighters have been recognized as welterweight champion, but it was apparent to men who have knowledge of prize ring affairs that they only held that tile on sufferance because of an obvious desire to avoid meeting with a black man who was conceded to be their superior." Walcott won the championship on a fifth round stoppage of Rube Fern in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Gazette reported that Walcott turned "Fern into a jelly in five rounds."

      Such was Walcott's reputation as a fierce puncher that he claimed in newspaper reports that "Since no welterweight or middleweight will fight me I am compelled to go to the next class. Will any heavyweights fight me?" See Police Gazette Oct 13, 1900. Walcott issued challenges to Tom Sharkey, Gus Ruhlin and even champion Jim Jeffies, though they all declined to meet him in the ring.

      Some claim Walcott's record is spotty. Research by Tracy Callis puts his record at 96-24-24 (62 Ko's) with 22 ND and 3 NC. Most however fail to realize that the many of his losses came after Walcott severely injured his right hand in a gun accident in late 1904. Initial news reports, such as the Oct 18, 1904 Philadelphia Record indicated that his hand might have to be amputated, although his hand was saved Walcott wasn't same fighter after this, and in fact he did not fight again for two years.

      In his 15 round fight against Jack Bonner the Gazette reported that "Barbados Demon shows his ability to fight faster than ever." He fought at a fast pace throwing many punches and only the final bell saved Bonner from certain knockout defeat.

      Walcott also had a good number of unrecorded fights. The Police Gazette reported, “While on the road he knocked out at least 100 men. Among the high-class men he has beaten are Dick O’Brien, Mike Walsh, Mike Harris, and Tom Tracy of Australia.”

      Some of his losses were actually wins where he was the victim of bad decisions because he was a black fighter. A number of his draws are rather dubious too. SEE BELOW for an example

      Apr 20 Jim Watts New York, NY D 4

      "Walcott pounded Watts and floored him repeatedly during the first three rounds; In round four Watts went down to avoid being knocked out; While he was on the floor, Walcott struck him lightly on the jaw; Watts was down for at least twenty seconds; The crowd called for a foul; Referee Richard Roche knew Walcott was clearly winning and Watts was going down deliberately; He ordered the men to continue; Watts would not; So, he called it a draw." --Research by Tracy Callis.

      Welterweight Walcott actually had a remarkable record:

      One of Walcott's greatest victories was against Joe Choynski. Choyinski had gone 28 rounds against Jim Corbett, and drew with the likes of Bob Fitzsimmons and Al "Kid" MCcoy and would knock out a young Jack Johnson the following year. Choyinski outweighed Walcott 173 to 137 pounds and was a 5-1 favorite to beat the game little Walcott. The "Barbados Demon" demonstrated his impressive punching power by flooring Choyinski several times in the first round and gave the latter a terrific beating before stopping him in the 7th round.

      Tommy West was a pretty good middleweight who had fought 17 rounds with Tommy Ryan for the middleweight title, and Walcott clearly dominated him, winning three times, once by ko, with 1 decision loss, 1 draw, and 1 ND.

      Walcott also fought a draw with middleweight (and future light heavyweight champion) Philadelphia Jack O'Brien over 10 rounds.

      Walcott beat a number of other top middleweights including Jack Bonner, Kid Carter, George Cole, and the ever-durable Joe Grim.

      Walcott fought light-heavyweight champ George Gardner twice, winning once by 20 round decision and losing by the same. He also defeated light-heavyweight Young Peter Jackson. One wonders whether modern era welterweight champions would have success against the reigning light-heavyweight champion if their opponents weighed in at 175?

      Mysterious Billy Smith was a very dirty fighter. In fact he lost 10 times on fouls. Smith was good enough to win the welterweight championship, and once beat Tommy Ryan, flooring him three times in the process, (it was ruled a NC because the police intervened when they saw Ryan was about to be ko'd). Smith also had a knockout over Kid Lavigne. Walcott and Smith fought numerous times with Walcott proving to be the much better fighter, winning 3 times, twice by Ko, with 2 draws, and one loss by decision.

      Walcott's only significant losses were to George "Kid" Lavigne, and Dixie Kid. His fights against Lavigne were "handicap" bouts where, because of contractual agreements, Walcott was forced to come in greatly under his normal weight. Walcott, a natural welter because of his brawny build, trained down to 136 for the first fight which he lost on a 15 round decision. He had to "kill himself" to make the weight and was physically drained before the fight started. The second fight was for Lavigne's World Lightweight title, which means Walcott had to weigh 133 pounds (then the lightweight limit) on the day of the fight. Walcott had no strength and faded badly in losing by 12th round Tko. The loss to Dixie Kid is significant because Walcott lost the title, though by foul in the 20th round.

      Sam Langford was already a great fighter by the time Walcott fought him to a draw. It was only two years later that Langford was able to go 15 rounds with future heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, and went on to become the most feared fighter in the world, knocking out nearly all the top heavyweights.

      Three weeks after fighting Langford, Walcott fought lightweight champ Joe Gans to a draw. That is the equivalent of Delahoya fighting Felix Trinidad and the winner facing Shane Mosley within a month. Two weeks later Walcott badly injured his right hand in the aforementioned gun accident, yet he still was able to defeat many top fighters.

      Walcott was just under 5' 2", and never weighed more than 148 pounds. His long reach and Herculean physique gave him tremendous power. He had great durability that allowed him to absorb the kind of punishment that would have finished most fighters.

      He was also an accomplished boxer who studied and learned from the likes of George Dixon and Bob Fitzsimmons. His success against men of much higher weights leads one to believe that no modern welterweight could have gone the 20 round distance with him.

     Perhaps the Chicago Herald-Examiner wrote a fitting epitaph on Aug 22, 1932 when Joe was hospitalized with a heart attack, "Some veteran boxing experts rate Walcott as the greatest fighter of his weight the ring ever knew. Only a "heavy" lightweight, Walcott earned the sobriquet "Giant Killer" by the easy manner in which he topped light heavyweights and heavyweights."

      Joe died on Oct. 4, 1935 after being struck by a car in Manssillon, Ohio.

      Both Nat Fleischer and Charley Rose rated Joe Walcott the # 1 all time welterweight. Walcott finished # 4 in the 2005 IBRO (International Boxing Research Organization) poll of its members. Cox's Corner considers him among the top 5 all time welterweights.


References:

Fleischer, Nat. 1938. Black Dynamite Vol. 3. The Three Colored Aces. Ring Athletic Library Book No. 16. C.J. O’Brien Inc. NYC

McCallum, John. 1975 Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions. Chilton Book Co. Radnor, Pa.

Steinberg, Arne. 1999. Historian. Private e-mail correspondence.

University of Illinois NEX Newspaper Library.

Record provided by Barry Deskins based on research by Tracy Callis. Mr. Deskins also provided some research materials.

Thanks to Chuck Hasson and Dan Cuoco for providing research material.

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