Saturday, June 25, 2022
Black History: Two great fighters of the same name
By Jason Lewis (Sports Editor)
Published May 18, 2011

5’1” Barbados Joe Walcott coined the phrase “the bigger they are the harder they fall.”

Jersey Joe Walcott became the oldest man to win the heavyweight title in 1951 when he was 37 years old.  He held that distinction until 1994, when George Forman won the title at the age of 45.


By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
[email protected]

Joe Walcott won the welterweight title in 1901 when he defeated James “Rub” Ferris by TKO in the 5th round. 

Joe Walcott went on to win the heavyweight championship when he knocked out Ezzard Charles in 1951, becoming the oldest man, at the time, to win the heavyweight title.

They were not the same fighter.  The welterweight was Barbados Joe Walcott, and the heavyweight was Jersey Joe Walcott. 

Barbados Joe was born in 1873 in Demerara, British Guyana, which was the name of the British colony on the northern coast of South America, now the independent nation of Guyana. 

As a young man Walcott wanted to see the world, so he obtained a job as a cabin boy on a ship sailing to Boston.  He made residence there and worked as a piano mover, porter, and he held other odd jobs before working at a boxing gym. 


Walcott picked up the sport and soon afterward became a professional. 

The 5’1” tall Walcott was very short in stature, but “The Barbados Demon” defeated many fighters who outweighed him by a considerable amount.  He has been credited for coining the phrase, “the bigger they are the harder they fall.”

After an unsuccessful try to win the lightweight title in 1897 and the welterweight title in 1898, Walcott knocked out Ferns in the fifth round, which gave him the welterweight crown in 1901. 

In 1904 Walcott defended his title against Dixie Kid. He was winning the fight handily when the referee disqualified Walcott for no apparent reason in the 20th round. The match was disregarded as a title bout when it was discovered that the referee had bet on Kid to win the match.     

Walcott’s days as a champion ended in an unusual way.  In 1904 he accidentally shot himself in the hand during a New Year’s celebration.  He returned to the ring in 1906, but he was not the same fighter, and he lost his welterweight title.  He continued to fight, but he lost numerous fights before retiring. 

Walcott has been rated as one of the greatest welterweights of all time, and in 2003 he was included in the Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. 

Jersey Joe Walcott was born in Merchantville, New Jersey, as Arnold Cream in 1914.  His parents were Barbados immigrants, and his idol was Barbados Joe Walcott, which was why Jersey Joe Walcott took the name. 

Jersey Joe Walcott had a long road to the heavyweight title, and it took him numerous tries before he won it. 

In 1947, Walcott fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title.  At the time Walcott was 33 years old, making him the oldest man ever to fight for that title.

Walcott knocked Louis down in the first and fourth rounds, but he lost a 15 round split decision.  Most ringside observers and boxing writers thought that Walcott won the fight, so there was a rematch in 1948.  This time there was no controversy, as Louis knocked out Walcott in the 11th round.

Walcott did not give up on his dreams of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. 

After losing a pair of 15 round decisions to Ezzard Charles for the championship in 1948 and March of 1951, Walcott defeated Charles in July of 1951 with a seventh round knockout, making him the oldest man to win the heavyweight title at the age of 37. 

Walcott held that distinction until 1994, when George Forman won the title at the age of 45.

After defeating Charles again to retain his title, Walcott fought Rocky Marciano in 1952.  Walcott held a comfortable lead, but he was knocked out by Marciano in the 13th round.  In the rematch in 1953, Walcott was knocked out by Marciano in the first round.

After Walcott hung up the gloves, he costarred with Humphrey Bogart and Max Baer in the boxing drama The Harder They Fall.

Walcott refereed the controversial world heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. Walcott lost the count as Ali circled around a floored Liston and Walcott tried to get him back to a neutral corner. Then Walcott looked outside the ring (presumably to the ringside count keeper) as Ali and Liston went at each other before Walcott instructed them to keep on fighting, then Walcott approached the fighters and abruptly stopped the fight. Walcott would never be appointed as a referee after this bout. It should be said, however, that most of the controversy surrounding this fight had nothing to do with Walcott, as this was the famous fight with the “phantom punch”.


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