Joe Walcott, The Barbados
“The Bigger They Are The Harder They
By MONTE D. COX
Cox's Corner Profiles
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
McCallum wrote (p. 194), “Walcott was
something of a physical freak. Despite his size, he had the stamina of a
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Visit Cox's Corner
The Ringside Boxing Show's
2008 "Best Historic Website"