FIGHTERS I HAVE HANDLED
As told to George B. Underwood
By World famous Managers, Trainers and Seconds
Joe Walcott, the Giant Killer, as Seen by Tom O'Rourke, Who Discovered and Campaigned Him--Big or Small, They All Looked the Same to the Barbadoes Demon--Settled Debt with Choynski for Dixon.
(Copyrighted by G. B. Underwood.)
--------This is the seventh article of the series on famous figures of the ring as related to America's leading writer of boxing by world's famous managers, trainers and handlers. In previous installments Tom O'Rourke told Mr. Underwood of George Dixon, Joe Humphries of Terry McGovern, Dan McKettrick of Willie Lewis, Jimmy Johnson of Jem Driscoll, Ike Dorgan of Frank Moran and Sam Wallach of Leach Cross. O'Rourke today gives Mr. Underwood his second contribution, telling of Joe Walcott, the Barbadoes Demon. Fistiana greatly is enriched by these personal and intimate glimpses of the ring's greatest heroes. These articles appear in this paper every Sunday.
--------If you had asked any of the great fighters of the old Horton law days, from middleweight up to heavyweight, who was the last man in the world they would like to see in the corner opposite them, it is 100 to 1 that, if they answered truthfully, nine out of ten would reply, Joe Walcott.
Walcott, never more than a welterweight and generally fighting as a lightweight, was the most feared fighter of his time. Under rough and tumble conditions he could whip any man in the world, and under Marquis of Queensberry rules most of them.
I have seen all of the great heavyweights of the last fifty years. There is not one who I would be afraid to send Joe Walcott up against, or one who Joe himself wouldn't fall all over himself to get a crack at. I do not bar Jim Jeffries, either. In fact, Jeffries himself once came to me and said:--
"Tom, I see you are challenging all the heavyweights in behalf of Walcott. Don't include me in that list. It would take me at least ten rounds to size the fellow up rightly and know how to fight him. Even then I would have my troubles with him. He's built like a gorilla and can give and take almost as much punishment as one of them."
You must remember that little Walcott knocked out Joe Choynski in seven rounds shortly after Choynski had fought Jeffries a fierce twenty round draw.
Jeffries said that Choynski hit him the hardest blow he ever was struck, the punch driving the teeth on both jaws through his lips. Jim would have changed his opinion if he had fought Walcott. Joe could hit twice as hard and fast as Choynski.
Proof of the respect and fear with which Walcott was held by the heavyweights of his time was the way they avoided him. I posted a certified cheque for $5,000 with a New York newspaper as a forfeit for Walcott to fight Jim Corbett and Kid McCoy on the same night, allowing Walcott one-half hour's rest in between bouts, Corbett and McCoy to toss up to see which would first tackle the Barbadoes Demon.
Both ignored the offer, despite it would give each a chance to make a big wad of needed money. Corbett came to me later and tried to laugh it off, saying:--
"Why, of course, you didn't mean it, Tom. I understand what it was--great publicity. Why, I would make a monkey out of your gorilla man, and you know it!"
"I know it, eh?" I replied. "What I do know is that money talks and that I have a certified cheque for $5,000 posted with a reputable newspaper guaranteeing that Walcott will whip both you and McCoy on the same night, and I know that neither you nor McCoy can be pulled in the ring with Walcott with a team of horses!"
Rolls Maher in Mud.
They rightly called Joe Walcott the Barbadoes Demon. Joe was only five feet one inch in height, but he was about as broad as he was tall and his gorilla-like arms hung down almost to his knees. He had the reach of a towering six footer and could hit like no man I ever have seen before or since his time, not even excepting Fitzsimmons or Peter Maher.
Walcott, by the way, once rolled Peter Maher all over Coney Island Boulevard. This is how it happened:--
Soon after I brought Walcott to New York I sent him down to Coney Island to help train George Dixon for Little Chocolate's fight with Fred Johnson, the English featherweight champion. Maher came into Dixon's training quarters one day. Joe was curled up on the floor by the fire just like a dog. Maher looked in the door and seeing Joe with his queer bullet shaped head and great arms stretched out there, turned with a grin to me and said:--
"Bedad, Tom, I've a mind to poke him an' see if he's got a tail!"
"Keep away from him, Peter," I warned, "or he'll smear that Irish face of yours all over the map!"
Mind you Walcott was asleep and hadn't heard a word of it. A few days later Maher and his sparring partner encountered Dixon and Walcott on the road. Peter was in high glee and after joshing with Dixon told George he was going to find out whether or not Walcott had a tail hidden under the back of his shirt.
Peter grabbed Joe. Joe grabbed Peter. The next place Peter found himself was on his back in the middle of a puddle, with his own sparring partner on top of him.
Walcott had cross-buttocked Maher down and rolled him in the mud and then had grabbed his sparring partner and flopped him on top of Peter.
Right now, when old Peter tells of it he will exclaim:--
"Begorrah, that naygur Walcott wasn't a man at all--at all! Shure, he was a divil!"
The first time I ever heard of Walcott he was a cook on one of the coast line boats between Boston and the Barbadoes. I had Dixon on a theatrical tour and we were showing in Miner's Theatre on the Bowery. One night George said to me:--
"Tom, there's another little coon up Boston way who can whip his weight in wildcats. He's a cook on one of the coast liners. I saw him at one of the smokers down East and he knocked a fellow twice as big as himself clean over the ropes. My friends tell me he is going to enter next week's amateur boxing and wrestling tournament in Mechanics Building, Boston. You'd better run down and bring him back with you. It'll be worth your while."
I told Dixon I would run down to Boston and look the fellow over, anyway. So the next Thursday I went to Boston to see the final competitions in the amateur tournament.
Walcott Cleans Up.
Walcott was entered in both lightweight and middleweight boxing events and in the lightweight wrestling championship as well.
In the lightweight boxing championship, Walcott fought three men and knocked them all cold. He disposed of two of his middleweight opponents by the knockout route, and then fought a fellow named Kelly in the final to what the judges called a draw. In my mind Walcott was a clear winner.
In between his six boxing bouts he took part in three wrestling bouts and won them all. Joe came out of Mechanics Building that night amateur lightweight champion boxer and wrestler, and with a tie for the middleweight boxing championship as well.
Yes, you're right, I came with him. I knew a good fighter when I saw one, and you bet I was quick to take Walcott under my wing.
Well, I brought Walcott on to New York and made him a member of my Dixon show. He was green and unschooled in boxing, so while I was teaching him the fundamentals of boxing I kept him wrestling nightly with the show, meeting all comers. I boxed regularly with Walcott at the start, just as I had with Dixon, and what he knew of the manly art he learned from me.
While we were in New York the city was plastered with posters telling of a show Jack McAuliffe, the lightweight champion, was to take part in at Madison Square Garden. McAuliffe agreed to meet any three men the public would select and forfeit $500 to any or all whom he failed to stop inside of three rounds.
Walcott, in his strolls around the Bowery, noticed one of the posters. The day of the Garden bouts he came to me and asked if he could go on early at Miner's that night and get away. When I asked him what for, he replied:--
"There's a fellow named McAuliffe who is going to give $500 to any man that stays three rounds. I want to get that $500."
"Don't you want to stay with this show, Joe?" I asked.
He replied that he did.
"Well," I replied, "we want only winners at this show. Don't go fooling around McAuliffe or you'll lose to him and lose your job, too."
"Mister O'Rourke," he replied, "there ain't no man in the world who can knock me out in three rounds!"
That's how confident Walcott was when he first started in the game. I would have let him fight McAuliffe, only I was a mighty good friend of Jack's and didn't want to crab his game. We were making good with the show and there was plenty of money in sight without interfering with McAuliffe.
Later, Jack came down to Miner's to see our show, and after seeing Walcott in action acknowledged to me that Walcott could kill him. Jack said he himself could whip any man of his weight in the world, but that Walcott was more of a gorilla than he was a man.
A Stalking Horse.
To show you how cagey McAuliffe was, let me tell you how he sidetracked Austin Gibbons. Gibbons had fought McAuliffe in a short bout once and given Jack a tough go. Jack didn't want to meet Austin again. McAuliffe then was tied up with Judge Murphy, the power behind the throne at the Palace A. C., of Coney Island. The public wanted McAuliffe to take on Gibbons there. McAuliffe said he was willing, but that Gibbons first must meet Joe Walcott. The rather unsuspecting Gibbons agreed to a match with Walcott, and Joe knocked him out in three rounds.
Then when Gibbons' supporters again tried to arrange a McAuliffe-Gibbons bout McAuliffe sneeringly exclaimed:--
"What! Me, the lightweight champion, fight a man whom O'Rourke's green coon knocked out in three rounds? Nothing doing! Let Gibbons go out and make a reputation and earn the right to fight me!"
After the Gibbons-Walcott fight Joe accompanied us on the road with the Dixon show. We hit a town in Pennsylvania. Our posters advertised that Dixon agreed to stop any one or forfeit $50.
When the show opened that night a big, brawny 190 pound miner stepped on the stage to answer Dixon's challenge.
I told him Dixon was only a bantam and that our offer stood only for men of his weight.
The miner replied that our advertising poster did not stipulate any weight and called for us to make good our advertisement. He was a local favorite and the house was with him, loudly declaring Dixon must make good.
I stepped to the front of the stage and started in telling the crowd that it wasn't right to compel the bantamweight champion to risk injury at the hands of a heavyweight, but the crowd howled me down. I raised my hand for silence and then declared:--
"All right, Dixon will fight him! But first let your man go on with another little colored fellow here with our show. He only weighs 130 pounds, but he will fight your man. If you man beats this chap then your big fellow can fight Dixon."
"Don't go on with the dub!" yelled some of the crowd to their representative. "Fight the champion, Dixon, or no one!"
Finally, after a long confab and upon my firm insistence that the heavyweight fight Walcott first the heavyweight sneeringly consented to go on with Walcott.
"Those white folks think I'm a dub, eh?" muttered Walcott as we were putting on the gloves. "I'll show 'em!"
He certainly did "show 'em." Joe walked right out of his corner and buried the big fellow under a swirling shower of lefts and rights. One of Joe's rights thudded home to the jaw in the first minute's fighting and knocked the fellow out for a good half hour.
"Well, I'm glad I didn't fight Dixon," groaned the big miner, after we finally brought him around. "If I had fought the champion he probably would have killed me!"
The one big thing the public goes wrong in as regards professional boxing is that, like that Pennsylvania miner, they generally figure on the name rather than the man. That is why a champion almost invariably enters the ring a heavy favorite.
Great Fight with Lavigne.
Probably the most talked of fight in the history of American boxing was Walcott's famous go with Kid Lavigne at Maspeth, L. I. Lavigne, lightweight champion at the time, finally agreed to a match with Walcott provided the weights be 133 pounds at three P. M. The agreement was that Walcott should stop Lavigne inside fifteen rounds or forfeit the purse.
While Joe could shave down to the lightweight limit and still be strong at that time he could not reduce to 133 pounds without suffering from stomach cramps. Three times, when he was training for Lavigne, we had to go out and carry Joe home off the road because of his collapsing with the cramps.
Walcott and Lavigne weighed in for their fight in the Turkish baths at the corner of Broome street and the Bowery. Walcott weighed 131½ pounds and Lavigne 132½ pounds.
There is no need rehearsing that fight to you or your readers. Who hasn't heard of it--the fiercest, bloodiest, closest waged combat in the history of the roped square? Both Lavigne and Walcott fought like wildcats from the opening gong. They were both game as bulldogs and could hit like triphammers and withstand all kinds of punishment.
At the end of the sixth round little Dixon, who was assisting me in seconding Walcott, told Joe that he wasn't giving everything he had, but he better do it or he would lose our money. "If you don't knock him out quickly," warned George, "you're liable to get the cramps and he'll whip you!"
"I can lick him any time I want," boasted Walcott. "I'll cut loose and knock him out in a round or so."
But when Walcott came to his corner at the end of the seventh he was seized with the cramps. They attacked him so bad that he couldn't sit down, but stood up and grasped the ring ropes while we kneaded and massaged him.
During the last eight rounds of the Lavigne fight Walcott suffered continually with those cramps. Those who attended the mill thought his standing up between rounds was mere braggadocio. They little knew what agony Joe really was in.
That was the big reason why Lavigne was on his feet at the end of the fifteenth round. The white boy put up a wonderful battle, and I don't want to take any credit away from him. But if Walcott had not been seized with those cramps Joe would have stopped Lavigne inside the distance.
When I started talking of Walcott I told you how he knocked out Joe Choynski in seven rounds not very long after Choynski had gone twenty rounds to a draw with Jeffries. I was eight years arranging that match between Walcott and Choynski.
How It All Started.
It all started the night of the Dixon-Skelly match during the three day carnival attending the Sullivan-Corbett fight at New Orleans, in 1892.
Choynski then was managed by Parson Davies, a very close and intimate friend of mine. Skelly offered Joe $75 to second him against Dixon. Choynski induced Davies to come to me and asked if I would have any objections to Choynski going behind Skelly against my man Dixon. I replied that I had not, for Dixon would annihilate Skelly, no matter who was in Jack's corner, and I was glad that Choynski had the chance to pick up $75.
Well, when Dixon and Skelly came to ring centre for instructions from Mr. Duffy, the referee, that night, Choynski, in a voice that could plainly be heard throughout the hall, grabbed the referee by the arm and said:--
"Mr. Duffy, you'll have to watch this fellow, Dixon, closely, tonight, for he's a very foul fighter!"
Dixon almost turned white at that utterly unwarranted accusation. Stepping up to Choynski he asked:--
"Joe, did you ever see me fight?"
"No," Choynski grudgingly acknowledged.
"No, you never have seen me fight," responded Little Chocolate, "and you, nor no one else, ever has seen me foul. There is not a foul against me in all my record. Yet you step up before this hostile Southern audience, who already has protested against a negro like myself meeting a white man, and further inflame them against me by making me out as a foul fighter!
"Jack Skelly himself has seen me fight many times. He knows my record fully. I know Jack Skelly is man enough and honest enough for him to truthfully tell whether by act or reputation I am a foul fighter."
And to Skelly's credit Jack truthfully declared:--
"Mr. Duffy, my opponent is as clean a boxer as there is in the ring!"
I was boiling with rage at Choynski's accusation. Holding myself in as best I could, I told Choynski:--
"Choynski, you came crawling to me and asked if I had any objections to letting you second Skelly, so you could make $75. I told you, all right! and that I was glad to have you. Now in return for it you try to inflame this Southern crowd against this little negro boy.
"Let me tell you, Choynski, I'm going to make you pay for this! I've got another little coon named Walcott under my wing and he's going to fight you and give you the worst beating you ever had. Unless you deliberately lay down and quit he'll play with you as a cat would with a mouse before he knocks you out. You'll regret this baiting of Dixon to your dying day when Walcott gets through with you!"
It was eight long years before I could inveigle Choynski into the ring with Walcott, however. Parson Davies naturally steered him clear of the match. The Parson knew fighters well enough to know what Walcott would do to Choynski. Finally, however, Davies broke with Choynski and Joe lost the advice and instructions of that splendid handler of fighters. I had an interest in the Broadway A.C. here in New York and I offered Choynski a match with Walcott and he accepted it. That, mind you, was eight years after the episode at New Orleans.
Settling the Debt.
Choynski came on here from California to train for Walcott. The betting was 5 to 1, with Choynski favorite. The talent couldn't see what chance little Walcott had against the man who fought Jim Jeffries a fierce twenty round draw.
I took one bet from Al Smith, the well known sporting man of that time, of $1,000 to $200. Walcott weighed 135 pounds and Choynski 175 pounds, you must remember.
Well, in the first round Walcott knocked Choynski down seven times. Each time Referee Charlie White gave Choynski the benefit of the count. It was shortly after the McCoy-Choynski fight, in which Choynski's supporters claimed that White had given Choynski a fast count. Old Good Eye gave Choynski no chance to claim a quick count in the Walcott match. He dragged out the count each time.
Every time that Walcott would floor Choynski in the first round of that fight, John L. Sullivan, who was seconding the Californian, would tumble down off the ring platform, thinking the fight was over, and start for the dressing room. John L. had to jump down, turn around and jump back again almost a dozen times before Walcott finally knocked Choynski out in the seventh round.
Joe Walcott paid Joe Choynski back in full that night for the trick Choynski attempted to pull on poor little Dixon in New Orleans eight years before.
The only man approaching Walcott's weight who could give Joe a real fight when Joe was right was Mysterious Billy Smith, a real fighter and one of the great champions of the ring. Joe beat Billy frequently, but the battles always were close and fiercely fought.
Before one of their fights, Smith sent word to Joe that he was going to bite his ears off.
"Never mind, Joe," I joshed, when he told me of it, "if he bites your ears off he will be disqualified and lose the fight anyway."
"Huh!" snorted Joe. "Ah druver lose all the fights in the worl', Mister O'Rourke, than to lose mah ears!"
Under the greatest fighting physique any man ever boasted Walcott had the brain and feelings of a child. Physically and anatomically speaking, however, what a fighter, what a truly wonderful fighter he really was! There never was a man of his poundage his equal and I doubt if there ever will be.