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Whereabouts Unknown, but Quite Dead: The Sad Saga of Barbados Joe Walcott

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The birth date of many antiquarian fighters is in dispute. Joe Walcott, whose name was adopted by a man who went on to win the world heavyweight title, is no exception. Named the greatest welterweight of all time by Nat Fleischer, Walcott was born on April 7, 1872 or March 13, 1873 depending on the source. But what’s unusual about Walcott is that even the date of his death is uncertain. Some say Oct. 1, 1935 and others pinpoint Oct. 4 of that year. Both dates are approximations.

Walcott was born in Guyana and spent his formative years in Barbados before arriving in Boston in his mid-teens. He supposedly arrived as a cabin boy on a ship and was marooned after overstaying his shore leave. When he took up boxing, he was working as an elevator operator or a piano mover. Again, reports differ. Regardless, Boston became his home and he remained in the Boston area for all but a few of the last years of his life.

As boxers go, Walcott was a freak of nature. He stood only five-foot-one-and-a-half, was barrel-chested with virtually no neck, and had extremely long arms. He held the welterweight title for the better part of four years beginning in 1901, but would be best remembered for conquering men much bigger than he.

Walcott was a stablemate of George “Little Chocolate” Dixon, a man who in his prime was rated the best pure boxer in the sport. When George Dixon hit the vaudeville circuit between important engagements, as was the custom for an important fighter in those days, the Barbados Demon, as he was called, often accompanied him, either serving as his valet or boxing a local man, perhaps a plant in the audience, in a bout with a short ceiling, customarily four rounds. On those occasions when he and Dixon were both “taking on all comers,” the audience got a doubleheader. Walcott also frequently worked as Dixon’s second, working alongside their manager Tom O’Rourke, and would become a frequent sparring partner of the famous heavyweight Sailor Tom Sharkey after Sharkey came east and joined the O’Rourke stable.

The wily and politically-connected O’Rourke handled mostly black fighters and had enough juice to match the best of them with good white fighters during an era when interracial fights were banned in many places, ostensibly because they were tinderboxes of racial discord.

Walcott’s signature win was a seventh-round stoppage of Joe Choynski. They met in New York on February 23, 1900.

Walcott knocked him down five times in the opening round and kept up a steady assault until the referee halted the massacre. This was the same Joe Choynski who had fought a 20-round draw with James J. Jeffries, then the reigning world heavyweight champion, and would soon KO the formidable up-and-comer Jack Johnson.

Like so many of Walcott’s fights, his match with Choynski, a super middleweight by today’s taxonomy, was fought at catchweight; Barbados Joe was out-weighed by 16 pounds. By Walcott’s standards, this wasn’t a large deficit. The following year he went out to San Francisco and scored a 20-round decision over George Gardner, a man who would come to be recognized as the world’s light heavyweight champion. According to the San Francisco Call, the crowd laughed when the fighters were brought to center ring to get their instructions from the referee. Gardner was the taller man by 11 inches.

Folks also laughed when Walcott fought Fred Russell in Chicago. Russell weighed 215.

We have heard of fighters landing an uppercut of such ferocity that their opponent is lifted off the ground. Joe Walcott turned this image upside-down. It was written that his feet were six inches off the ground when he toppled Fred Russell with a smash to the jaw. From that point on, Russell fought timidly, lasting the six-round distance which, by prearrangement, earned him a draw.

“Walcott,” said Tom O’Rourke in a 1903 interview, “was one of the hardest men to manage I ever had. He did not want to train, but was so strong that it did not make much difference… He could take an amount of punishment that would have sent a white man to the hospital for repairs.”

Walcott had then broken free of O’Rourke although they would reconcile. Declaring his independence was a bold move on Walcott’s part as O’Rourke was a hard-boiled guy with pals in the underworld. “Somewhere in New York there is an extremely black and squat negro who, if the truth were known, probably is in mortal terror of his life,” said a story in a Connecticut paper.

Walcott crammed 138 documented fights into a career spread across 19 years. (He missed all of 1905 after accidentally shooting himself in the hand in October of the previous year). Typical of all great boxers, he hung on too long, winning only five of his last 21 fights. But he left the sport in good shape financially, or so it was written. A family man, he owned a nice cottage on a good-sized piece of land in the Boston suburb of Malden, Massachusetts. But his marriage unraveled and whatever savings he had eventually evaporated.

In 1932, he worked as a porter at Yankee Stadium, switching to Madison Square Garden when the weather turned cool. On the side he taught boxing at a boys’ club and refereed some informal amateur bouts. He then resided in the unheated basement of the home of a brother who had a small Manhattan ice and coal business. (An interview of Barbados Joe Walcott from 1932 surfaced last December on YouTube. The rare video is from the collection of Steve Lott, the protégé of Mike Tyson’s late co-manager Bill Cayton who once owned the largest collection of rare fight films in the world. In the video, Walcott talks about his bouts with Choynski and Kid Lavigne and talks in general terms about the current crop of fighters: “Sometimes the boys box so bad I get a little disgusted…You can’t tell ‘em anything because they know more than you.” The video is a wonderful artifact.)

Inevitably, the life story of Barbados Joe Walcott intrigued some folks in Hollywood. That is why Walcott headed west in the fall of 1935 with a man who identified himself as a theatrical agent. A studio executive was interested in talking with Joe about a potential biopic.

Somewhere in Ohio the two became separated. Walcott was last seen in the town of Mansfield. “He came to the police station one night (and told me) his partner was sick,” said the Mansfield Chief of Police. “He wanted to know where the colored section of town was located, and I asked him if he had money for a room. I directed him to the district when he told me he could pay for his lodging. I know he was down there for a couple or three days.”

The disappearance of Joe Walcott, perhaps the greatest welterweight ever, didn’t set off any alarms. He and his associate reportedly left his sister’s house in Philadelphia on Sept. 7. The quotes from the Mansfield Chief of Police ran in the Mansfield News Journal on Dec. 12.  Three months later, on March 7, 1936, this headline appeared in the Baltimore Afro-American: “Joe Walcott Still Missing After 6 Months.”

Back in early October of 1935, a man with no identification was found dead by the side of the road near Massillon, Ohio, 55 miles from Mansfield. An examination of the body indicated that he had been hit by a car. The man was buried in an unmarked grave in Dalton, Wayne County, Ohio. Ultimately it was determined that the decedent was Joe Walcott.

Walcott’s tombstone now reads “Joe Walcott, World’s Champion, 1872-1935.” It’s a nice simple memorial, but doesn’t begin to tell the story of Joe Walcott, the Barbados Demon. The little giant, as he was sometimes referenced, was a remarkable man.

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Weekend Boxing Recap: Okolie in Manchester, Ramirez in Fresno and More

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The media room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was as underpopulated as North Dakota this weekend. Only a handful of America’s A-list boxing writers attended the Benavidez-Plant card. Prominent wordsmiths like Kevin Iole, Mike Coppinger, and Dan Rafael were nowhere to be found.

Inside the boxing arena, however, the joint was full. One guesses that the Grand Garden was configured to hold 13,865 as that was the announced attendance and there didn’t appear to be an empty seat in the house. And the attendees arrived earlier than was the norm for a major Las Vegas fight card. The high rollers that arrive fashionably late (if there were any) were vastly out-numbered by true boxing fans, primarily Mexican-American on this particular occasion, who left the show in good spirits after Arizona-born David Benavidez, the self-styled Mexican Monster, manhandled brave but out-gunned Caleb Plant.

There were notable fights elsewhere on Saturday. Across the pond in Manchester, England, Lawrence Okolie, widely regarded as the sport’s best cruiserweight, won a lopsided decision over Australia’s David Light, advancing his record to 19-0 while successfully defending his WBO world title belt.

Okolie (pictured) was making his first start in 13 months. In the interim, he ditched his promoter Eddie Hearn in favor of Ben Shalom and ditched his trainer Shane McGuigan in favor of SugarHill Steward.

He and McGuigan appeared to be a great fit. With McGuigan in his corner, he was 7-0 with six wins inside the distance. His initial foray under Steward was a dull fight reminiscent of some of Okolie’s early efforts. He had a point deducted for excessive clinching but it was a moot point as Okolie breezed, winning by scores of 119-108, 117-110, and 116-112. Light was 20-0 heading in, but was sorely outclassed.

By all accounts, the Okolie-McGuigan divorce was an amicable split. Okolie trained for this bout in Miami and McGuigan had too much on his plate to accompany Okolie to the Sunshine State.

Okolie appears headed toward a domestic showdown with fellow Londoner Richard Riakporhe who is also unbeaten (16-0, 12 KOs). Physically, these two late-bloomers, both of whom stand six-foot-five, are virtual clones. A bigger fight for him would be a match with IBF belt-holder Jai Opetaia, the lineal cruiserweight champion, who is still recovering from the two broken jaws he suffered while de-throning long-reigning 200-pound champion Maris Briedis in a fight that will live long in Australian boxing lore.

The Okolie-Light undercard was cheesy including a BBBofC super featherweight title fight between Michael Gomez Jr and Levi Giles, two fighters who built their records on the backs of professional losers. Gomez won a split decision. Also, 31-year-old heavyweight Frazer Clarke, a bronze medalist in the Tokyo Olympics, improved to 6-0 (5) at the expense of Romania’s Bogdan Dinu, a late sub who performed about as expected, retiring on his stool after two rounds.

Fresno

The Benavidez-Plant card went head-to-head with a Top Rank show in Fresno featuring local fan favorite Jose Carlos Ramirez. It was the second fight back for Ramirez after losing a close decision to Josh Taylor with all four 140-pound belts on the line and his first fight in 13 months. In the opposite corner was former world lightweight titlist Richard Commey, a 36-year-old Ghanaian.

Ramirez came out like gangbusters and hurt Commey in the opening minute. But Commey survived the onslaught and came back to win some of the middle rounds. In round 11, Ramirez closed the show. After decking Commey with a right hand that didn’t appear to be particularly hurtful, he delivered a vicious left hook to the liver and Commey was counted out while taking a knee.

fresno

Ramirez improved to 28-1 with his 18th knockout. His promoter Bob Arum is expected to rekindle negotiations with Regis Prograis who won the vacant WBC 140-pound diadem in November with an 11th round stoppage of Jose Zepeda. Commey (30-5-1) has lost three of his last five.

In the co-feature, East LA’s Seniesa Estrada picked up a second world title belt at 105 pounds with a lopsided decision over Germany’s previously undefeated Tina Rupprecht.  Estrada (24-0, 9 KOs) won all 10 rounds on all three cards which was misleading as many of the rounds were close.

(The victory opens the door to a true unification fight with Costa Rica’s Yokasta Valle who has won 15 straight since losing a decision to Rupprecht in Munich in 2018. Valle was also in action on Saturday night. At a beach resort hotel in Guanacaste, Valle successfully defended her titles with a wide decision over Mexican invader Jessica Basulto.)

In another bout of note on the Fresno card, SoCal lightweight Raymond Muratalla (17-0, 14 KOs) overcame adversity to score a ninth-round stoppage over Tijuana’s Humberto Galindo (14-3-1).

Galindo caught Muratalla against the ropes in the opening round and put him down with a left-right combination. Muratalla returned the favor three rounds later and ended the contest in round nine with a series of punches which deposited Galindo on the deck where he stayed for the 10-count.

According to Jake Donovan, Top Rank plans to pit Muratalla against Namibia’s Jeremiah Nakathila on the Lomachenko-Haney card tentatively scheduled for May 20 in Las Vegas. Nakathila upset Miguel Berchelt in his last outing, dominating the former super featherweight title-holder en route to a sixth-round stoppage.

Also

Two 10-round preliminaries preceded Saturday’s SHOWTIME pay-per-view at the MGM Grand. Both contests played out in a similar fashion.

In a super bantamweight contest, Culiacan, Mexico’s Kevin Gonzalez stayed unbeaten with a clear-cut unanimous decision over Colombia’s Jose Sanmartin. The judges had it 99-91, 98-92, and 97-93.

Gonzalez, who advanced to 26-0-1, fought mostly in flurries but worked the body well and landed the cleaner punches. It was the U.S. debut for Sanmartin (34-7-1) who had been in with the likes of Emanuel Navarrete and Mauricio Lara.

In the lid-lifter, Orestes Valasquez, a 29-year-old Cuban defector who has been training in Las Vegas under Ismael Salas, stepped up in class and won a 10-round unanimous decision over Argentina’s Marcelino Lopez. The judges had it 97-93 and 99-91 twice.

A 16-year pro, Lopez brought a 37-2-1 record. His signature win was a second-round blowout of former world title-holder Pablo Cesar Cano. Valasquez was extended the distance for the first time after opening his pro career with six wins by stoppage.

Ramirez-Commey photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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David Benavidez Starts Slow but Finishes Strong, Overcomes Caleb Plant

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LAS VEGAS-David “The Mexican Monster” Benavidez proved too strong and simply overpowered Caleb Plant after a tight early half of the fight to win going away by unanimous decision in the super middleweight elimination fight on Saturday.

Plant would not quit.

“Caleb Plant is a tough fighter. He gave me everything in the first few rounds,” said Benavidez who had predicted he would not go the distance.

Arizona’s feared Benavidez (27-0, 23 KOs) was unable to stop Plant (22-2, 13 KOs) but battered his way to victory before a sold-out crowd at the MGM Garden Arena. Despite no knockdowns it was clear who was stronger.

Plant used his speed and footwork to maneuver in and out of danger in the match and gained control for the first four rounds. His hand speed and ability to clinch in tight quarters with the aid of referee Kenny Bayless gave the Las Vegas-based fighter an early advantage.

Things turned around when Plant clinched then smacked Benavidez who thought it would be a clean break. That seemed to spark Benavidez into berserker mode.

From the seventh round on Benavidez punched through clinches and would not allow Plant to take advantage. In the eighth round Benavidez powered through and Plant seemed staggered and hurt by the Arizona fighter’s power. But he kept upright.

Benavidez took advantage of Plant’s inability to maneuver as he did before and hammered the former champion who lost to Canelo Alvarez with triple left hooks and overhand rights. Plant would not go down and held on and absorbed the punishment.

The 10th round saw Benavidez dominate every second of the round. Plant tried fighting back but his punches lacked any power and Benavidez battered him from post to post, It was a round that could have been stopped or scored 10-8.

“I think I was catching him with a lot of power shots and that’s why I’m called the Mexican Monster because I keep coming like a monster,” said Benavidez.

Plant proved unwilling to quit despite cuts on his face and withstanding some hellish blows. The slender super middleweight refused to go down and somehow withstood the punishment.

It was remarkable bravery on his part.

When the final bell rang Plant tried valiantly to fight it out with Benavidez but just did not have the power to hurt the most feared man in the super middleweight division. Despite all the heated words during the promotion of the fight, the two warriors hugged and shook hands warmly. The animosity was gone.

“I know there was a lot said between us but in the end we settled this like men. He’s a helluva fighter. I’m happy we gave the fans the best rivalry of the year or the last five years. I’m just very happy,” said Benavidez.

Plant was equally benevolent.

“David’s a hell of a fighter. We settled it like men in the ring,” said Plant. “You roll the dice someone is going to get their hand raised. No excuse, David was the better man, he is a hell of a fighter.”

Benavidez now is the number one ranked WBC super middleweight and a mandatory for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who is undisputed world champion.

Other Bouts

Arizona’s Jesus Ramos (20-0, 16 KOs) proved too strong for Michigan’s strongman Joey Spencer (16-1, 10 KOs) and ended the fight by stoppage at the end of the seventh round in the super welterweight contest.

Ramos scored early with a left-hand knockdown in the first round and powered his way past Spencer in almost every round. Spencer was valiant throughout the match but just couldn’t match Ramos speed or strength. Most of the fight took place in close.

“After the first round knockdown I kinda knew my power was too much,” said Ramos.

Despite an early first round knockdown Chris Colbert (17-1, 6 KOs) won by unanimous decision in a lightweight fight over the more aggressive and busier Jose Valenzuela (12-2, 8 KOs) in a decision that left the fans very displeased.

“He lost for a reason,” said Colbert as fans booed lustily.

A counter left cross floored Colbert in the first round and Valenzuela took control early with more punching to the body and head as Colbert covered up. It was a tactic he used often and was rewarded by the judges.

Valenzuela was not pleased at all.’

“I dominated,” said Valenzuela.

All three judges scored it 95-94 for Colbert.

Welterweights

Canada’s Cody Crowley (22-0, 9 KOs) imposed his will early against Arizona’s Abel Ramos (27-6-2, 21 KOs) and held on for the victory by majority decision down the stretch in a brutal war for the right to fight for the WBC welterweight title.

A knockdown scored in the 11th round by Ramos by a counter right cross was reversed by the Nevada Commission after a replay of the blow revealed his glove did not touch the ground. That proved beneficial to Crowley in the scoring.

Crowley pressured Ramos throughout the first eight rounds then the fight changed and was fought at a distance as Ramos used pot shots to score heavily from that moment on.

Ramos rallied by staying in the middle of the ring and using the space to crack the always pressuring Crowley with long range shots. From the ninth round on the scoring got tighter with Crowley scoring rapid combinations and Ramos scoring with heavy shots.

After 12 rounds one judge saw it even 114-114, two others saw Crowley the winner 115-113, 116-112. Crowley now gets the shot at the WBC title held by Errol Spence Jr.

“This fight was something else,” said a tearful Crowley whose father recently died. “If not for my dad I wouldn’t be here today.”

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 229: Benavidez, Plant and NCAA Hoops in Vegas

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 229: Benavidez, Plant and NCAA Hoops in Vegas

If you know the history of Las Vegas, it’s endured a number of phases since its first major growth spurt when the Hoover Dam project brought thousands to the desert region in the 1930s.

Then came the New York phase when the Flamingo Hotel was built in the 1940s and was followed by numerous other major casino hotels like the Sands, the Dunes and the Aladdin. Of course, boxing was always a way to entice people to the desert.

This Saturday, four star boxing returns to Las Vegas. But it be competing against the western regional finals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Prepare for crowds.

Las Vegas is packed.

Undefeated David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) meets once-beaten Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 25. The TGB Promotions card will be televised on Showtime pay-per-view.

The winner gets a shot at undisputed super middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. And that means big money.

It’s all happening in Las Vegas and so will the NCAA tournament. Expect an extremely crowded Strip as fans of boxing and basketball convene on the strip by the thousands. Its also a gambler’s paradise for betting so make sure you allow yourself time because the lines will be long at the sportsbooks.

When I first visited Las Vegas in the early 1970s sports betting was done outside of the casinos. The state law back then prohibited sportsbooks inside hotel-casinos. My favorite sportsbook, for sentimental reasons, is the Westgate Hotel, formerly the Hilton International. It’s has a huge sports betting area.

I’m not a betting type of guy but sports betting to me is the center of everything and adds luster to the atmosphere of Las Vegas. You won’t find a sports book in California.

Boxing has always been a sport made for betting, probably since the stone age.

When Benavidez steps into the prize ring he will be the big favorite but if you truly know boxing, Plant does have a chance. Anything can happen in boxing. Anything.

A man can parachute from the sky and land in the middle of the fight as happened back in 1993 when Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe were combatting for the heavyweight title at Caesars Palace. Of course, this won’t happen on Saturday because the fight is indoors at the MGM Hotel.

One major lesson about pro boxing is that nothing is a sure thing.

Though Benavidez has power and has never been defeated, he could tear an Achilles tendon right during the fight. Or he could break a wrist delivering a punch. I’ve also seen a great fighter like Pernell Whitaker get his clavicle broken from a single punch and be unable to continue.

Don’t bet your house on the outcome.

What you will see on Saturday is two very talented super middleweights with completely different fighting styles engage. They do not seem to care for each other but that doesn’t matter. It’s a fight, not a marble contest.

Words have been exchanged all through the promotion. But words don’t mean a thing once the first bell rings.

Plant has speed, agility and solid defensive skills. His only loss came to Canelo Alvarez. That’s more a medal of honor than an embarrassment.

“I feel I’m the better boxer, I have the better IQ and I have more experience,” said Plant. “I have the better pedigree and its going to show on Saturday night.”

Benavidez has power, speed and a very solid chin. He seems to intimidate foes with a come forward style that reminds me of a young George Foreman.

“We’re going to see what that chin is like on Saturday,” said Benavidez.

Supporting fights

Cody Crowley meets Abel Ramos in an welterweight elimination fight for the WBC title held by Errol Spence Jr.

Both of these guys are rough and tough. It’s the ram versus the bull.

The other Ramos, Abel’s brother Jesus, is fighting Joey Spencer in a super welterweight clash.

Six other fights are planned at the MGM Grand.

Top Rank

Fresno’s Jose Carlos Ramirez (27-1, 17 KOs) gets a hometown crowd when he meets Richard Commey (30-4-1, 27 KOs) on Saturday March 25. The former super lightweight titlist needs a win to get back in the hunt. ESPN will televise the Top Rank card.

“All of a sudden after one loss people started walking away,” said Ramirez. “We’re focused on Richard Commey.”

Commey wants what Ramirez wants too, a title.

“I really want to become a two-time world champion, so I’m coming strong,” said Commey.

Also on the same Fresno card will be WBA titlist Seniesa Estrada (23-0, 9 KOs) seeking to unify the minimumweight titles against Germany’s WBC titlist Tina Rupprecht (12-0-1, 3 KOs).

“This is the moment that Ive dreamed of since I was seven years old,” said Estrada. “Its crazy to think how far I’ve come in this sport.”

Rupprecht is also excited.

It’s a big honor to fight for both titles,” Rupprecht said. “This is always what I wanted.”

Fights to Watch

Sat. Showtime ppv 6 p.m David Benavidez (26-0)  vs Caleb Plant (22-1); Cody Crowley (21-0) vs Abel Ramos (27-5-2).

Sat. ESPN 7 p.m. Jose Carlos Ramirez (27-1) vs Richard Commey (30-4-1); Seniesa Estrada (23-0) vs Tina Rupprecht (12-0-1).

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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