1. WHEN Jersey Joe Walcott was first mentioned as an opponent for world heavyweight champion Joe Louis a 10-round distance was scheduled, and only a knockout win for the underdog would have brought the title into play.
2. THAT plan was righty scrapped and the bout, in New York’s Madison Square Garden on December 5 1947, was scheduled for the championship distance of 15 rounds.
3. WALCOTT had earned the shot by defeating Joey Maxim and Elmer Ray in missions that revenged earlier losses. Despite his good form, Walcott was quoted by the New York Times as a 10-1 underdog, and even the champion – making his 24th defence – called Jersey Joe a “second rater”.
4. THE challenger’s chances were not rated by Boxing News, either. “As a boxer he is not rated in the same class [as Louis],” we reported, “relying solely on swings which may or may not connect. Whether he will be lucky enough to find a mark with one of them is not to be likely and those who know their men do not think the Brown Bomber will have any sleepless nights over the coming encounter or take any sleep draughts during its progress.”
5. BUT Walcott, far better than anyone realised, connected with plenty of ‘swings’. The first came in the opening round when he responded to a hard Louis right with one of his own. The shot put Louis on the canvas for a count of ‘two’.
6. THE champion scrambled to his feet but tottered straight into another booming punch. Louis staggered back to the ropes and staved off disaster with attacks of his own.
7. BUT Louis was struggling against the canny Walcott. The challenger was far from a ‘second rater’. He had a smooth and refined technique, clever yet natural, which was complimented by a hefty whack.
8. LOUIS was dropped again in the fourth. An uppercut launched beneath Louis’ left lead put the champion on the canvas and the upset beckoned. But Louis, clearly a fighter in decline, showed his grit to battle back. He staggered Walcott in the ninth but after 15 rounds it looked like a clear victory for Jersey Joe – so much so that Louis tried to storm out of the ring in disgust at his own performance.
9. BUT the split decision went to Louis. Referee Rudy Goldstein sided with Walcott – real name Arnold Cream – but he was outvoted by judges Frank Forbes and Marty Monroe. Louis, perhaps for the first time in his long reign, was booed by the crowd who believed Walcott had done enough. A ringside poll was conducted from 32 writers. 21 believed Walcott had won, 10 went with Louis, while one notched a draw.
10. THE inevitable rematch would be Louis’ 25th and final defence. But the reign ended in retirement, not defeat as Louis overcame a points deficit in round 11 thanks to a vintage thud that knocked Walcott cold.