IN the early 1950s, the world heavyweight title was won and lost with violent force.
After two humdrum bouts between Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott – that Charles had won comfortably on points – a third bout did not seem a natural. But it came along, on July 18 1951, anyway. And so did one of the most unexpected, and clinical, finishes in boxing history.
In the seventh session an exchange of punches became a clinch in a corner. The referee untied the tangle and Charles – one of boxing’s greatest of all-time – skipped backwards. A leisurely Walcott pursued before masterfully dipping to his left and curling that arm into an uppercut that he slammed into Ezzard’s jaw. The champion’s face twisted, as if demonically possessed, before thumping into the canvas. Walcott, who briefly halted to admire his work, continued his strut and nestled his back on the other neutral corner.
It deserved to hold its place in history forever. But its gruesome brilliance was surpassed just over a year later. Walcott, still king at 38, stepped into the ring with Rocky Marciano, an unbeaten slugger 10 years his junior.
“They tell me Rocky used to be a baseball catcher,” Jersey Joe said before their September 23 1952 showdown. “Well, when he delivers a punch, he still looks as if he is throwing to second. I can see the punches coming from the stands.”
The older man’s verbal and physical swagger was soon threatening to underline his pre-fight boasts. He floored the chunky challenger in the opening session and was well ahead on points after 12 rounds. And then it happened.
Jersey Joe moved backwards towards the ropes, almost inviting his opponent to join him. Rocky followed, crouching and waiting to pounce, with his right hand cocked and ready to launch. His intentions were clear. Walcott steadied himself and decided to counter with a right. As he drew back his power arm Rocky’s own missile landed with hellacious force. Walcott bent at the waist, and pitched forward.
The old champion had taken his eyes off the ball. Game over.