IT was supposed to rain on October 16, but it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day in Camden, New Jersey, just across the Walt Whitman Bridge from Philadelphia, where a statue of former heavyweight champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott was unveiled in Wiggins Park.
Born Arnold Raymond Cream on January 31, 1914, in nearby Pennsauken, New Jersey, Walcott lived and fought out of Camden throughout his career. A pro from September 1930, he tallied a 49-21-1 record (31 wins inside the distance) before retiring in 1953.
Walcott developed a cagey style that featured savvy footwork, excellent upper-body movement and a heavy punch. He’d frequently turn sideways and walk away a step or two, a move that confounded many of his opponents. Jersey Joe won the heavyweight title by knocking out Ezzard Charles with a left hook on July 18, 1951. He was 37 at the time, which made him the oldest man to win the title, a distinction he held until George Foreman became the heavyweight champion at age 45.
After boxing, Walcott was elected Sheriff of Camden County (1971 to 1974), the first African-American to hold the position. Later he served as chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission (1975-1984). Walcott died on February 25, 1994.
The statue was unveiled as soon as the politicians finished speaking, revealing an eight-foot bronze figure of Walcott in a boxing stance, sculpted by Carl LeVotch who was on hand for the festivities.
“I view this sculpture as a culmination of my lifetime passion for art, Camden and the sport of boxing,” said LeVotch.
Former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes and former WBA cruiserweight title-holder Nate Miller were on hand, as was Larry Hazzard, commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board.
After the official ceremony, Philly Jazz-soul trombonist Jeff Bradshaw and his band delivered a sensational set, providing a fitting conclusion to a celebratory afternoon.