Mickey Walker – The Toy Bulldog

18.07.04 - By Janne Romppainen: When Roy Jones defeated John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title in 2003, big headlines were made. Jones was only the second light-heavyweight champion who had won a heavyweight title and the first middleweight in over hundred years who had achieved that. The accomplishment was fine no matter how it is put, but the factor that made it historical was that Ruiz had a title belt. However, apart from WBA nobody considered Ruiz to be the best heavyweight in the world at the time, but he was rather in the lower part of top-10. A smaller man beating that is not as new thing as winning a title: in fact there once was a former welterweight world champion who beat several heavyweight contenders. That champion was Irish-American Mickey Walker, The Toy Bulldog.

Edward Patrick Walker was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1901. His father had got to know the legendary heavyweight world champion John L. Sullivan and even trained with him, but he had denied all the offers to turn to a professional boxer himself. He didn’t really accept either that his son, who was called Mickey since he was a child, got into the sport, which he did for the first time in 1913.

When Walker was 18 he saw a and advertisement of professional boxing competition. Boxing had just become legal in the state of New Jersey and Walker wanted to participate. Walker got paid ten dollars for his four-round fight so he never fought an official amateur contest. Even though he didn’t know much of anything about boxing technique, he managed to knock his opponent Domenico Orsini out with a furious attack.

Aggressive attacking style also became Walker’s trademark in the future and audience loved him from the beginning. His face got reshaped during his career as he was always willing to take punches to land his own but Walker didn’t care about that. The nickname Toy Bulldog suited him totally both because of his fighting style and because of his looks. Walker knocked out his first seven opponents, but then one Phil Delmont stunned him and in turn knocked out Walker. Walker learned from his mistakes in the bout and realised that against the biggest of punchers he wouldn’t be able to walk through everything.

When Walker had just turned 20 he already met a top opponent as he fought the reigning welterweight champion Jack Britton who in during his whole career was champion for three different times. Walker fought well and controlled the bout, but it was a 12-round fight where there was no scoring and Walker could only have become the champion by knocking out Britton. He wasn’t able to do that, but he impressed the spectators so that he got a new chance the next year in Madison Square Garden. This time the bout was an official 15-rounder and the challenger Walker took home a clear decision.

Walker became the world champion for the first time in the young age of 21 and he was a celebrated and popular star the land over. Walker loved to celebrate and have good time himself and that in turn increased his popularity furthermore. It often happened during his title reign that he came to the morning weigh-ins straight from a night club or a brothel. At the time the title was not at stage in most fights so the bouts were not as important for the champion as they would be today, but Walker also kept winning despite his questionable training routines. In his welterweight title defences he was in biggest trouble against Lew Tendler, a man who had also almost knocked out the legendary lightweight champion Benny Leonard, but Walker barely survived full ten rounds against him.

In 1925 Walker’s career, which had been more quiet after his first years as a champion, took another lift. The legendary Jack “Doc” Kearns became his manager and together the two great boxing personas made eight million dollars with their co-operation, although neither man was as good in saving money as getting it. In the same year Walker also stepped up to middleweight to face the supreme champion of the division Harry Greb. Greb is still regarded by many as the greatest middleweight of the history. He was the only man ever to beat the heavyweight world champion Gene Tunney. Also he was very much alike Walker both in- and outside of the ring. He loved good time, strong drinks and especially women, who, according to stories, kept him company also in his dressing room right before he made his walk-in. Inside the ring he was a furious windmill who gave and took brutal punishment just like Walker.

When these two warriors faced each other, everybody knew that it would be a war for ages. Little wonder, then, that the Polo Grounds stadium of New Your was jammed with 60 000 spectators. Walker and Greb went after each other like demons and fired away with all the legal and illegal punches of the book, even the referee got knocked down during the fight. The bout was all-even before the last round. In the final stanza, Greb proved to be just a bit more brutal: he blatantly thumbed Walker with his left and at the same time crashed his right to Walker’s chin. The shot was so hard that Greb broke his hand. Walker did not go down, but he was forced to retreat and the decision went to Greb. According to a legend the two fought an unofficial rematch in the very same night. They met each other in a night club and went out to the street to finish their fight. This time the winner was Walker: he managed to hit Greb as he was taking off his coat…

Walker went back down to defend his welterweight crown which he lost a year later to a fighter named Peter Latzo. Walker had beaten him before, but now he was suffering from weight problems which had troubled him already earlier and thus it was time for him to move up to middleweight for good. Still in the same year 1926 Walker fought for the middleweight title again, now against Tiger Flowers who had defeated Greb. Greb had died a couple of weeks earlier and Walker never got a chance to rematch him officially. Walker won Flowers narrowly on points and also Flowers died accidentally soon after before the supposed rematch could be made. At this time Walker was reaching his prime as a fighter. He defended his new crown often and never lost it in the ring. He also tried to wrestle the light-heavyweight championship from Tommy Loughran, a legendary champion too, but couldn’t quite make it. The bout was only a ten-rounder and Loughran was exhausted at the end of it but he survived with a decision victory. Apart from him Walker didn’t lose to anybody in five years.

In 1931 Walker gave up his title and moved up to heavyweight. Kearns saw a good opportunity to make money with Walker against the big men and Walker himself had no doubts of his own skills. Walker beat twice Johnny Risko, a fine heavyweight contender, and he also bested Bearcat Wright who weighed a whopping 270 pounds and was over a hundred pounds heavier than Walker. Walker still was the same aggressive fighter as he had always been, so overcoming this size of opponents with that style was quite extraordinary, especially considering that Walker stood only at 5’9’’. Still in the same year Walker held the future world champion Jack Sharkey to draw and according to most spectators he would have deserved to win. In 1932 he defeated among others the former world title challenger Paolino Uzcudun and rose to fifth spot in The Ring’s heavyweight ratings. All the fighters mentioned might well have been some kind of titlists is the times had been different.

The same year his skills started to erode however. Johnny Risko beat him in their rubber match and the former world champion Max Schmeling gave him a hellacious beating. His right crosses were just too much for attacking Walker, but the Bulldog never gave up trying though even the audience demanded the referee to stop the contest.

That would be Walker’s farewell fight in heavyweight and his career began to slide. He fought once more for the light-heavyweight title but lost on points to a fine champion Maxie Rosenbloom. Walker did not want to give up boxing even though he started to lose more and more often and when he finally hung up his gloves in 1935, he had fought as a professional for 17 years, averaging almost nine fights per season. His final ring record was 93 wins, 18 defeats, 4 draws and 33 no-decisions.

Even though his boxing career ended, Walker still never wanted to rest. He owned a restaurant, he wrote columns to newspapers and he painted pictures. He was a talented artist actually, and some of his paintings were good enough to get into art exhibitions. However, as the case had been during his boxing years too, Walker never knew how to control his property. He lost the money that his art earned him and when he died in 1981, he was almost as poor as he had been when he stepped in a boxing gym for the first time.

While it is obvious that boxing has changed from the 1930s and that these days it would be impossible to train with whiskey, Mickey Walker’s achievements are quite extraordinary. Just imagine this scenario: a tough welterweight champion, let’s say Antonio Margarito, steps up to middleweight, goes full rounds against Bernad Hopkins and later wins the title against another great champion, then challenges Antonio Tarver for the light-heavyweight title and gets the better of it although loses the decision, then he gets up to heavyweight and beats top-10 contenders, say Lamon Brewster and Jameel McCline. Ludicrous, isn’t it? It is, but the Toy Bulldog made all that happen. What a fighter!


Article posted on 18.07.2004

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