Former heavyweight king Jersey Joe Walcott, a fighter who was as teak-tough as he was tricky and clever, is perhaps best known for two displays of one-punch KO perfection – one-shot Walcott was dishing out, the other he was on the receiving end of. It was on this day in 1951 when a 37-year-old Jersey Joe landed, perhaps the sweetest left hook (almost an uppercut) in heavyweight history. This KO blow saw Walcott become world champion at the fifth attempt.
The savage right hand Walcott was the recipient of came in his title-losing war with Rocky Marciano is the other famous knockout in the career of the man born Arnold Cream. Marciano’s “Suzy Q” was as superb a shot as the left-hand bomb Walcott had landed on (common opponent) Charles. Walcott’s left hand had no nickname, yet the shot he landed flush on Charles’ jaw is well known and celebrated among boxing fans.
Walcott and Charles knew each other very well, having fought two hard 15 round battles, with Charles winning both fights. This made the result in the third fight all the more surprising. No man had won the world title after FOUR losing efforts, and Walcott was a whopping great 9/1 underdog going into the third fight with “The Cincinnati Cobra.”
The fight took place in Pittsburgh (the first world heavyweight title fight to be staged there), and Walcott fought the fight of his long career. Fan interest was far from great, with almost everyone aside from Jersey Joe’s immediate family and some of his close friends thinking he had any shot of doing what he was unable to do over 30 rounds of a previous battle with Charles: get a win.
But it happened. If Jim Lampley had been around then and had been calling the fight, he may well have bellowed out those two words in the seconds after Walcott landed THE punch of his life (Lampley would use the words “it happened!” some 43 years after Walcott’s odds-defying win, when George Foreman scored one of his own, thus breaking Joe’s record as oldest ever heavyweight king).
If “Big George” was a relaxed fighter in his second career, Jersey Joe was more so. And Walcott was as cool as a cucumber as he walked (see strolled) across the ring towards Charles in that seventh-round. Appearing nonchalant, not looking like a fighter who was setting up anything big, Walcott made the ultimate poker-faced move; he unleashed in a flash a textbook left hook, the sharp, jolting blow crammed full with every ounce of the firepower Walcott could muster sending Charles down instantly. Charles fell flat on his face, his arms instinctively trying to push him up from the canvas.
Charles rose partially but then fell back into the ropes. It was over. It happened. Walcott had won the crown at the fifth attempt, he had scored a beautiful one-punch KO that would be studied and analyzed again and again over the coming years, and he had made history by becoming the oldest man to have won the title. The punch Walcott landed really is flawless, timed to perfection, will full power behind it, Walcott’s balance was perfect as he let loose with his missile. Indeed, a punch for the ages. To this day, Walcott’s left hook fight-ender gets voted as one of the top-10 finest KO punches in boxing history.
Walcott and Charles met again; this time, Walcott won on points. These two legendary fighters never really settled their rivalry, ending up at 2-2. But Walcott was able to score that sizzling KO win in fight-three.