To borrow, or to paraphrase a line from the one and only John L. Sullivan for this article’s title (John L. not incidentally, was born on October 15, back in 1858), world welterweight and middleweight ruler Mickey Walker, who just might have been THE toughest son of a b*** who ever graced the ring, or conquered it, might also have been able to lay the same claim as the one made by the heavyweight king – as in no man could even dream of beating him in a fight.
Walker, who uttered as memorable a line as Sullivan’s, when he stated how, “Sober or stiff, I belted the guts out of the best of them,” was indeed as gutsy, as inertly tough as the great John L, and “The Toy Bulldog” had just as much zest for fighting as the former bareknuckle warrior had in his pomp.
Indeed, Walker, who became almost as big a star as Sullivan had been (and continues to be), loved to booze as much as he loved to box. And John L. was the same. In fact, drunk, sober, or some place in between, these two legendary (the word not grand enough here) fighters took on any man who was foolish enough to have affronted them. In his prime, Walker was almost unbeatable. He was, to make up a word, unhurtable!
Born in either 1901, or in 1903 (reliable sources can be found to support both dates), Walker was born in New Jersey. At the tender age of just 18 or just 16, Mickey went pro. It took time – and the overcoming of both a first round and a second round KO loss – but soon enough, Walker’s savage blend of constant comeforewardness (another made up word, but one accurate in describing Mickey’s ring approach), and his nasty left hook, saw him make it. And how the handsome, thick-haired looker made wrecks of some good men.
Walker, in November of 1922, after suffering no less than four consecutive losses, to good men like Jock Malone and Wildcat Nelson – beat the great Jack Britton over 15 rounds to win the world welterweight crown. At age 21, or, if you prefer, still a teenager, Walker was the king of the world. As was the way back then, reigning world champions boxed numerous non-title bouts. But Walker did go on to make some memorable retentions, his win over Lew Tendler being a highlight. Before Walker fought Mike McTigue, this in a fight that saw Walker fail to win the light heavyweight title that was owned by McTigue, as a fight clause stated that the belts were only there to be taken by a KO; Walker going home with a newspaper decision that didn’t favour his efforts. And then, later that year, Walker swapped some brutal leather with Harry Greb in a challenge for the middleweight title.
Much has been written about the June 1925 war/fight to the death/slugfest/carnage-
Walker was oh, so far from done.
Still the welterweight king, Walker, still only 24 or 22, made two retentions of his welterweight crown, before he was beaten, on points, by Pete Latzo. Mickey was bested in his next fight, by Joe Dundee, who managed to score a TKO – before Walker came back to decision Tiger Flowers to become middleweight champ, this in December of 1926. Three retentions followed, as did a non-title fight revenge win over McTigue; this a first round KO win.
But by now the hard drinking had started to catch up with Walker, his sheer desire to fight equalled by his uncontrollable thirst for the booze. Walker, an incredible 90-15-2 (and still far from reaching his 30th birthday), lost to Tommy Loughran, this in another challenge for the light heavyweight title. Incredibly (and yes, this word has been much-used in the writing of this article) Mickey then went on a 22-fight win streak, before he fought heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey.
However (and, again, potential movie-makers please take note) before then, Walker played his part in what can only be described by a sane person as a truly unimaginable episode. Going into his May 1930 fight with a guy named Paul Swiderski, another heavyweight, the fight taking place in Louisville, Walker got himself royally drunk, mistakenly informed as he had been that the fight had been called off. It wasn’t, and manager Jack ‘Doc’ Kearns forced his fighter into the ring. But Mickey was smashed, having downed God knows how much liquor.
In no condition to fight but having to try to do so, Walker was downed five times in the opening session (or perhaps even more times, there is no fight film, unfortunately), and an out of it Walker was reportedly saved by Kearns, who lobbed something at the timekeeper’s bell, the round ending prematurely. Then, in round two, when Walker was dropped again, the savvy/corrupt Kearns dived in again, this time pulling out the electricity that powered the arena!
My Lord, what stuff we have here!
Apparently, during the darkness, Mickey sobered up just enough to be able to take care of business; “The Toy Bulldog” smashing Swiderski to the mat something like a dozen times before the fight ended – with Walker winning the newspaper decision. In a rematch that September, Walker took Swiderski out in three rounds.
Now, on to the Sharkey fight:
The fight, which took place in July of 1931, saw the much smaller man box quite brilliantly, at times taking the fight to Sharkey, who initiated a lot of clinches. Yet Mickey, despite his superb effort, had to make do with the satisfaction of having taken the bigger man all the way, to a 15 round draw. Walker was sure he had won. And consider: Walker stood just 5ft 7in – these not in any way the suitable dimensions for a fighter to be plying his trade at heavyweight.
But Walker didn’t care. And on he went – beating King Levinsky, beating Paulino Uzcudun, and then taking a truly X-Rated beating from Max Schmeling; Max scoring a TKO in September of 1932. Amazingly, Walker would engage in more than 20 additional fights!
Maxie Rosenbloom decisioned Mickey in a light heavyweight title fight in November of ’33, while Walker won a non-title fight with Maxie the following year. This was probably Mickey’s last great win, with him wining just seven of his final 13 fights.
But Walker was unable to quit, both in terms of fighting as well as drinking heavily. Sadly, the hard fights, the hard living, the incinerating the candle at both ends – the sheer desire to devour all that was pleasurable to him – made Mickey pay a price. A hefty one.
In his later years (Mickey, as it turned out, had years ahead of him, if not anything like happy ones), Walker was found lying prostrate in a New Jersey street in the mid-1970s. Taken to the hospital, it was simply assumed that Walker had been the victim of nothing more than another beating of a heavy drinking session. Instead, sadly, Mickey was suffering from either an early or an advanced state of Parkinson’s.
Mickey passed away in hospital in April of 1981. He was either 79, or maybe two years younger.
Walker was…….and we really do not need to add any asterisk, a born fighter, a great born fighter. What else was Mickey gonna do with his life! He fought, drank, partied, drank, and then fought some more! Nobody we have today comes close in terms of being a badass who had so much live the life, kick ass ability.