Obie Walker: The Unstoppable 5’9” Heavyweight Who Was “Built Like A Bank Safe”

The feeling one gets from dipping into the seemingly endless crop of fascinating stories, about fights, about fighters, about the amazing personalities from boxing history, must be akin to the rush a heavy drinker gets when taking a blast or five on a previously dry day. Boxing has been around just about forever, and there are too many greats, near-greats, forgotten heroes, and fighting men who never became heroes, to possibly do justice to.

One such fighter is Obie Walker, a 5’9” heavyweight block of black granite who was never once stopped, or perhaps even really badly hurt. Walker, who wanted more than anything a shot at the world heavyweight championship, was instead made to make do with being the “Coloured Heavyweight Champion.” Walker, who fought in the 1920s, ’30s and 1940s, compiled (according to some records) a pro ledger of 92 wins, 62 by KO, and 18 losses with 7 draws. Obie was born in Cochran, Georgia in September of 1911 and he passed away, forgotten, in May of 1989.

But Obie Walker, AKA Bearcat Obie, or, The Black Boxcar, deserves to be remembered by all fight fans.

Walker, who was brought up by his maternal grandparents, first fought for money in February of 1929. What followed depends on which record you ascribe to. Some say Walker went 18-0 before tasting defeat, others say he lost his fifth outing. In either case, it was a guy named Happy Hunter (a fighter as equally intriguing as Walker) who took the decision over Obie in February of 1930. Walker would not lose a (recorded) fight during his next 30 (recorded) bouts.

It was during this unbeaten run that Walker took to Europe, in the years 1934, ’35 and ’36, whereupon his powerful fists (crippling knockout drops from either side), his rock of a chin and his overall ability took him to some big wins. Walker destroyed guys like Louis Verbeen and, according to a perhaps fancily put out report from writer Ed Danforth, Obie “Knocked cold every topnotcher he met on the continent. Max Schmeling shrewdly dodged him, the best of the Englishmen too, sidestepped the squatty brown man who carried lightning bolts in both fists. Competent critics say he could have knocked out Schmeling, Joe Louis and Jim Braddock in one night within the space of 10 rounds.”

As quite beautifully as this praising paragraph is undeniably written, it does seem to be somewhat farfetched. Walker, after all, did lose a couple of fights during his European campaign; with him dropping a decision to Larry Gains and Walker also losing on points to Jack London. Still, Walker never got a sniff of a shot at the world title. Who knows what Walker may or may not have done to Louis had he fought him. “I ain’t been asked yet,” Walker said with regards to his being offered a chance at getting in the ring with Joe. “And I ain’t asking.”

But Obie felt he would have had his chance in a fight with Louis, had he been given the fight.

“There ain’t no fighter in the world who doesn’t make a mistake during a fight,” Walker said. “Me, I just stand around and wait for that mistake. I can take it. And when Louis makes that mistake, I’ll swat him.” (thanks to ‘Pieces Of Our Past’ for these quotes and other invaluable info).

Walker, illiterate, fought on. No less than 14 times did Waker fight the equally dodged and extremely tough Elmer “Violent” Ray. Walker also fought such luminaries as Bearcat Wright, Willie Bush, Tony “Two Ton” Galento, George Godfrey, Willie Reddish (later a trainer of Sonny Liston), Unknown Winston, and Leroy Haynes.

And through it all, Walker was never, ever stopped.

Walker lost five of his final six fights, retiring in 1946; this final bout a comeback fight that had followed a five-year retirement. Walker passed away at the age of 77, this in Atlanta in May of 1989. So few remembered him then, even less now. It shouldn’t be this way.

Obie Walker – a great fighter. And a great story.