The gritty mythology of boxing is the type of stuff that makes the modern "badasses" of sports look like wimpy dullards.
Flipping off fans? 19th century answer: alpha heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan, who apparently never could hold his liquor, drunkenly stumbling to the ring to have a title defense against Charlie Mitchell in 1884 canceled before 6,000 heckling fans.
Dog fighting? One better: Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran has claimed in many interviews to have punched and leveled a horse back in Panama for $150 when he was 18-years old.
From Tony Galento, a bar-owner who slugged suds between rounds in his Detroit triple-header in 1931; to Kennedy McKinney entering rehab over and over, while fighting; to Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe getting caught in coke-binge stupors...this is not a game of saints. Even the seemingly straight-laced Manny Pacquiao was reported to have been staying out late to play pool and drink while in training camps in the Philippines not more than a few years ago.
Perhaps it's what makes boxing all the more visceral and lovely for its hardcore fans. The truth is far more entertaining than any of the fiction - especially outside of the ring.
In the ring, though, truth was and is measured in blood given and taken.
And Mickey Walker was one ridiculously honest guy.
He was born Edward Patrick Walker on July 13, 1901, to Michael and Liz Walker, in the neighborhood of Keighry Head, Elizabeth, New Jersey.
His father Michael was said to have been an amateur fighter that had once trainer with the aforementioned heavyweight legend John L. Sullivan, but generally hated fighting. He turned down a shot at being a professional fighter to instead join the priesthood, but those plans were derailed when he met Liz.
Even early on "Mickey," as he was usually called, proved a challenge to raise. Attending Sacred Heart Grammar School for eight years, he was an intelligent kid, but quick to squabble with others in school, and the nuns had a difficult time controlling his temper. At 14, he was expelled from school for his many trespasses and had to work.
Running through a number of jobs, Mickey was often canned for scuffles with co-workers, including, as legend would have it, a fight against a former pro boxer on an engineering site that lasted a half-hour. At around 16, Mickey attempted to join the U.S. Navy but was turned away for being too young.
A year or so later, World War I had all but ended, and the torrent of young men returning home to work pushed others out of the workforce.
The best Mickey could muster was a gig as a pin boy at the bowling alley. One day while sitting on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette, he caught a glimpse of a poster advertising fights at a nearby athletic club and was inspired to become a professional boxer. The idea was also well-timed, as New Jersey had legalized 8-round professional fights with "The Hurley Law," enacted in March of 1918.
Aside from years of experience fighting on the streets, and supposedly being the go-to guy to defend the honor of Keighry Head when ruffians came looking for a rumble, Mickey's in-ring resumé was nearly bare. Although his father had been a solid amateur who was comfortable in the squared circle, he made sure Mickey and his three younger siblings steered clear of the ring.
Ignoring his father's wishes, Mickey began taking lessons from his cousin Joe Higgins, who himself had been an amateur fighter. But when Mickey began to clearly outshine Higgins in their sparring sessions, Joe took him to start training seriously at the Elizabeth YMCA, with Mickey weighing in at only about 120 lbs. at the time.
As the story goes, Dominic Orsini, a local Peterstown prospect, was also training at the Y and was called to spar with a novice Mickey Walker, introducing him to the canvas early on. A melee ensued with the matchmaker for the Elizabeth Athletic Club witnessing the brawl and subsequently pitting the two against each other in a pro fight a few days later on February 10th, 1919.
Although only a 4-round affair, the fight was apparently a highly entertaining no-decision, complete with great in-ring action and a bit of controversy: his mother Elizabeth, who wasn't able to enter the athletic club (as women weren't allowed to attend fights), stationed herself on the roof of the club with a few friends, and wound up breaking the skylight glass in the midst of cheering on her son in a frenzied 3rd round, summoning police to the venue.
Walker reportedly exhibited little style or skill, but showed fierce tenacity that caught the attention of local press.
After his very first fight, Walker got a taste of boxing's less-than-savory side, as his impromptu manager Oscar Lamb made off with $2 of Mickey's $10 purse - his "managerial cut."
Jimmy McCrann, an acquaintance of Orsini, then "offered to clean Mickey up and got knocked out in two rounds" two weeks later, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette. In other words, Orsini's friend wanted a piece of the action, and got plenty more than he'd intended.
Mickey then hooked up with former runner Johnny Anthes, who took over as his trainer and manager, attempting to solidify his base technique and teach him what getting into proper fighting shape was.
Before the year was out, Mickey had fought 19 times, going 17-2 with 9 knockout wins (accounting for Newspaper Decisions), but both losses by early stoppage - the first to hard-hitting Phil Delmont in a struggle that had Mickey flooring Delmont in the 1st before getting flattened moments later, and the bout stopped when Walker failed to come out for the 2nd round; and the next to Johnny Smith in Philadelphia, his first fight outside of Elizabeth.
No matter, as Mickey's whirling dervish style attracted attention regardless of who he was fighting, and by this time he was nearly a full-fledged welterweight.
In January, 1920, Mickey faced familiar local guy Tommy Speno, who while listed at 1-0 going in, actually had much more experience fighting in Elizabeth and Newark and was a very good amateur, according to the Jersey Journal. The two engaged in a memorable 8 round battle that was a sort of local legend for years, and despite Mickey getting the decision via local newspaper, helped move both forward in their careers.
A few weeks later Walker took on Benny "Irish" Cohen, a heavy-handed lightweight prospect, in an 8 round bout. According to Walker's own account years later, both men had each other on the floor early and often, and once again Mickey came out on top via 8-round newspaper decision in a great fight. To top it off, Mickey walked away from the Newark fight with $500 in his pocket - the most money he'd made for anything to that point.
He then went 2-1 before rematching Speno in May, 1920 for his first scheduled 12 round fight at the Coliseum in Newark. Walker took another newspaper decision over Tommy and inched closer to fighting on a recognizable world class level.
Not long after, Mickey stopped working with Johnny Anthes and was picked up by Newark matchmaker and manager Jack Bulger, former manager of heavyweight contender Charlie Weinert.
Over his next 15 fights, Walker went 11-3-1, including a knockout victory over Harlem Eddie Kelly, who had lost to Benny Leonard and Lew Tendler, and a bang-up with Joe Stefanik in Rhode Island, where Stefanik attempted to win by DQ by crying foul. Instead, when he was examined by the attending doctor in his dressing room, he was declared fit to have continued and the result was a KO in 3 rounds for Mickey. Two of the three losses happened to be at the hands of Yonkers Irishman Shamus O'Brien in 12 round affairs.
In early May of 1921, Mickey was supposed to face Ted "Kid" Lewis, who was a few months removed from losing the welterweight title to Jack Britton, only to stop the underwhelming Marcel Thomas instead. Later in the month, he earned a decision win in 10 rounds over highly experienced (yet aging) U.K. welterweight Johnny Summers in Newark.
About two months later at the Newark Armory, Walker tangled with welterweight champion Jack Britton in a non-title fight that saw Britton come in heavy, presumably because the bout had been postponed when Britton caught a cold in training a few weeks earlier. But both men were set on rumbling.
Mickey was knocked down hard and hurt by one of the first punches thrown, but roared back to wobble Britton in the 6th and force him to clinch, which according to the Augusta Chronicle prompted Britton to say, "Thought you were a hard puncher. Why don't you start?" To which Walker replied, "You're the champion, why don't you stand up and fight?"
Different newspapers reported different results, with the "official" result being Britton by decision despite many publications calling the fight a draw. The Springfield Republican called the fight "sensational." But win or lose, with his gutsy performance Mickey Walker made sure his name was in the mix at the top.
Avenging his earlier loss to O'Brien, Mickey overcame the stifling, frustrating veteran's style to earn a decision win over 12 rounds in August. A few days later, Jack Bulger would apparently make an offer of $40,000 to Britton's manager Dan Morgan for a rematch win, lose or draw, before sending Mickey out for another 12 with Brooklyn journeyman Wildcat Nelson, which Walker took handily.
In mid-September he was supposed to have met "Fighting" Bob Martin, a former U.S. military heavyweight champ, in St. Louis, but the bout never came off.
Similarly, Bulger was in negotiations with matchmaker/promoter Al Caroly to have Walker fight Newark lightweight Jack Coyne. When that fight also fell through, Bulger then tried to negotiate a bout with "Kid" Lewis once again, which also failed to materialize.
After being out for almost three months -- a rarity in Walker's early career -- he was matched against highly underrated stylist David Shade on November 21, 1921. Shade had earned a controversial draw against Britton the previous June, and had just beaten Mickey's longtime acquaintance and fellow Elizabeth native George Ward in October.
In the 5th round, Shade suffered a hand injury (different publications reported different injuries) and was forced to bow out a few rounds later, giving Mickey the TKO win in 8.
Usually one of Dave's famous fighting brothers, George and Billy, would have challenged Walker to avenge the loss, but in this case Shade insisted on getting even himself. Amid news of a potential Britton-Walker rematch all over the news wires (and promoter Tex Rickard's intended involvement), in December a month later, Dave "outclassed [Walker] in eight rounds of a 12-round bout," reported the New Orleans Item, and Shade took a newspaper decision.
The loss did little to slow Mickey's momentum though, and his short-term schedule was mapped out. Less than a week after the loss to Shade, Mickey was slated to face Akron up-and-comer Johnny Griffiths in the reopening of the Armory Athletic Association in Jersey City, and entertaining veteran Solder Bartfield the next day in Philadelphia. To stay busy, Walker then drove up to Boston a few days later to take on "New England welterweight champion" Nate Siegel on December 30th. Mickey was awarded a comfortable points decision over 10 rounds.
Next up was Griffiths on January 9th. Before the bout, Griffiths was promised a battle with Benny Leonard in New Orleans should he win, with a title shot against Britton potentially not far away. Leading into the fight, the Jersey Journal quoted Bulger as saying "This is the first time Walker has been able to show all his wares in training," crediting sparring with former solid middleweight contender Johnny Howard with preparing Mickey well. According to most reports, Mickey won a lively 12 round decision, but not without some iffy moments.
As planned, Walker met Bartfield at the Ice Palace in Philly the next night, the co-headliner to a square-up between newly crowned Junior Lightweight champion Johnny Dundee and local lightweight Whitey Fitzgerald. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "Mickey gave the Soldier about seven pounds and a fine lacing," also delivering the exquisite line, "Both gladiators were willing and thirsty for gore." Walker nonetheless fought his way to a decision in 8, again proving he'd deliver action every time out.
At the Newark Armory two weeks later, Walker finally took on George Ward, the "New Jersey welterweight champion" that he apparently knew very well and had chummed around with for years. The two had been scheduled to meet numerous times for the better part of a year, but it simply never happened. At this point, extra intrigue had been added to the fight as Tex Rickard had promised to the winner spots on his upcoming shows at Madison Square Garden (then often known simply as "The Garden") in the winter of 1922.
Mickey floored his friend for a nine count in the 2nd and pummeled him for the remainder of 12 round affair, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
A week later Walker again took on Bartfield at the Ice Palace, but this time the old Hungarian battler improved from the last showing, even if only late in the fight. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "...after losing the first six rounds in much the same manner that he lost the eight in the previous meeting, Bartfield drove his left into Mickey's mush with such vehemence that the latter spat blood and teeth all over the place during the remainder of the engagement."
Mickey managed to get a newspaper decision over 8 rounds on the strength of his early work, but Bartfield showed he still had a little gas in the tank.
On February 10th, Walker returned with another win over Griffiths, and this time by stoppage in 9 rounds. Two weeks later, Walker again beat Bartfield, pitching a shutout over 12 rough and messy rounds on the ringside cards of many journalists.
Back at the Ice Palace in mid-March, Mickey headlined a card against local youngster Jack Palmer. After winning through round 4 fairly easily, in the 5th Mickey shot a double hook, first to the groin and then to the jaw, that sank Palmer to the canvas complaining of the foul shot, and Palmer came away from the fight with a win by DQ in 5.
The loss marked the beginning of a rough patch for Walker, as two abscessed teeth would halt his momentum and force him to postpone and cancel a number of his fights, including a rematch with his pal Ward. On April 18th, the Trenton Evening Times reported that the New Jersey Boxing Commission had suspended both Walker and his manager/promoter Bulger for failing to appear before them and iron out details of a Ward rematch, with Bulger citing Mickey's recent dental issues as their excuse.
Mickey's first fight back in May was a dubious match against aging New York lightweight Harlem Eddie Kelly in Holyoke, Massachusetts. After being repeatedly warned for inactivity in the 1st round by referee George Freeman, Walker landed a soft-ish shot on Kelly that sent him down, then up, then back down again and pretending to be unconscious. Ref Freeman refused to administer a count and instead ruled the bout a No Contest, causing the Massachusetts Boxing Commission to withhold both of their purses.
Retiring Pal Reed in the 4th was perhaps the result of Mickey's frustration a few weeks later in Boston, but another month off walked him right into a points loss over 12 rounds against rugged former title challenger Lou Bogash.
Three nights later, Walker was back in Newark losing a 12 round newspaper decision to George Ward. Said the Jersey Journal, "Walker was fighting under the handicap of a bad left arm, in which he caught a cold. He was only a semblance of his usual self and he lacked his usual aggressiveness."
Another month-long hiatus was met with a 10 round points decision loss to St. Paul-based middleweight Jock Malone, who would go on to capture a piece of the middleweight title from Bryan Downey in his next fight.
Later in August, Walker lost another bout by DQ, this time in a rematch with Wildcat Nelson in Long Branch, NJ. The first round was a highly entertaining one that had the crowd on its feet, but towards the end of the rounds Mickey again strayed low and Nelson was determined unfit to continue by the ringside physician and was awarded the win.
The two were scheduled to meet again in two weeks, but Mickey moved on and stopped the inexperienced Artie Bird in New York in September.
Finally a return bout with welterweight champion Britton was negotiated for early November, and the two met at Madison Square Garden with Tex Rickard promoting. The fight was not without strange drama, as before the bout the betting odds swung sharply from 6-5 for Britton to 8-5 in favor of Walker, with money pouring in for Mickey by stoppage in 10, and all bets were declared off - a clear oddity that had ringside observers baffled and suspicious.
As for the bout itself, Walker was all over the older champ from the 1st round on, but Britton's defensive mastery was clear when Mickey attempted to fight from a distance. The Denver Post said Britton made Walker look "amateurish" at times, clubbing with hooks and missing wildly at range. Mickey's will paid off though, scoring a flash knockdown in the 2nd, staggering the champ in the 6th and 7th, and forcing him to a knee in both rounds 10 and 12. The 13th through 15th saw Britton playing keep away with quicker feet as Walker chased relentless, trying to score a stoppage. Though it never came, Mickey Walker was the new welterweight champion at 21-years old, by way of unanimous decision.
Mickey racked up five wins by March of 1923, which included another decision over Johnny Griffiths, a stinker against the polyonymous Charley Nashert, and a stoppage over Steve Latzo, one of the fighting Latzo brothers.
In March, 1923, eager to avenge the loss of older his brother, Pete Latzo, then already an experienced pro himself at 21, attempted to tackle Walker in Mickey's first official title defense. However, shortly before the fight Mickey was suspended by the New York boxing commission for allegedly engaging in a "dancing act" instead of an honest scrape against Nashert, as well as the illegality of Nashert fighting under one of his many psuedonyms. The match up with the younger Latzo brother was allowed to continue in Newark though, with the New Jersey commission to meet shortly thereafter.
Pete would later say of the bout that "[Walker] beat me pretty badly," and the Trenton Evening Times reported that "Walker gave Latzo a severe trouncing from the opening round until the termination of the twelfth. Latzo was on the verge of a knockout during the closing rounds, but saved himself by continual clinching." Mickey also brutalized Latzo to the body, as the Springfield Republican said "At the end of the bout the challenger's right side was a mass of red welts."
Additionally, in walking through Latzo and flooring him in the 4th with a huge left hook, Walker earned his now-famous nickname, "The Toy Bulldog." A New York sports editor named Francis Albertanti (who would later be a Ring Magazine columnist and manage "Cinderella Man" Jim Braddock) officially coined the name, although Walker had been referred to as a "bulldog" by many reporters before.
From April to September, 1923, Walker went 6-0 with 5 KO's, including a stoppage over highly experienced Johnny Riley and former foe Nate Siegel, with the lone decision win coming against Midwest journeyman Cowboy Padgett on the undercard of Gene Tunney vs. Jimmy Delaney at the Coliseum in Chicago. Walker floored Padgett twice en route to the 10 round win.
Maude Kelly, the younger sister of a trainer partner, would score a TKO win over Walker by way of marriage in June though.
The return bout with Padgett in July in Newark was going similarly, when Mickey and Padgett tumbled out of the ring and Cowboy was unable to continue. According to the Repository, "Padgett was unable to continue, having sustained two broken ribs when his right side crashed against a press table ... [Jack] Britton administered a neat pasting to the Cowboy in Youngstown, and Walker was giving him the same treatment, having floored him for short counts three times during the bout."
In late September of '23, Mickey was scheduled to face Jimmy Jones, who had been an amateur champion in the U.S. Army while stationed in Italy and was then the welterweight champion for the newly-created NYSAC title (won in a 10 rounder against Dave Shade in July). An apparent injury to Walker's right hand delayed the bout into October, though some journalists suspected Mickey was using extra time to make weight. Regardless, late money flowed in for Jones and tightened the odds by fight time, reported the Trenton Evening Times, and it was speculated that the extra week would help to sell more tickets.
Walker vs. Jones was to be essentially one of the first official unification bouts in boxing, as Walker was recognized as welterweight champion outside of New York and New Jersey, whose commission was still unhappy with Walker for his failure to fight George Ward in a timely manner. To pile on, the fairly new National Boxing Association manufactured their own version of the welterweight title for the bout.
But instead of providing clarity in the division, the Newark bout was a woeful dud, as both men refused to engage and were warned repeatedly by referee Danny Sullivan to punch more. However, in the 9th round, the bout was stopped by the chief boxing commissioner on site, much to the relief of the crowd of 22,000 booing fans, and declared a No Contest. It was then announced that neither fighter would be paid their purses, which would instead go to a local charity.
To make matters worse, right before the fight Jones was stripped of his NYSAC title for fighting Walker, under suspension by the commission, and the NBA title was left without an owner.
After the fight, Mickey would say that his hands had not fully recovered and that every punch he landed hurt him more than they hurt Jones.
Aside from the obvious headache the whole to-do caused, the welterweight title picture was likely even more muddled than before, in lieu of commissions and other organizations attempting to create their own champions. International news correspondent George Barry wrote the next day, "If anyone can tell today who is the welterweight champion of the wide, wide world, he must be a seventh son of a seventh son and carry a crystal ball in his hip pocket."
Following some down time to let his mitts heal, Mickey was scheduled travel to Canada for the first time on December 21, 1923, and take on Canadian welterweight Moe Herscovitch. Perhaps in an effort to find a way around his suspension and stay busy, Mickey fought an "exhibition" in Paterson, NJ against Tommy Stapleton the day before. When NJ commissioner Newton Bugbee suggested further punishment beyond the suspension, Jack Bulger threatened legal action and claimed Walker fought the exhibition at the behest of an old friend and priest who presided over his wedding, and that it was to benefit the church.
Mickey escaped additional punishment and fought Herscovitch in Toronto, knocking him down five times en route to a knockout win in 6, despite bleeding profusely from a headbutt-induced cut over his left eye. Mickey would later say it was the first time he was ever cut in a fight.
Taking almost two months off to let the cut heal, Walker began 1924 with a third fight against Wildcat Nelson, which he won by TKO in the 4th without issue in early February. Later in the month, the NYSAC met to determine who Mickey would fight next, but couldn't come to a decision.
In the next month, Mickey fought twice more, winning both by stoppage, but not without a bit of fuss. He first knocked out Eddie Billings in the 5th on a foul in Detroit, with The Evening Repository reporting, "A blow to the kidneys ripped the ligaments so badly that Billings' left leg became useless and he fell to the floor helpless. Up to this period it was an excellent bout with Billings showing well." And a week later, his fight against NY welter Mike Dempsey was stopped in 5 when Dempsey began "stalling." Said the Evening Tribune, "Referee Joe Keally stopped the bout when Dempsey stood before the champion with his guard down and his jaw exposed apparently awaiting the knockout punch."
Journeyman Johnny Gill was up next for Mickey in late March, but his manager Jack Bulger had fallen ill with acute appendicitis not long after the Dempsey fight. In late March, complications with his appendectomy arose and Bulger's health took a turn for the worse, so Walker postponed the Gill fight and rushed to the Newark hospital where Bulger was staying to offer blood for a transfusion. Jack's brother also showed up to give blood, but efforts were futile and Bulger passed away on March 25, 1924.
Mickey tried to steer clear of Jack's financial issues after his death and resumed training to face Gill as soon as he could. On April 21 in Philly, Walker scored a 10 round decision in what a number of publications described as a "hard contest," with Gill weighing in a good five pounds heavier than Mickey.
Then in early June of 1924, the National Boxing Association gave Walker another crack at becoming their first welterweight titlist against southpaw lightweight great Lew Tendler. Before about 25,000 fans at the Phillies Ballpark, Mickey won about 8 of the entertaining 10 rounds. The Seattle Daily Times said of the bout, "Mickey did not mind Lew's port side method of milling. He kept in so close that it made no difference to him what stance Tendler employed." The AP reporter on site credited Mickey's patented body assault for earning him the win, and another unofficially official defense of the welterweight crown. And shortly before the fight, Mickey picked up a new manager and adviser, former New Jersey boxing commissioner Joe Degnan.
The NYSAC reconvened following the Tendler bout, and declared Mickey needed to face David Shade to fill the vacancy left by stripping Jimmy Jones of their belt.
In the meantime, a long talked about match up between Walker and lightweight champion Benny Leonard was finalized for August 20th. Leonard had been inactive and trying to find success in Hollywood, and elected to take on old foe Pal Moran in Cleveland on August 11th as a warm-up. Unfortunately, Leonard dislocated his right thumb in the 4th of 10 rounds against Moran, and even in winning a good 9 rounds, the injury proved to be ligament damage and a fracture, which caused Benny to postpone the Walker bout indefinitely.
Mickey tentatively agreed to a fight Shade again at an undetermined date, though the commission demanded it be his next fight. Undaunted, and probably still a little sore at his suspension, Mickey confirmed from ringside at the Harry Wills vs. Luis Firpo bout on September 11th that he would face Shade after first stepping in with Bobby Barrett in late September. Barrett's manager James Daugherty extended a $25,000 offer to Mickey for another fighter at Phillies Stadium after they'd found out about Leonard's thumb injury and cancellation.
Rain delayed the September 30th meeting by a day, and on October 1st, Barrett was knocked off his feet a total of nine times in just under 6 rounds. "The Toy Bulldog" mugged Barrett early, decking him seven times in the 1st round, with the final knockdown of the stanza being interrupted by the bell. Barrett then held desperately as Walker tried to finish things, and Mickey eventually slowed down, but kept pressure constant. Then in round 6, Walker floored Barrett with a nasty body shot for a count of nine, and was met with a huge right hand to the jaw which put him out of his misery. The Republic reported, "Three times Mickey's punches knocked him from his under-pinning and three times he sagged to the canvas from sheer weakness. Despite Barrett's famed punch, Walker showed himself a true champion by slugging toe to toe with his opponent all through the battle."
Gaining in notoriety and becoming something of a hot item around the welterweight division, Walker spent much of 1924 to that point fielding competing offers from numerous regional draws and hungry contenders. But Mickey expressed a clear interest in moving up to middleweight and challenging reigning champion Harry Greb.
Instead, in late October Mickey rematched St. Paul native Jock Malone, who he'd lost a decision to a few years earlier before becoming champion, and who had since gone on to grow into a good-sized middleweight and end the career of underrated great Mike O'Dowd with a 1st round knockout. As the bout was to take place in Newark and New Jersey had not yet legalized points decisions, the title was only up for grabs for Malone if he won by knockout, and there was speculation as to whether or not the larger man would attempt to make the 147 lb. limit. To add to the drama, Walker was still essentially persona non grata as far as the commission was concerned.
For a few fights Mickey had been training at his home in Rumson, NJ about 35 miles away from Elizabeth, while Malone trained at Ryan's Gymnasium in Newark for the last few days before the fight.
20,000 people showed up to the 113th Regiment Armory in Newark, which only seated 10,000. In the frantic rush to get seats, a few people were trampled, which summoned the police. The bout moved forward as scheduled though, with Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo in attendance. And before a packed house, Walker smothered as usual, and raked at Malone's sides in close, pitching a near shutout through 12 rounds on more than a few ringside scorecards.
Stepping in with Mickey Walker again angered the New Jersey and New York commissions though, and Malone found himself on the list of guys the commissions weren't exactly happy with. Even Malone's opponent a little over a week later in St. Paul, Morrie Schlaifer, found himself on the wrong end of a ban in New York for fighting Malone 1000+ miles away from "The Empire State."
As for Walker, beating a middleweight seemed to lend legitimacy to Mickey's desire to meet Greb sooner rather than later.
Milwaukee fight promoter Frank Mulhern put up a good offer to stage a third match up between Walker and Malone in "The Brew City," and Mickey was also in talks to meet light heavyweight champion Mike McTigue, who had also fallen from the good graces of the NYSAC for failing to face Gene Tunney, in early 1925.
By the time early December rolled around, the McTigue fight was all but finalized and both Walker and Malone were finishing up preparations to meet once more. The Times-Picayune reporter on hand during their training relayed that Malone had shown an excellent jab in sparring, while Mickey continued on with his smashing style, embodying the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage.
The Oregonian said that Walker won "nine out of ten rounds, according to the majority of newspaper men at the ringside." Malone boxed too cautiously early on as Mickey piled up points, and a brief slugfest broke out in the 4th that saw Walker briefly stunned, then answer back in kind, and then some. Mickey almost dropped Malone in the 8th and pummeled his body throughout the contest, taking a newspaper decision over 10 rounds and opening the door to taking on McTigue.
Newark was chosen to host the Walker-McTigue bout, and though Mickey saw it as an opportunity to convince Greb that their meeting should happen soon, it was also a rare occasion where a champion would skip a weight class to meet a champion two divisions north. However, since New Jersey still had not yet legalized decision bouts, only McTigue's title was on the line, and it could only be won if he were stopped.
In the build-up, it was rumored that semi-retired heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey's manager, Jack "Doc" Kearns, would be taking over Mickey's career soon, so as to lend a boost to the welterweight champion's already-skyrocketing status.
Over 10,000 folks watched as Walker consistently took the fight to the defensive-minded McTigue over 12 rounds. The Trenton Evening Times said of the bout, "McTigue enjoyed every physical advantage over Walker, weight, height, reach and experience balancing in his favor, yet it was Walker who made the fight by his aggressiveness and his willingness to carry the fight to McTigue." The light heavyweight champion "fought a safe and sane fight," said the Times.
According to the Times-Picayune, Walker predictably battered McTigue's body and transitioned from upstairs to down nicely, despite McTigue's efforts to use his forearms, elbows and footwork to stay out of trouble. At the end of round 2, the crowd began throwing objects into the ring to protest what they felt was illegal use of the elbows by the light heavyweight champ. Mickey managed to stun McTigue a number of times early in the bout before action slowed in the middle rounds, and the last couple of stanzas again produced fireworks as the two traded in the middle of the ring, McTigue generally getting the worst of it.
Most press ringside felt Walker won going away, and a few noted post-fight that had the bout taken place in New York, Mickey would have crowned the light heavyweight champion.
Within a week, Mickey was slated to face Bert "The Whittier Bearcat" Colima in Vernon, CA, just south of downtown Los Angeles in late February, 1925. Even as a number of reporters predicted that business with Kearns would be finalized during the trip, Colima was a tough out from nearby Whittier and had been stopped only twice in 100+ fights by the time Mickey got hold of him, and promised a battle.
Colima was dropped hard with a hook in the 1st round of the 150 lb., non-title clash, and despite roaring back in the 4th, Walker's patented body work took its toll over the course of almost 7 rounds, and an uppercut and gut shot flattened Colima. His manager Dutch Meyers entered the ring and tried to splash water on him and apply smelling salts, thus Colima was disqualified. Mickey remarked after the bout that a DQ was unnecessary and that the end was near regardless. For his time, Mickey earned $25,000.
In early May it was officially announced that Kearns would indeed be handling Mickey's career from then on out, and press realized that Mickey had gone to California with the intention of hooking up with Kearns - even staying at the Hotel Barbara, which Kearns and Dempsey owned.
According to Kearns, on the night they agreed to split everything 50-50 on a handshake, Walker revealed that he had already agreed to fight Greb for the middleweight title in July for a paltry $20,000, much to Kearns' astonishment. Doc begged Walker to pull out, but Mickey insisted he'd already struck the deal and couldn't in good conscience go back.
In keeping with their deal, they even went halfsies on the two women Mickey had with him when they met up to do business, and Kearns took one to a room in the hotel.
Mickey was quickly matched with local up-and-comer Lefty Cooper in San Francisco, and upon his arrival with Kearns, they were greeted by a crowd and escorted by city officials to the upscale St. Francis Hotel. In addition to a hero's welcome, Dreamland ice skating rink, which regularly hosted fights on Fridays, was turned into a gymnasium for Walker's stay, and fights there were temporarily postponed.
The bout was initially promoted as a title affair (the first in California since 10 round fights were legalized, in fact), but the week prior, Kearns announced via press that Walker's welterweight title wouldn't be on the line. Walker's camp felt the $15,000 guarantee (plus a percentage of the gate) wasn't enough to risk his belt, and a clause in the fight contract set the limit at 150 lbs.
Said San Diego's Evening Tribune, "[Walker] did not care to risk his title against such comparative unknowns as Colima and Cooper. A title holder's prestige, however, requires him to take any bout seriously, and Walker has trained here with the avowed intention of stopping Cooper more quickly, if possible, than Colima."
Mickey turned intention into reality when he rolled over Cooper, who had sunk to a 7-1 underdog by fight time, in front of 15,000 people in less than a round.
Cooper was badly hurt almost two minutes into the fight by a nasty left hook, and a right hand that followed moments later scrambled his senses and sent him floundering to the canvas. Lefty was counted out by referee Larry McGrath while struggling to get to his feet.
News of Greb vs. Walker went under the radar in comparison to other match ups like Gene Tunney vs. Tommy Gibbons, but promotion was scheduled to kick off in mid-June - the week after Tunney and Gibbons met.
Harry Wills and Dave Shade were added to the NYC Polo Grounds card and the press coverage seemed to increase. The United News reported that George Engle, former manager to Greb, had picked Walker in the bout, saying that Harry was most comfortable against bigger men that he could out-speed and out-maneuver with his awkward and non-stop attack. Additionally, while Mickey was known to have a drink or two, he also trained steadily. Harry Greb, on the other hand, was known for his drunken debauchery and occasional half-assed training, and had actually been involved in some unspecified "nocturnal episode" with police in Pittsburgh following his knockout of Jimmy Nuss a month before the Walker bout.
When Walker and Kearns arrived in New York, neither man was greeted with the same welcome as in San Francisco. The NY commission was especially unhappy with Kearns, who had failed to produce a Jack Dempsey vs. Harry Wills fight. Kearns' excuse was that politicians continued to block the bout from happening at every attempt, but commissioner Bill Muldoon informed Doc that not only would he not be allowed to work in Walker's corner for the fight, but also barred from entering the Polo Grounds.
On July 2, the day of the fight, Greb was pegged an odds-on favorite despite news of a tumultuous training camp.
Due to the commission-related tension, Kearns headed over to Lahiff's Tavern on West 48th St. and listened to the fight on their radio. The three bouts of the card, whose proceeds would go to charity, were fitting appetizers for the main event of Greb and Walker. The crowd of 60,000+ eagerly anticipated what was sure to be a terrific collision.
Coming off a stint at light heavyweight, Greb was by this time well known for beating Gene Tunney once, and light heavyweight great Tommy Loughran a few times, and he weighed in a good 7 lbs. heavier than Walker. The size and weight disparity showed early, even if only in spots. Walker drove Greb to the ropes and whipped body shots at the middleweight champion with consistency, but was pushed back by Greb and chopped with right hands in kind. The fight was fought at what the Associated Press called "a maddening pace," and Walker was briefly brought to a knee by a big right from Greb in round 2.
As rounds wore on, a pattern began to emerge: Walker relentlessly going to Greb's body, and Greb returning fire to stun Mickey, who would generally answer back with violence.
The Dallas Morning News described the scene in the 5th. "Greb landed his right to Walker's uncovered jaw, but Walker countered with a harder blow to Greb's jaw. Blood began to show from Walker's mouth. They mixed it furiously. They traded body blows at close quarters. Walker landed his left to Greb's body, but took a stiff right to the body and head in return. They were sparring for an opening as the bell halted the round."
The consensus seemed to be that Greb was the stronger, harder-punching guy who was able to lead Walker around the ring, with Mickey lashing out like a cornered animal and managing to stun the larger champ. Otherwise, they took turns crashing hard shots at each other and were both wobbled on numerous occasions. Unfortunately for Mickey, his skin told a different tale, and by the last third of the fight, he was bleeding from his mouth, nose and ears.
In the 7th, referee Eddie Purdy fell to the canvas, dislocating his knee while attempting to break one of the many clinches that resulted from the two brutes colliding. The injury actually may have affected the action itself, as Purdy wound up using the ropes, and at times even the fighters, to hold himself up.
Going into the last few rounds, Walker appeared the worse for wear and was reportedly visibly shaken by many of Greb's right hands, despite generally being able to storm right back into the fight and fend "The Pittsburgh Windmill" off.
Mickey threatened to seize momentum in the 11th, sending Greb across the ring with a right-left combination, bringing the crowd to its feet and closing the round battling him fiercely. Again in the 12th Mickey did well, rocking Greb early in the round and finishing the round in the clinch, doing his patented body work.
Greb came back in 13 and Walker's eye began to swell terribly. In the 14th, "a stinging right to the jaw rocked Walker to his own corner and he reeled about the ring helpless against Greb's furious attack. He was almost out, but he pulled himself together and staggered Greb with a short left to the face." The rest of the round saw Mickey simply proving toughness though, with the bell saving him from further punishment.
Cut over his left eye and his face covered in blood, Walker was again hurt early in the 15th and final round, but immediately went berserk and forced Greb to cover up in a corner for a spell. The two went toe-to-toe for the remainder of the round, all but spent by the final bell.
The decision went to Greb, who many ringside observers actually had behind going into the 11th round. But the crowd offered nothing but cheers for the men who harnessed chaos in the ring.
This defeat marked the first loss for Mickey after almost three years, following a 27 fight win streak.
Walker and Greb's business wasn't through, however, and the two ran into each other a few times again that night, the final meeting supposedly producing a brawl that would become something of a boxing legend.
According to Doc Kearns' account in Sports Illustrated a few decades later, Mickey met up with him at Lahiff's after the fight. Downtrodden and both of his eyes almost swollen closed, Mickey barely saw Greb walk into the tavern and over to their table, where a brief back-and-forth verbal exchange took place - mostly in jest. Greb walked away, and Walker and Kearns left and hit a few bars on the way to the glitzy Manhattan nightclub, The Silver Slipper.
What happened next has been the subject of much speculation and numerous tall tales, but both Walker and Kearns claimed that Mickey saw Greb across the club with a lady, sat down at their table and attempted to hit on Harry's date. The two then squared up and headed outside, and when Greb began to remove his coat, Mickey belted him with a right hand that sent him fumbling into the street. They began tussling but were broken up when a police officer approached.
But according to number of Greb's acquaintances like Happy Albacker, the "fight" either never took place, or wasn't more than some shoving.
The rumor was free publicity though, and a rematch was a natural. But by the end of the week, Kearns and Walker were ordered to appear in front of the NY commission to iron out when and where a welterweight title defense against David Shade could be made. Kearns had additional business in New York though, as he would attempt to reconcile with Jack Dempsey, with whom he had recently split, and finalize a bout with Harry Wills with the commission.
With neither in any hurry to appease New York officials, a fight against Bermondsey Billy Wells was booked for August 7th in Chicago. Wells was billed as the British welterweight champion, though there's no record of him ever holding the title.
Rain postponed the bout the day of, and the rescheduled meeting on the 10th was canceled when it was discovered Wells had left Chicago and gone to New York. Promoter James Mullen was forced to return over $20,000 in advance receipts and Wells' manager Charles Harvey made no excuses for his man, claiming he'd simply skipped town without notice.
About a week later a replacement bout against Sailor Friedman was finalized for Chicago. Over 8,000 appeared to see Walker take a newspaper decision over 10 tougher-than-anticipated rounds. Mickey sent Friedman through the ropes with a short right hand in the 1st and cruised until the 8th, where Friedman seemed to recover and exhibit a sense of urgency. Sailor pounded Mickey into a corner, then stunned him once each in the last two rounds.
Said the Evening Tribune, "So thrilling were the last three rounds of milling that one spectator of the 8500 present, collapsed and died, presumably of heart disease."
In late August, it was reported that Mickey had signed a promotional contract with Tex Rickard and would defend the welterweight title, for the first time in almost a year, against David Shade at Yankee Stadium for $100,000 in late September. Former Dempsey trainer Teddy Hayes was shipped up to New York for the sole purpose of readying Walker for Shade.
Shade discussed his strategy before the bout with Chicago sports writer Sam Hall. "Walker, you know, tries to whip his men with stomach punches. If he aims to do that to me he certainly will have to crouch with me and fight very low or there will be nobody for him to shoot at. If he stands up straight, which is his style, then he will have to hit down at me in the crouch and that won't be so good for him. If he crouches he will be meeting me at my own game."
The "crouch" Shade kept referring to was the style he used to befuddle Jimmy Slattery en route to a KO3 on the undercard of Greb vs. Walker.
Walker was a consensus 6-5 favorite going in, and despite Shade's proposed plan, he stood toe-to-toe with Walker for much of the encounter. Needless to say, Mickey likely had a say in how the bout unfolded and forced the action more often than not. After losing a number of early rounds, Walker kicked it into high gear and began to clearly win exchanges, according to most ringside observers. Though Walker finished much stronger in a dynamite 15th round, he settled for a split verdict among the three judges.
The show traveled back to the Newark Armory for the first time in a few years, where Mickey rematched Sailor Friedman on Thanksgiving Eve of '25, and this time with his title on the line, but only by DQ or KO as New Jersey still didn't allow bouts to go to decision.
Walker killed the body early on as usual, and Friedman was staggered and swarmed viciously in the 7th, but weathered the storm and fought well in the final two rounds. Mickey was the consensus winner among ringside scorers, with 10 rounds on his side and two even.
If Kearns is to be believed, he and Mickey "painted the whole town" and were "kindred spirits," always willing to share a dozen or two drinks with each other - sometimes in the company of such known ne'er-do-wells as Jack "Legs" Diamond.
In February of 1926, local Scranton promoters Nat Strauss and Jim Frawley offered Walker $30,000 to fight Pete Latzo again, which was accepted by Walker's camp a few days later. Although Walker was almost ordered by the New York commission to face Tommy Milligan, British welterweight champion, another Walker vs. Latzo fight was scheduled for mid-May.
Latzo was considered the local kid, and the Canton Repository reported, "Prayers are being offered at Greek Catholic and Slavish churches in the anthracite region that Latzo may wrest the title from Walker."
Once again training at home in Rumson, rumors surfaced that Mickey was having difficulty making the welterweight limit, but his camp quickly denied them.
After holding the welterweight title for almost three and a half years, over 12,000 folks at the Col. Watres Armory in Scranton, PA witnessed Mickey Walker become an ex-champion at the hands of Latzo on May 20, 1926.
Walker appeared to win the first three rounds on aggression and body work, but was hurt in the 4th and being pounded on in the corner when the bell sounded. Mickey opened up a cut under Latzo's right eye in the 5th, reportedly winning the remainder of the round with ruthless stomach shots. From then on though, Mickey's punches seemed to lose their steam, and Latzo was willing to pick up the slack. The 10th and last round was a terrific finish, both men trading at will, with Latzo getting the better.
The Associated Press reported that the average tally at ringside was a 5-3-2 score in rounds for Latzo on the strength of his stinging overhand rights and unreal will to win.
A rematch was offered by Latzo and his team after the fight essentially as proper protocol, but Mickey would say that with the weight of the title off his shoulders, he wouldn't be particular about his opponents nor purses on his way back to again seizing the title.
Instead, in early June Mickey agreed to face Joe Dundee, who was fresh off a points win over contender Willie Harmon, at Madison Square Garden on the 17th. An injury to one of Walker's thumbs in training postponed the bout for a week though.
12,000 fans witnessed what many believed was the demise of Walker, as despite winning the 1st round in expected fashion, Mickey faded round by round and was gashed over his left eye badly in the 4th. Blood streaming from his face and pawing at his eye in clinches, Walker's defense crumbled and referee Eddie Forbes stopped the fight after Mickey took a huge right hand to the cut towards the end of the 8th round. "The Toy Bulldog" protested the stoppage with head held high, but was halted inside the distance for the first time since his 1919 bout against Johnny Smith.
Kearns later said Walker told him he was "finished" with boxing, though to press Mickey would only say he was taking a five-month vacation from the sport to work in a Maine lumber camp.
And again according to Kearns, Doc sat Mickey down a few days after Tunney vs. Dempsey I in late September and convinced him that his recent struggles were due to having to make weight, and that he'd be more successful at middleweight. Doc quoted Mickey as replying, "O.K., Doc. We'll give it a try the way you say. But I've got to name one condition. You've got to get me the toughest you can find in the middleweight division. I'll tell you why. If I can't beat a good fighter, I got no business fighting."
Additionally, Mickey would later say he didn't think Paddy Mullins, Pete Latzo's manager, would give them a rematch and a shot at regaining the title, and largely due to the failings of the Kearns and Mullins' attempts to match their fighters Dempsey and Harry Wills, respectively.
Kearns matched Mickey against Shuffle Callahan in Chicago for his "comeback," and the former champ battered Callahan about the ring until the end of the 5th, when Shuffle's manager Eddie Kane threw in the towel for his man.
A return to staying busy saw Walker fight Joe Simonich in Philadelphia about a month later, and despite decking Mickey in the 1st round, Simonich was mugged en route to a rough decision loss over 10 rounds.
Jock Malone got a shot at evening a series with Mickey at two wins apiece in late November, but Mickey out-pointed him in 10 on a relatively small card in Boston that basically went under the radar.
On the same day in Chicago, recently-deceased Harry Greb's middleweight successor, Tiger Flowers, scored a points win over Eddie Huffman. Kearns scheduled a meeting with Tiger's manager Walker Miller at the champion's house one the South Side of Chicago. Kearns claimed that he was able to talk them into granting Mickey a shot at the middleweight title in early December for a $50,000 guarantee, but not without basically tricking them into believing Walker was washed up and ready to retire.
The 11,000 people who showed up made for a record Chicago gate at somewhere around $90,000.
Walker sent Flowers, the first black mainstream champion since Jack Johnson, to the canvas in the 1st, but was cut over his left eye again in the 4th and had difficulty seeing in the middle rounds. Mickey seemed to make up for it a bit with a knockdown in the 9th and by hurting the champion in the 10th and final round, but when Mickey was declared the new champion by referee and sole judge Benny Yanger, most ringside observers seemed to disagree. Copeland C. Burg of the International News Service even suggested that other scribes had overheard officials saying the fight was "in the bag" the week prior.
Though the Illinois Commission declared a "probe" of the verdict the next day, Flowers' camp kept protests to a minimum and simply looked forward to a rematch in the very near future. However, the next morning at breakfast, Mickey was quote as saying, "I do not want the title unless I won it fairly. I think I did do that. But, anyway, I will give Flowers a return bout just as soon as he wants it and I don't care where we fight. How about Timbuctoo -- ain't that a place in Africa? Anyway, I think I beat Flowers last night, and I can do it again."
Within a week the referee's decision was upheld, though the controversy seemed to push Illinois to changing its system to two separate judges and a referee tie-breaker if necessary.
In early February, Mickey went to Fresno to face hapless pug Mickey Wallace in a non-title affair. Last minute issues forced the state commissioner to iron out details of whether or not the fight was fair enough to take place and weight stipulations, but ultimately business moved forward and Walker stopped Wallace in 3.
Kearns received an offer from now British middleweight champion Tommy Milligan's representatives for a June 30th, 1927 title defense in London for a $110,000 guarantee. He accepted, and he and Mickey took off for a boat to England, on which they essentially partied and gambled the whole time.
In London, Mickey was treated to a high class training facility and visits from local celebrities. And in another yarn of Kearns', the fight's promoter Charles B. Cochran challenged him to a wager of 3-1 odds against Mickey's entire purse after they'd been tricked into believing Walker was drinking heavily and not training.
Come fight night on June 30th, Milligan proved to be a tough and game foe. The Associated Press summed the fight up as follows: "It was a battle of speed against punch and the wallop won." Milligan began by out-speeding Walker in early rounds, but Mickey's pace quickened in the 5th and he was able to drop the Scot twice in the 7th, twice in the 9th, and for the final time in the 10th, all from right hands.
After returning from a post-fight Europe excursion, Cleveland promoter Walter Taylor set up a bout against hard-hitting prospect Wilson Yarbo. In front of over 10,000 people at the Taylor Bowl in Cleveland, Yarbo stunned Mickey early in the 1st round, then ate leather for the remaining 11 and left the ring a mess after losing a decision.
Walker and Kearns then traveled to Chicago to catch the Tunney vs. Dempsey "Long Count" rematch in late September and wound up staying to book a few fights. The first was another go-round with former light heavyweight champion Mike McTigue, who had lost his belt to Paul Berlenbach immediately after fighting Mickey the first time. But McTigue didn't last a round with Mickey in Chicago. After swarming the bigger man and decking him four times, McTigue's corner tossed their sponge into the ring, ending the fight at just over two minutes in. Notably, the referee for their bout was Dave Barry, who actually administered the famed "Long Count."
Days later it was announced Mickey would fight again at the end of November against Berlenbach, who had of course since lost his belt. Initially set for somewhere in California, the bout settled in Chicago, much to the delight of Kearns, who was chums with Al Capone.
9,000 fans jammed the Coliseum in the "Windy City" and by round 4 of the bout, Mickey had dropped Berlenbach twice with hooks, but slowed considerably towards the end of the 10 round fight. Regardless, most observers said Walker had done enough to win every round on the cards, and he was awarded a points decision.
The following day, press reported that both Walker and Kearns had been placed on the New York Commission's "ineligible list" for failing to respond to a title challenge from Oklahoma guy George Courtney.
Between fights the National Boxing Association suspended Mickey indefinitely, but a non-tile match against Texan journeyman Cowboy Jack Willis was scheduled for late February, 1928 back in San Francisco.
A sell-out crowd of about 12,000 people watched as Mickey struggled through the first few rounds, getting staggered by a hook-right hand combo in the 3rd. Walker turned the tide in the 4th with the help of some well-placed low blows that drew warnings from referee Toby Irwin, and also won round 5 handily. In the 6th Cowboy's sniffer began gushing blood, but he clawed his way back into the round by viciously going after the champion, hurting him again and opening a cut over his right eye. "In the seventh they mauled each other unmercifully and the fans howled with delight," reported the Dallas Morning News, but Walker began beating Willis up in 8 and 9. However, in Mickey Walker fashion, the 10th round closed with furious exchanges.
Though Walker took the points decision, Willis' effort was lauded by most Associated Press reports, and many felt the bout was at least very close.
In early April a deal was struck between Jim Mullen and Kearns for Mickey to fight Ace Hudkins in a Chicago title defense in June. But business for Mickey was suspended briefly so Kearns could attend to his lawsuit against Jack Dempsey that would be taking place a few weeks after the fight was signed.
Mickey fought a few times beforehand though, beating George Smith and Tony Marullo in May, then a title defense against familiar foe Jock Malone in St. Paul in early June. According to the A.P., Malone took one round of 10, wobbling Mickey in the 5th, but the rest went to Walker, who swarmed Malone and wouldn't let up.
The Hudkins fight at Comiskey Park in Chicago was a grimy tussle in front of about 30,000 fans, most cheering for "The Nebraska Wildcat" Ace. Seattle Daily Times reported Robert Edgren reported from Chicago that Hudkins did as much striking with his head as he did with the leather, ramming Walker all over the ring and mauling him in a forced clinch in the early rounds, though Mickey wasn't without his moments despite being cut on the nose in the 1st and over the right eye in the 2nd . Finally in the 4th and 5th Walker broke through with a few stinging shots to the chin, but Hudkins never relented, pinning the top of his head to Mickey's throat and swinging wildly at him with his forearms, elbows, palms, wrists...and the occasional punch.
By the end of a frenetic 10th round, Hudkins was cut over both eyes in a few spots and his nose bled freely. The crowd booed the judges, who both scored the bout for the champion, and cheered referee Eddie Purdy, who scored it for Hudkins.
Mickey had officially defended his middleweight title three times, but away from the ring, he and Kearns tore through piles of money and stacks of women, even with Mickey's second child still cooking.
He fought twice in the next eight months, the first tilt being a KO7 over light-hitting Armand Emanuel in San Francisco, followed by another meeting with Cowboy Willis in the same city for a 10 round points win in February, 1929.
Scant rumors floated about that a 45 round fight between Mickey and light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran would be held in Mexico, but that idea never came to fruition. Instead, the two met for Loughran's title, christening Chicago Stadium on March 28th. With a win, Walker would be come the first fighter to hold legitimate titles in three different divisions.
20,000 fans got to see Mickey in more of a stylist match up than they were used to, the mood even being carried through by a jazz band playing between rounds. Overall, Loughran used his poleaxe jab and clever footwork to out-maneuver and evade Walker for the majority of the 10 round fight. Only once in the 5th round did Mickey catch Loughran big, and the shot had Tommy glassy-eyed for the remainder of the round. After that point, however, Loughran went back to work, occasionally trading with the smaller man towards the end of the fight.
The two judges scored it for Loughran, the referee for Walker, who made $50,000 for having his three-divisional dream shattered.
Though the fight set records for indoor attendance and gate receipts in Chicago to that point, after having agreed to pay undercard scrappers from his own purse, Loughran only wound up with $4,000 for the defense of his title. Kearns later alleged a deal had been offered for Mickey to make more money in losing than in winning, but according to Doc, they never took it, and Mickey lost honestly.
Mickey took time off to try and repair his broken home life, but was instead greeted with divorce papers after arriving home.
His ring return in August saw him in with the "Aberdeen Assassin," light heavyweight Leo Lomski, and again it seemed as if someone had place a cookie cutter over the bulk of his fight looks and kept churning them out. Mickey charged early and had difficulty with a man unwilling to trade and mix with him, but generally applied the pressure and closed strong. Both men were wobbled mid-fight, and the A.P. and United Press were split on the outcome; the A.P. (and a ringside Loughran) felt Lomski did enough to win narrowly, while the United Press reported that "Walker turned in one of the finest efforts in his career."
Though the nature of the win wasn't very clear-cut, many felt it put Mickey in line to hold the now vacant light heavyweight belt, as Loughran had vacated his strap to tangle with heavyweights.
Walker again defended his middleweight strap against Ace Hudkins in late October, and though he was described as "perfectly portly" against Lomski, he clearly had gotten himself into great shape for the bout as he pounded out what was reported as an easy decision. By the fight's end, Hudkins was cut over the left eye and bleeding profusely. The United Press scored only one round for the challenger.
Walker and Kearns took more time off, and in no small part due to the Stock Market Crash which literally was unfolding as Walker was in the ring with Hudkins. While on their vacation, Jimmy Slattery vs. Lou Scozza was sanctioned by the NYSAC for the light heavyweight title, and Mickey openly began looking towards the heavyweights, setting his sights on the heavyweight championship sometime in the near future.
His first order of business in February, 1930 was to again beat Lomski, and this time more convincingly.
The Olympia Arena in Detroit hosted about 17,500 people, and Mickey won a good seven out of 10 rounds by a wide margin, and this time had Lomski holding on for dear life in the 9th and 10th rounds, trying to avoid hitting the canvas.
Following the Lomski rematch, the size of his opponents climbed, while their class and ability clearly dipped, but Mickey was attempting to ready himself for much larger challenges. More specifically, Kearns had intentions of matching Mickey with heavyweight Jack Sharkey.
In March he ran through three opponents in four rounds or less before signing to fight heavyweight spoiler Johnny Risko, who wound up having to skip the fight due to illness. Instead, Mickey was tentatively matched with Paul Swiderski, a big light heavyweight that had worked with Walker in the gym previously. According to Walker and Kearns, when a deal couldn't be made, Mickey took to the local pubs in Louisville, Kentucky and had his way with a few bottles. But when the fight was unexpectedly signed later in the afternoon, Kearns had to go find Mickey and drag him to the ring.
Walker was floored thrice in the 1st and saved by the bell, once in the 2nd, got banged around in round 3, then came back to level Swiderski four times of his own. The final tally in rounds was six for Mickey and four to his opponent but it wasn't without major controversy.
When Mickey was saved by the bell in round 1, Kearns was said to have tossed a water bottle at the official bell to ding it himself. Swiderski, who supposedly saw the trick, whacked Mickey once more as he got to his feet, which prompted Walker's trainer Teddy Hayes to rush the ring and go after Swiderski. Then Paul's cornermen joined the brawl, and finally police to break it up. As the bout resumed in the 2nd and Walker was again decked, the ring lights went out.
Mickey fought three more times over the next few months, including a 10 round points victory over solid-ish light heavyweight Charley Berlanger, and then again took in Swiderski in September, but much closer to home in Newark.
The United Press (via the Rockford Morning Star) reported of their rematch, "Walker carried the fighting to Swiderski throughout the fight and had his opponent continually holding and clinching. Walker, with a disadvantage of 20 lbs., nearly floored Paul in the final round with an incessant two fisted attack to Swiderski's body."
Four fights in October kept Mickey just above the middleweight limit against barely-notable opponents, and Walker stopped all four in the early goings.
Repeated attempts at putting Walker in with second-tier heavyweight Johnny Risko paid off in November, and the two met in Detroit in front of 19,000 people. Overcoming a nearly 30-lb. handicap, Walker floored Risko for a nine count in the 2nd and wobbled him badly in the 3rd. The Trenton Evening Times said, "Walker paid little attention to Risko's bulk as he tore in to take the decision. Risko, the Cleveland baker boy, who has upset many a promoter's plans by scoring unexpected victories, used his weight and swung his heavy rights to Walker's body and head, but he could not stand off the rushing Walker attack or successfully block the latter's sizzling left hook."
The "standing room only" crowd watched as the men traded in the final two rounds, with Walker visibly stung in the 9th, but getting the better of exchanges by far in the 10th.
After winning the points decision, Mickey and Kearns went to the press to call out Sharkey and hard-charging heavyweight Young Stribling. But in his off time, Mickey seemed to have little difficulty keeping weight on with a liquid diet and steady stream of partying with his manager and their hooligan buddies.
Failing to lure either man into a mix-up, Walker got in with Stribling's last victim K.O. Christner in late November and sent him flying through the ropes in less than a round. Despite being out-weighed by almost 40 lbs., Mickey floored Christner with a combination not long into the 1st, and up at the count of three, the heavyweight found himself immediately swarmed upon by Walker and launched across the press table and into the crowd. The 4,000 on hand felt the bout was a farce and quickly booed and yelled "Fake!" Christner claimed to have injured his leg in the fall though, and Walker and Kearns fled from the ring following the announcement of the result.
Mickey took on three more big guys in January of 1931 ahead of another run-in with Risko at Madison Square Garden Stadium in Miami.
The late February card was promoted by "Pa" Stribling, father of heavyweight Young Stribling, and drew about 20,000. Again Risko proved to be a minimal threat and took a shellacking in the last two rounds. Famous essayist and journalist Damon Runyon scored nearly every round for Walker while sitting ringside, adding "Walker spotted the rubbery blubber trial horse from Ohio 29 pounds, and gave him a terrific pounding nearly every foot of the way, the left hooks of the middleweight king beating against the pudgy body of the baker boy until it sounded like a bass drum."
Eye bleeding and nearly shut, Risko listened as the three judges' cards were announced in favor of Walker at the end of 10 rounds.
In March, Mickey signed on to tackle Bearcat Wright, a large Midwestern heavyweight who fought out of a crouch and had a peculiar style. The Omaha World Herald, reporting on the local match up, advertised it as "The Modern Day David Faces Another Goliath." With tickets running for $1-3, 6,000 turned out on April 10th to see the "Goliath" send Walker to the canvas in the 1st, but hit the deck himself in the 2nd and give to Mickey's rushes for the remainder of the fight, and even falling into the ropes under the weight of Walker's assaults in the 10th.
The win was a clear lead-in to a more significant heavyweight scrap, but friendships with speakeasy owners and shady gangsters paid off between fights, and even more so after Mickey won. Ever the generous pair, Mickey and Doc Kearns traded buying rounds for whoever was in their company, usually more concerned with keeping wobbly than anything else.
By mid-June, Walker signed for a New York face off with heavyweight contender Jack Sharkey, whose last fight a year earlier was a low blow DQ loss to Max Schmeling for the vacant heavyweight crown. And after having not defended his middleweight strap for almost two years -- not to mention having full confidence in plowing himself a path to the heavyweight title through Sharkey -- Mickey vacated his belt a few days after confirming the bout.
New York City mayor Jimmy Walker (who Mickey was rumored to have vague relation to) was among the estimated 30,000 in attendance, though the mayor sat at the press table ringside for the memorable tilt. Also in the crowd were former champions Jim Corbett and Gene Tunney, both of which received generous applause.
The only reported pre-fight issue was a matter of which color trunks the fighters would wear, as Mickey insisted on wearing the same faded, patched black trunks that his mother had made him, and thought of them as lucky after winning two titles while wearing them. Odds-makers seemed to agree that he'd need the luck, and made career-heaviest 169 lbs. Mickey a 3-1 underdog by fight time. And as if there weren't enough on his mind already, he was handed divorce papers for a different marriage in the commission office not long before fight time.
Early rounds had Sharkey attempting to stall Mickey's rushes with jabs, clinches and evasion as Loughran had, albeit using his physical advantages in close much more. Mickey began getting low and fighting from a crouch though, unleashing hell on Sharkey's body and pasting him with hooks upstairs between jabs to his mug. By the end of the 4th, Sharkey's eyes were beginning to swell underneath, though Walker appeared to be slowing, likely the result of exchanging with the larger man.
In the 5th, Sharkey's nearly 30 lb. advantage may have shone through in the form of a right uppercut that deposited Mickey on the seat of his pants, though the two-division champion was up before a count could be started. But in the rush for vengeance, Mickey was gashed badly over his left eyebrow by a right hand and took a pounding for the rest of the round.
Mickey fought the steady stream of blood running down his face as well as the bigger man throughout the middle rounds, with the script seemingly that Sharkey would jab and push Walker back, but then absorb hefty body shots and whipping rights and lefts to the head. The much smaller guy dug in and lashed out when threatened, usually landing the quality, but simply not having much visible effect - until the 9th. Mickey finally broke through with more lefts to the body and a series of rights up top that seemed to hurt Sharkey, who jabbed and retreated to the ropes for much of the round. It was enough for Sharkey to come out for the 10th in a defensive posture, content to clinch through the storm.
Sharkey slowly seized the momentum though, and successfully renewed his efforts to destroy the left side of Mickey's face. But in the 13th and 14th, Walker furiously clawed at Sharkey's body and forced him to resort to clinching and rabbit punching. In the final round, the heavyweight closed strong, tearing the cut over Mickey's eye open and hurting him badly before the fight ended.
Crowd support didn't win Mickey the fight, but perhaps a sort of moral victory as the judges rules the contest a draw, and Walker never backed down.
Following a quick 1st round KO over heavyweight journeyman Jack Gagnon, Mickey took the rest of 1931 off, returning the following March to snag two 2nd round stoppages in under a week, one of which was a TKO over Jimmy Mahoney on a card that featured both boxing and wrestling. Later in the month, Walker signed to take on entertaining former fish monger King Levinsky in Chicago.
With 20,000 people on hand, Levinsky squished Walker with a combination in the 1st that had Mickey relying strictly on instinct to see him through. Groggily Walker battled back in the 2nd, and in round 3 he nearly floored Levinsky with a hook to the body that had the wily heavyweight defensive for the rest of the fight, allowing Mickey to take a split decision.
About a month later Mickey took on former Spanish and European heavyweight champion Paulino Uzcudun at Madison Square Garden, expecting a battle with Ernie Schaaf following a potential win; Uzcudun had risen to relative fame about a year earlier by defeating the hard-hitting Max Baer in Reno over 20 rounds.
Through almost 8 rounds, the fight was somewhere in the realm of even, but at the end of the 8th a surging attack from Walker carried over beyond the bell to signal the round's end, and he whacked Uzcudun with a right hand that tore open the bigger guy's left eyebrow. The 8,000 in attendance quickly booed the foul and backed the Spaniard, but the first punch of the 9th round worsened the gash and Uzcudun spent the rest of the 10 rounder in retreat and/or covering up.
A less-than-stellar win led Mickey to another meeting with Johnny Risko, and the "Rumson Bulldog," as Mickey had come to be commonly known by that time, looked to keep his momentum going and earn another shot at Sharkey, who had just won the heavyweight title a few days prior in controversial fashion.
Municipal Stadium in Cleveland hosted the showdown, which Walker was expected to win handily. But the 14,000 in the stands watched as Mickey was upended in the 2nd by an uppercut and sleepwalked through a few more stanzas, while Risko found a aggressive groove and stuck with it, basically doing to Walker what he had done to so many foes himself.
Mickey was able to stun Risko in the 10th and 11th, and likely took the rounds big, but the 12th round saw Risko bumrush Walker and send him reeling, cementing his unanimous decision win. Both men were cut badly in the fight.
Reeling off a 1st round KO against over-matched Salvatore Ruggirello in Jersey a month later, Walker again demonstrated his sincere intention to win the heavyweight crown by finalizing a contract to have a go at recently-deposed champion Max Schmeling in mid-September, with the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Queens hosting. The fight would benefit the Milk Fund - a fund that gave the poor access to free milk.
But the highly-anticipated rough up was postponed until late September when a doctor representing the NYSAC decided an abscess on Mickey's forearm had not healed enough for him to step through the ropes.
It's unclear whether it was his heavy drinking, a lack of enthusiasm or the postponement that was to blame, but Mickey entered the ring at a career-high 172 lbs. for the Schmeling bout, and he paid a price for it.
Josephus Humphreys announced Sharkey, Risko, Primo Carnera and Jack Dempsey at ringside, then turned his attention to the two combatants, referring to Mickey as "The greatest fighting man of his inches." Unfortunately for Walker, the lack thereof compared to Schmeling appeared to be one of the deciding factors. Additionally, the New York commission allowed both fighters to wear 5 oz. gloves, on Kearns' insistence, rather than the standard 6.
Walker made no attempt to deny his natural instincts and charged at Schmeling from the opening bell, but was put down for a six-count nearing the end of the 1st. Max was ever probing with his left hand, measuring Walker for snapping rights and landing with decent frequency early on. But every time Mickey seemed stung, he would lash out - almost angrily.
Mickey quickly learned that sitting at the end of Schmeling's jab was a terrible strategy, and in the 3rd he began trying to catch Max with wide hooks as the latter pulled back, and mugging in the clinch. Finally in the 4th Mickey fought on even terms from range and dragged Schmeling into the trenches inside, and the German's jab all but stopped. Max greeted fire with brimstone inside in the 5th, and the two men slammed each other with body shots for much of the round.
Schmeling upped his activity in the 6th, re-establishing his jab and again battling Mickey inside, but this time seeming to get the better of it and the size disparity seemed to be taking its toll on Walker as a right hand split his lip. Sensing urgency and not exactly thrilled with the larger man jabbing at his worsening lip, Mickey fought with renewed vigor in the 7th, pinning Schmeling to the ropes and landing bombs before the former heavyweight champ slipped out of his grasp.
In the 8th, Mickey began leaning to his right in what looked like an effort to lure Schmeling in and land a big left hand, but was met with a long right that sent him bobbling across the ring. Walker fought gamely through a few more rights, but was sent to the canvas by a brutal one with his back to the ropes. Up at seven, he desperately swung at Max but ate more right hands for his effort, tasting canvas again, but this time from a right uppercut for a nine-count. His left eye quickly closing, Mickey backpedaled for the rest of the round, taking more jabs and rights.
Blood now coming from both eyes in the corner and his right closing as well, Kearns waved the towel to the referee, calling a halt to the contest before the 9th.
Most ringside press had Mickey winning 3 to 4 rounds. In his dressing room after the fight, Mickey remarked, "It was just a light uppercut that started it all in the eighth. But it nicked my left eyebrow. I thought I was cut. I hoped it was just a cut. But the first thing I knew my eye was closed tight. I could see three Schmelings in front of me. I couldn't hit any one of them and they were all hitting me."
The crowd of 55,000 witnessed Walker get stopped for the first time in six years, and only the fourth in his long career.
In December of 1932, he stopped heavyweight Arthur De Kuh in less than a round despite being out-weighed by almost 50 lbs., and following a four-month layoff Mickey showed up at a another career-high of 179 lbs. in San Francisco to face light heavyweight George Manley, who had beaten light heavy champ Maxie Rosenbloom twice.
A disappointing turnout may have been due to Manley unexpectedly losing by 1st round stoppage to Young Firpo less than a week earlier in Portland, but the crowd booed the lackluster 10 round points win for Mickey.
July of 1933 had Mickey taking on the smallest guy he'd faced in years, Lou Brouillard, who briefly held the welterweight title in the wake of Walker's departure to middleweight and above. Billed "The Battle of the Bulldogs," the Boston crowd saw what looked to be the true beginning of the end of Walker's career. Brouillard easily out-pointed Walker, and the AP reported, "At no time during the lively set-to, made so by Brouillard's deadly aggressiveness, was the 32-year-old veteran able to make one of his bulldog stands." Lou easily took 7 rounds from Walker.
Adding to Mickey's apparent in-ring issues, he and Doc Kearns ended their eight-year partnership, and Mickey was all but broke. The split didn't take though, and Kearns negotiated for Mickey to challenge Maxie Rosenbloom for the light heavyweight strap in November.
Edward Neil of the Associated Press interviewed Mickey in October, asking him his opinion of Rosenbloom. He replied, "Harry Greb. There was a man ... This Rosenbloom -- pay no attention. He doesn't either smoke or drink."
10,000 people turned out to back the aging ex-champion at Madison Square Garden, but Mickey but flashed glimpses of his old self. Early on he appeared in aggressive form, stunning Rosenbloom briefly in the 1st and pushing him backwards in the 2nd, but he fell into the same routine of getting smacked around by Rosenbloom's palms and open gloves. Mickey managed to cut Maxie's left cheek with a punch in the 8th and landed hard to the body in round 11, but couldn't manage to mount an effective offense against the slick champion.
The two judges both had it for Rosenbloom, though referee Eddie Forbes awarded Walker the victory on his card based on repeated warnings for "Slapsie" Maxie to stop cuffing and slapping. But since the judges agreed, Forbes' card wasn't needed, and the light heavyweight championship eluded Walker once more.
Over the next six months, Mickey fought six times, going 4-0-2, with both draws coming against Bob Godwin, and press reporting after both fights that Mickey lacked inspiration but should have won. Regardless, Mickey's clear intent was to try and even the score with Rosenbloom, title or no, as Godwin had fought Maxie six times in recent years with a record of 1-2-3.
After moving west once again, Kearns was able to finagle a second meeting with Rosenbloom, and Mickey badly needed the money.
The crowd of about 5,000 at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles witnessed a dreary affair, with both men looking fairly long in the tooth. But Mickey was able to build up a lead over the first 5 rounds, putting Rosenbloom down for a no-count in the 1st, and winning a round or two more thereafter to seize a win.
Essentially the dull victory was Walker's last meaningful showing.
It was getting more and more difficult to pry Mickey away from parties and bottles of booze. After a three-month layoff and plenty of time spent in California, Mickey signed an agreement to face Young Corbett III, who had briefly held the welterweight title before being KO'd by Jimmy McLarnin in less than a round in his first defense. Nevertheless, Corbett was well-regarded for the most part, but considered too small for Walker, who decided to shrink back down to middleweight.
There was also some dispute over whether or not a title would be on the line for the bout, as even though Mickey had vacated his belt years earlier and the NBA and NYSAC recognized Vince Dundee, the California commission seemingly had financial motive to sanction a title fight.
Title sanctioning was withheld, however, as the California commission was working closely with New York to establish their own state guidelines and legitimize boxing in California.
According to AP writer Russ Newland, and as reported in the Evening Tribune, "...the Fresno southpaw banged into Walker lustily with the opening of the fight" in front of about 15,000 fans. The same writer referred to Mickey as "only a shell of the great ring warrior" when reporting on the bout. Most ringside observers scored it a solid 8-1-1 in rounds for Corbett, with Mickey's only round coming in the 9th, in which he managed to floor his opponent for a no-count with a glancing right hand.
Walker gave little argument when encouraged by Kearns to retire after the fight, and the two celebrated as if to mourn Mickey's career.
But two months later, Bill Duffy, owner of the Silver Slipper, talked Mickey into a comeback. In his next four fights, he trudged to 1-2-1, culminating with a knockout loss to Paul Pirrone in Philadelphia in early December, where 11,000 spectators saw Mickey actually counted out for the first time in his career in the 11th.
In February of '35, Mickey and Duffy opened the "Toy Bulldog Saloon" in New York, across from Madison Square Garden, and another retirement attempt soured. Mickey fought seven times in 1935 (record 6-1) before a stoppage loss to German Erich Seelig that saw him covered with blood from the waist up convinced him to give up the ghost permanently.
When Kearns found out Walker was serious about retiring this time, he reportedly went on a "two-day bender" to celebrate the end of his old friend's career.
A rocky home life saw him through divorce and remarriage, and running bars and saloons was a difficult business for a drinker. But Mickey surprisingly quit drinking cold turkey, and inspired by the film The Moon and Sixpence (itself inspired by artist Paul Gauguin), Mickey began painting - and taking it very seriously.
Before long, he was given a painting exhibit at the Associated American Artists Galleries on 5th Ave. in New York.
The exhibit was a financial success, and Walker's work became well-known in the local art community, many of his fans unaware of his in-ring exploits.
In 1948 was appointed sports editor of the Police Gazette, a publication once very influential in the boxing world -- particularly before Ring Magazine was established. However, the magazine had since become known for printing controversial material.
Years later, while celebrating another exhibit on 5th Ave., a patron asked him, "Can you make a living painting, Mickey?" And he replied, "No, nobody can, hardly. Used to be when I had a couple of bucks I'd start hitting the joints and keep whooping until the money was gone. Now I get a couple of bucks and I go to painting, and before the picture is finished the money is gone. It's the same thing."
In 1956, Mickey was married for the sixth time and appeared to find some measure of comfortable happiness.
In the late-1960's, as the country stumbled through a revolutionary era in many ways, Mickey told an anecdote about a visit to Times Square that served as a microcosm for the way he lived his life.
As reported by Leonard Lyons in the Times-Picayune, Mickey was walking through the famous New York gathering spot, when "he was suddenly surrounded by a dozen long-haired beatniks, who closed in on him. Walker decided he'd start by hitting the one in the green suit. Just then a cop comes along. Anything wrong? Walker said no. The cop told the beatniks that the man was Mickey Walker, a great champ. The beatniks asked Walker for his autograph. That's when he learned that the one in the green suit, that one he'd decided to hit, was a girl."
A few years later in 1974, Mickey was found passed out on a Freehold, NJ street by police and admitted to the hospital, where tests revealed he was suffering from Parkinson's Disease.
Edward Patrick "Mickey" Walker passed away due to complications from Parkinson's in a Freehold convalescent home in 1981, but it's difficult to imagine Mickey facing the end any way but the way he faced the beginning: mercilessly throwing punches, and with a grin.
The particular era that Mickey Walker enjoyed success, both in-ring and out to varying degrees, was, as Mickey would later put it, "...and era of high living and low morals."
Through years of questionable associations and accusations of collusion and corruption, Mickey's demeanor when the bell rang was never-wavering; he was a hard-charging, ruthless predator that asked existential questions of his opponents via copious amounts of leather. And for a time, his outside life was just as intense.
Still, few who knew Walker remembered him any other way but fondly.
His post-fight donnybrook with Greb is still an oft-told urban legend among boxing fans, and yarns are still spun about his high living and free-spending lifestyle in a time where many had nothing. To date, video supposedly shot of Walker and Greb's in-ring fight is among the most sought after memorabilia of the cryptoboxologists, but lack of substantial footage of the beast led to much of his in-ring life being forgotten.
In this case, the tangible reality may have actually exceeded what the myths have conditioned us to expect.
Walker was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
His post-fight donnybrook with Greb is still an oft-told urban legend among boxing fans, and yarns are still spun about his high living and free-spending lifestyle in a time where many had nothing. To date, video supposedly shot of Walker and Greb's in-ring fight is among the most sought after memorabilia of the cryptoboxologists, but lack of substantial footage of the beast led to much of his in-ring life being forgotten.
In this case, the tangible reality may have actually exceeded what the myths have conditioned us to expect.
Walker was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
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