Victoria Aut Mors: Mickey Walker (Part III)

The final installment. Previously: Part I and Part II.

Mickey Walker’s 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 AP and United Press were split on the outcome; the AP (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 Doc 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 New York State Athletic Commission 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. Oddsmakers 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 another 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 eight 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 five ounce gloves, on Kearns’ insistence, rather than the standard six.

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 three to four 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 third 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 7sevenrounds 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 five 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 artists 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, N.J. 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.

Patrick Connor

About Patrick Connor

Patrick Connor is a long time boxing fan and budding fight historian. He is additionally a voice actor and co-host of TQBR Radio, Queensberry-Rules' boxing podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @VoiceOfBeard

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