Walker, Edward Patrick ("Mickey")

views updated

WALKER, Edward Patrick ("Mickey")

(b. 13 July 1901 in Elizabeth, New Jersey; d. 28 April 1981 in Freehold, New Jersey), middleweight and welterweight boxing champion during the 1920s, nicknamed the "Toy Bulldog" for his ferocity in the ring.

Walker was the son of Michael Walker, a bricklayer, and Elizabeth Higgins Walker. Walker's father wanted him to become an architect, but the boy's high-spirited tenacity led him to the career of boxing. Walker grew up in an Irish Catholic household in the Keighry Head neighborhood of Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he attended the Sacred Heart Grammar School for eight years before being expelled for misbehavior. He earned the nickname "Mickey" because he had a pug nose.

Walker went to work for the architectural firm George B. Post and Company during the day and attended the Mechanics Institute in the evenings. He was too young to enlist during World War I, so he became a riveter at the Elizabeth shipyard and later at the Staten Island shipyard. At the shipyard, the volatile young man got into a fight with Eddie McGill, who, unknown to Walker, was a professional boxer. Five thousand employees left their work sites to watch the twenty-five-minute bout, which Walker won. The fight, however, cost him his job. He spent a year out of work before deciding to become a boxer in 1919.

Walker fought his first professional match against Dominic "Young" Orsini on 10 February 1919 in Elizabeth. His mother watched the fight from a nearby rooftop (women were barred from attending fights) and became so wrapped up in the action that she broke a window and was arrested. Walker fought almost every three weeks during his first three years as a fighter for a record of 21–5, with 33 no decisions. ("No decisions" were often handed down during this era because anticorruption laws barred referees and judges from making decisions unless there was a knockout.) These successes won for Walker the opportunity to challenge the current world welterweight champion, Jack Britton, for the title. He had fought Britton the previous year in a twelve-round no-decision match. This time, the two men met at Madison Square Garden on 1 November 1922 and Walker won a decisive victory; at age twenty-one, he became the welterweight champion of the world.

After successfully defending his title against Pete Latzo in 1923, Walker was given the nickname "Toy Bulldog," a reference to his tenacity and persistence in the ring, by the publicist Francis Albertanti. He then recovered from a broken hand before defending his title in 1924 against Lew Tendler and Bobby Barrett. In 1925, after the manager Jack Bulger's death, Walker came under the guidance of Jack Kearns, the former manager of Jack Dempsy. "Kearns and Walker became great friends," wrote Luckett V. Davis in American National Biography (1999). "Always noted for high living, Walker picked up the pace, freely enjoying nightlife, gambling, and women." He married Maude Kelly in 1923 and they settled in suburban Rumson, New Jersey. The couple had two children, but Walker seldom saw his family.

In 1925 at the Polo Grounds in New York before 40,000 fans, Walker fought Harry Greb for the world middle-weight championship. Walker came on strong, scoring well in the early rounds. Weakened by drinking an emetic fluid to lose weight, Greb seemed unprepared for the match. As the fight progressed, however, Greb began to use his speed to his advantage, closing Walker's right eye and winning a decisive victory in the final rounds. Later that night, when the two men were drinking at the Silver Slipper Saloon, Walker made a reference to Greb's illegal "thumbing" in the ring and the two stepped outside to fight once again. Walker always claimed that he won the second fight.

Walker began having trouble meeting the welterweight limit in 1926. He lost the title to Pete Latzo on 20 May 1926, and received a sound beating from Joe Dundee, who became the future champion. Many believed Walker's career as a boxer was over. After resting for several months, Walker returned on 3 December 1926 to fight Tiger Flowers for the middleweight championship in Chicago. Although Walker won the decision and the title, many believed Flowers had won the match; however, because he had knocked his opponent down, Walker maintained he had won fairly. He successfully defended his title against Tommy Milligan in London in 1927, and twice against Ace Hudkins in 1928 and 1929.

Kearns knew that the big money lay in a higher weight class, so in March 1929 in Chicago, Walker challenged the light heavyweight Tommy Loughran. Although Walker lost decisively, he successfully challenged the heavyweight Johnny Risko in 1930 and 1931. This led to a matchup with Jack Sharkey, who was five inches taller and twenty-nine pounds heavier than Walker. Living up to his reputation, the Toy Bulldog came out fighting and never let up. Although the fight was declared a draw, many felt Walker had won. Walker relinquished his middleweight title in 1931, and continued to win against heavyweights like Paolino Uzcudun, Salvatore Ruggirello, and King Levinsky. Walker had divorced his first wife Maude Kelly in 1930. He married Clara Hellmers in 1931; they had one son.

Walker suffered a brutal beating by Max Schmeling in September 1932, leading Kearns to stop the fight after eight rounds. After challenging Maxie Rosenbloom for the light heavyweight title and losing, Walker continued to box in a number of nontitled fights until he retired in 1935.

That same year Walker opened a saloon, the Toy Bulldog, in his hometown of Elizabeth, and in 1939, after years of heavy drinking, abruptly quit. He had separated from Hellmers and divorced in 1939. That same year he married Eleanor Marvil; they had one child. Walker and Marvil divorced in 1946, and he remarried Hellmers, who again divorced him in 1948. Walker remarried Maude Kelly that same year, but they divorced in 1955. In 1956 he married Martha Chudy Gallagher. Including the remarriages to his first and second wives, Walker was married six times and had four children.

In the early 1940s Walker began to paint, and in 1955 he held a one-man show at the Associated American Artists Galleries on Fifth Avenue in New York City. When comparing boxing to art, he noted they were both means of expression; physical expression was fine when he was a young man, but now art had taken its place. In 1955 he was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame. Six years later he published his autobiography, Mickey Walker: The Toy Bulldog and His Times. Walker died of Parkinson's disease at the age of seventy-nine; his remains were cremated.

Walker's boxing career spanned 17 years, and over the course of 163 bouts he scored 60 knockouts and won 33 fights by decision. The sportswriter Jim Murray argued that the Toy Bulldog's love of the bottle kept him from becoming the only 155-pound heavyweight champion. Walker may not have won the heavyweight title, but he did win both the welterweight and middleweight titles, a rare enough feat. "Through it all," Bert Randolph Sugar wrote in The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time (1984), "this man with the happy-go-lucky attitude … and the penchant for attempting seemingly impossible odds, will forever be known as boxing's version of 'The Happy Warrior.'" In 1990 Walker was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Walker's autobiography, written with Joe Reichler, Mickey Walker: The Toy Bulldog and His Times (1961) , provides a lively account of his boxing career. For a detailed biographical sketch see John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (1999). Highlights from Walker's career are included in Bert Randolph Sugar, The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time (1984). An obituary is in the New York Times (29 Apr. 1981).

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.