Tuesday night’s “Learn from the Fight” we stepped back to 1951 as Kid Gavilán challenged Johnny Bratton for the undisputed World Welterweight Championship. Then it was back to Rocky Marciano in 1952 as he fought a rematch against Gino Buovino on his way to the world heavyweight title. Later that year the actual title was being contested in yet another rematch between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles.
On 9th August 1950 Sugar Ray Robinson vacated his world welterweight titles as he began contending in the middleweight bracket. Robinson had successfully defended the title since winning it on 20th December 1946. A series of tournaments were set up in the professional ranks to decide the new world champion. On 14th March 1951 Johnny Bratton was officially recognised as the NBA world champion after defeating Charley Fusari in a split decision. Meanwhile Kid Gavilán, with a record of 72–12–3, had risen to the top contender spot. Their match would not only be for the NBA championship, but it would also be recognised by Ring and the NYSAC.
Gavilán went by the nickname of the “Cuban Hawk” and was the third boxer famed for using the bolo punch. In fact, he threw a good number of his punches in a similar hacking fashion. His professional career began with 10 straight wins in Havana, one win in Cienfuegos, three more in Havana and two in Mexico before he suffered his first loss. He lost points in Arena Coliseo, Mexico City, Distrito Federal, Mexico to Carlos Malacara only to avenge the match on points less than two months later back in Havana. He had five more wins in Cuba before losing again in Mexico to Tony Mar. Four more victories in his native country enabled his manager, Yamil Chade from Puerto Rico, to send him to fight three times in New York, USA. He won all three of these bouts, including two against Johnny Williams and two in Madison Square Gardens. He returned to Havana for five straight victories and then spent most his time fighting in the USA, usually in New York State, often at the Yankee Stadium, St Nicholas Arena and Madison Square Gardens. He also fought in New Jersey, Nebraska, Ohio, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Florida, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and a lot in Pennsylvania as well as outside of the USA in Canada, Venezuela, Argentina and a few times back home too.
Along the way to his contender position he fought the best of the 1940s welterweight division. This included one loss and two wins over the great Ike Williams, a win over Beau Jack, two wins over Tony Janiro, and two losses against Sugar Ray Robinson. His second loss to Robinson was his 62nd fight and his first attempt at the world title. This fight against Johnny Bratton was his second attempt and overall 88th fight.
This would be Johnny “Honey Boy” Bratton’s 63rd fight and his first title defence. He went into fight with a record of 44–16–2. He was more of a slugger brawler to Gavilán’s flashy out-boxer style. Interestingly, Bratton was more ostentatious in his style outside the ring and had a reputation for being flashy and arrogant. He dressed in bright purple shirts and happily played the role of the heel in his publicity, creating ticket sales from those who wanted to see him beaten. He grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA to a preacher father and was the youngest of three boys. The Great Depression hit the family hard and Bratton took to the streets, but he found work in fight clubs and from there became a professional in 1944.
Bratton’s first 16 fights were in Chicago, Illinois, where he only lost three. After then he fought regularly in New Orleans, Louisiana, Chicago, sometimes in Washington and gradually more in New York. He fought the best in his weight division, but lost all his fights to Ike Williams, Beau Jack and Chalky Wright. His most significant wins were over Willie Joyce, who he beat the two times they met.
The 15-round bout was shown in a 10-minute highlight reel. It was a close decision but a unanimous decision with Bratton taking a fair few rounds. Gavilán won the early rounds, apparently breaking Bratton’s jaw sometime before round six. Gavilán not only presented hacking in his signature bolo punch, now with the circular arm feint but also in a good deal of his other punches. Bratton used a lot of good ring-craft in his defences.
Rocky Marciano still felt he needed more warm-up matches before facing Jersey Joe Walcott or Charles. He had put on an extra 2lbs since retiring Savold whilst also facing down a virus. Gino Buovino, fighting out of Italy, still outweighed him by 7lbs and was taller at 6’. Rocky had defeated Buovino two years previously. That time there had been 11lbs between them and it had ended in a TKO in the final round of a 10 round contest.
The fight had almost gone the distance because Buovino had played an outside game and boxed Marciano at distance. However, a powerful right to the jaw in round one had stunned Marciano and given Buovino new confidence that he could win in a slugfest.
This time Marciano put away Gino Buovino in round two after receiving a powerful right to the jaw. According to Buovino’s corner, they had tried to reason a more out-boxing approach with the fighter. This had almost worked last time but the temptation was too much. Despite only being a short fight, the only footage we had available was a highlight reel. However, it was useful to see many of Marciano’s signature attacks in slow motion and even freeze frames. As he we had seen in previous fights, the Brockton Blockbuster was all over his opponent. Although the highlight reel was shot it showed a few interesting techniques I had not previously covered. Marciano’s jab was still absent, however, he used a lead overhand to bridge the gap. Also his most telling punches this time did not come from his famed left hook and the Suzi Q overhand right, but a short straight right.
This was the fourth time the two men had met. The first time Charles had won the vacant NBA world title. Their rematch had seen Charles successfully defend the undisputed world heavyweight title. Both had been by unanimous decision. However, the third time they had met had resulted in Walcott winning by a spectacular seventh round knockout after dominated the fight from the beginning. The audiences wanted to see a fourth match-up between these two extraordinary fighters.
The fight was an historic event due to it being refereed by Zach Clayton, the first time a world heavyweight championship had been refereed by an African American.
With Charles having won two of their three previous fights and twice losing (albeit once controversially) to Joe Louis who Charles had beaten to win the title, the bookies put the odds at 11-5 against Walcott.
Walcott weighed in at 196lbs and Charles at 192lbs, his heaviest to date.
The fight saw a more cautious Charles, wise to Walcott’s traps especially his walkaway. Round 1 was the most even. Charles mainly worked the outside and Walcott held the centre ground. Walcott used angled left hook/overhand right combinations. He slipped Charles’s jabs.
Round 5 saw both men trying to time jabs and clinching. Jersey Joe stuck a lot to his angled shots, working the left hook that had served him so well in their previous encounter as well as his big right hand.
In the mid-rounds he caught Walcott with a stunning right to the jaw and seemed to be picking up the pace. However, a lot of the match descended into cautious clinching.
Round 9 became the liveliest round of the night with both men putting on pressure. Charles pushed Walcott back and there was distinctively less of the famous cakewalking and other unique footwork. By the end Walcott was forcing the fight, but Charles landed a good right not long before the bell.
Round 12 began with Charles again trying to press the fight, but his jabs were caught on Walcott’s shoulders and he responded with a solid right hook to the body. Walcott then began to feed his own jabs, also turning them into collar ties to set up uppercuts. Charles demonstrated some good upper-body mobility to matches Walcott’s in his defence. Finally, Walcott caught the challenger with a chopping right lead. Charles hung on to clear his head. Walcott continued to throw the lead right and also set it up with his jabs. Charles worked his own jab but they were noticeably being deflected off Walcott’s shoulders. Walcott finished strong.
Round 13 began on an even keel but Walcott quickly began to win the exchanges. Charles missed with hooks and straight rights whereas Walcott’s were getting through. Charles slipped a right and hit home but Walcott fought back. As the round progressed some renewed vigour began to show in Charles and he landed a couple a combinations. One right seemed to make its mark and staggered the champion, but Walcott did not back off. This was a pretty good round for Charles.
The final round saw Charles trying for knockout but Walcott used his impressive shoulder roll to deflect his powerful rights and counter with his left hooks. However, Charles was also doing a good job of parrying Walcott’s lunging rights.
The judges both gave the final round to Walcott, but the referee gave the round to Charles. It’s an interesting decision as the referee gave more rounds in general to Walcott, scoring it 9-6. The other two judges scored it 8-7 (Buck McTiernan who had refereed their previous match) and 7-6-2 (Pete Tomasco).
Quote from BoxRec:
- The press The Associated Press scorecard had Charles in front, 7-6-2.
- According to an Associated Press poll of ringside reporters, 21 thought Charles won, 18 favored Walcott and two had it even.
At the end of the match Walcott had a battered nose and Charles had cuts above both eyes. Charles’s manager, Ray Arcel, claimed that the referee had been unfair in his persistent claims that Charles was hitting below the belt. Some of the press agreed with him, saying that the blows were just on the borderline.
Ezzard Charles said he believed he had won the fight. “I know Joe won’t fight me again. It’s impossible. I’m sorry for everybody else.” Walcott said, “This proves I’m really champion. This proves it wasn’t any lucky punch in Pittsburgh. I had him all the way. This win meant more to me.”
In case you missed our Christmas trilogy on Jersey Joe Walcott: