Jersey Joe Walcott’s two Heavyweight Championship title fights with champion Joe Louis signaled the end of an era. Joe Louis had reined supreme through the 1930s and 40s, but by 1947 his career was winding down. On December 5, 1947 Louis was challenged by Jersey Joe Walcott, an ex-sparring partner and fellow veteran heavyweight with a mixed record. Louis was the confident favorite, but Walcott was in top form. Jersey Joe’s power and craftsmanship surprised Louis, who was knocked down twice in the fight. Unable to cope with Walcott’s speed and counterpunching, Louis appeared to loose after 15 rounds, but sadly for Walcott, the sentimental judges awarded Louis a controversial split decision.
In a rematch the following year, Walcott was knocked out after leading on points for 11 rounds. However, Jersey Joe won the title in 1951 from Ezzard Charles, before loosing to Rocky Marciano in 1952. Walcott has yet to receive credit for the skills he brought to boxing. I can’t help but be reminded of Jersey Joe when watching contemporary fighters like James Toney or Roy Jones.
Louis-Walcott I was captured brilliantly on film and shown in theatres around the world. Because of the disputed decision, and perhaps as an attempt to fit as much of the fight as possible into one reel, parts of almost every round are shown, but the flow of the fight is lost as the film jumps from one brief sequence to the next.
I first saw this film as a teenager in the 1970s. The father of a friend had an 8mm copy, but refused to sell it. Little did I know that Louis-Walcott I was one of the most widely distributed fight films for home viewing. Used copies are still readily available, but difficult to find in clean condition. The video I’m showing here is from a good 16mm print, which I recently obtained, that shows the complete film. You can see Louis attempt to leave the ring before the decision is announced, and Walcott receiving a consoling ovation from the crowd.