The fighter known as the “Toy Bulldog” was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on July 13, 1901. I had the privilege of meeting him as a boy at the Ring 25 dinners held in Newark, NJ. My Grandfather had know Mickey for years and told me what a great fighter he was. By the time I was introduced to him in 1971, he didn’t really look like a fighter to me – physically speaking. He only stood about 5’ 7” or 5’ 8”.
Of course, all those years of living life at full-throttle have a way of doing that to a man! Even though I met him many years ago, I clearly remember that – even at the age of 70, Mickey Walker was the kind of guy who seemed ALIVE in every way, shape and form. His eyes were a bright, burning fire – and there was always a smile upon his face. He was the life of the party, above even the likes of Tony Galento, Jersey Joe Walcott, Emile Griffith and all the other fighters I saw regularly at the Ring 25 dinners in Newark, NJ.
At such a young age, I didn’t realize what great fighters these men were as I listened to them trade stories of their great ring wars with one another. When Mickey Walker spoke, though, everyone listened.
My Grandfather was a big man and had the kind of voice that could really thunder. Right in the middle of one of Walker’s stories, he walks up to him, stops him and says, “This is my grandson! Give him an autograph!” Walker turned around… then looked down. There I was. He stuck out his hand, gave me a big smile and said, “Hiya, kid! How you doin’? You doin’ okay?” He gave me a big handshake and signed a piece of paper I had with me.
Even then, you could tell the fighting spirit of the “Toy Bulldog” was alive and well. It wasn’t too difficult imagining what it would have been like to have a prime version of him coming at you in a whirlwind of leather. I’m sure the smile would have been more of a, “It’s gonna be nice turning your ribcage into a heavy bag,” than a, “Hiya,” if you know what I mean?
What I learned directly from the old-timers was – Mickey Walker loved to fight!
His career began in 1919 – right at the beginning of a decade that would become known as “The Roaring Twenties.” The 1920’s roared, too, with the likes of gangsters, bootleggers and the era of prohibition. Mickey turned pro at the age of 17. The fighters of his day didn’t have the luxury of learning their trade in the amateurs before turning pro. They learned how to fight in the “school of hard knocks” – literally.
By the time Walker was 19, he was facing world-class fighters. He defeated Jack Britton by unanimous decision to take the Welterweight title in 1922. He pounded and swarmed Britton aggressively throughout the 15-round bout, dropping him in the 12th. Mickey defended the Welterweight title 4-times officially. During that time, he also fought many non-title fights against both Welterweights and Middleweights. The names on Walker’s record read like a who’s who of boxing history.
At the age of 24, in 1925, he jumped up in weight to face legendary Middleweight King – Harry Greb. Greb retained his title via 15-round decision. It was a tough give and take fight throughout until Walker ran out of gas around the 14th round. Greb pulled out the fight with a late round surge. What’s amazing about this fight was the fact that a 24-year old version of Walker fought toe-to-toe with one of the greatest fighters of all-time. Greb was the type of fighter you boxed… not the type you trade punches with. Even so, Mickey more than held his own
Afterward, both fighters partied with friends and supporters late into the night at a speakeasy. Eventually, discussion over who won the fight became more heated. Mickey suggested they continue their fight out in the street to determine the “real winner.” It’s been said that Walker won “the 16th round.” In reality, though, both men were very drunk and it’s not likely that it was a very interesting fight. Supposedly, both men later slept it off on the sidewalk.
After the death of his manager, Jack Bulger, Mickey Walker was signed by the infamous Jack Kearns who guided Jack Dempsey to the Heavyweight Championship of the world. Mickey then lost the Welterweight title via a closely fought 10-round decision against Pete Latzo. In his very next fight, he looked like a shot fighter – getting badly cut and losing to Joe Dundee by TKO in the 8th round when he could no longer see the punches coming. Some people blamed the two consecutive defeats and sudden decline on Jack Kearns, saying he was a bad match for Walker.
Things got even rougher.
Being the life of the party often comes at quite an expensive price. For Mickey Walker, his ring earnings were going quickly and after two losses, he was already in need of money. He returned to action four months later and defeated Shuffle Callahan in the 5th round. Two more wins followed and by December of 1926, Jack Kearns had guided Walker to title shot against the reigning Middleweight Champion, Tiger Flowers. Flowers was coming off two defeats of the great Harry Greb – the first in which he lifted the title. Both fights were close and many felt Greb deserved the decision in both.
There is some controversy surrounding this fight and which way the decision went. The fight was scheduled for 10-rounds. Mickey Walker was the aggressor, Tiger Flowers landed more punches. It really depends what you like. The bout was scored on the rounds system and although Mickey Walker scored two knockdowns (one with the second punch of the fight in the opening round, the other in the 8th round), it didn’t figure into the scoring at all as it would today. Under the 5 or 10-point must system, there wouldn’t have been any controversy at all. Either way, Mickey Walker won the decision and the title and the rest, as they say, is history.
Once again, the good times were rolling at the local speakeasys!
Mickey defended the Middleweight title three times. Then while still weighing only 160 lbs., he began stepping up in weight to fight Light Heavyweights. He defeated world-class fighter at 175lbs. such as Mike McTigue and Paul Berlenbach. Then, on March 28, 1929, he faced the great Tommy Loughran for the Light Heavyweight Championship of the world. Loughran retained his title by close, split decision. The legend of Mickey Walker had officially begun.
It wasn’t long before the reigning Middleweight Champion of the world was beating ranked Heavyweight contenders while still weighing a scant – 160lbs. Walker seemed to thrive on taller, heavier fighters. His body attacked, one of the greatest of all time, seemed to work against naturally larger, taller men with amazing effect. Walker fought Jack Sharkey to a 15-round draw and defeated Paulino Uzcudan and King Levinsky.
In 1932, he fought Max Schmeling and fought well for 6-rounds until Schmeling began using his natural size advantage more effectively. The fight was stopped by Jack Kearns before the start of the 9th. Walker wanted to continue and said afterward, “Kearns was the one who threw in the towel, not me.”
Mickey’s next attempt at winning the Light Heavyweight title came against another all-time great – Maxie Rosenbloom. Rosenbloom retained his title by decision. He met Maxie a year later, and defeated him over 10-rounds, but unfortunately for Mickey, Maxie’s title was not on the line.
Towards the end of the year 1934, the Toy Bulldog was finally reaching the end of an amazing career. He parted ways with Jack Kearns and his career wound down as so many of the greats do – dotted with losses here and there. According to the Ring Record Book, his final record stood at 115-21-4 (61 KO’s) 22 No decisions. In his post boxing years, Mickey Walker was quite successful as an artist and became a very good painter in his own right.
I have a few little pictures of a “Toy Bulldog” he drew for me to this day.
Many of the ex-fighters I met while growing up in New Jersey were overly generous with their money. As a result, many of them lived rags to riches (and then back to rags again) stories. It’s sad that Mickey went down that exact road. The last time I saw him was in 1973 (if I remember correctly). Sometime between 74’ and 78’, things went downhill pretty badly for him, health-wise and financially.
He was found passed out on curb in Freehold, New Jersey. To the best of my recollection, the year was 1979. Suffering from the advancing effects of Parkinson’s Syndrome, anemia and arteriosclerosis and not having any type of identification in his wallet, it took approximately a week before the nursing home found out who he was. He finally passed away on April 28, 1981. He was 79-years old.
On many pound-for-pound lists, Mickey Walker rates in the top ten all all-time and number three at Middleweight, behind Ray Robinson and Harry Greb.