Boxing history is stuffed to the gills with fighters and characters who enjoyed substantial popularity in their day yet somehow became forgotten over time. It just doesn’t seem possible that a fighter like Mickey Walker, “The Rumson Bulldog,” could dominate headlines in the 1920s and 30s and not even approach the long-term notoriety of a Jack Dempsey or Harry Greb. Somehow even the 1922 win over Jack Britton that earned him his first world title has faded from memory now.
As a youth Walker was a troublemaker who found himself scrapping anyone who crossed him, and it didn’t take long for him to build his name up around New Jersey with the help of his first serious manager, Jack Bulger. Eventually it became difficult for Britton, the welterweight champion, to ignore Walker’s progress and the two met up in July of 1921.
With only two years of experience as a professional, Walker was still able to nearly topple the crafty champion. After suffering an early knockdown, Walker put Britton on the defensive and rocked him several times.
Writer and artist Robert Edgren wrote that after Britton was hurt in the 6th round he muttered in the clinch, “I thought you were a hard puncher. Why don’t you start?” Walker supposedly shot back, “You’re the champion. Why don’t you stand up and fight?” The encounter ended in a relatively unsatisfying draw, but they were destined to meet again, and did the following year at Madison Square Garden.
Approximately 15,000 spectators looked on as Walker attacked the “Boxing Marvel” from the start and tested his chin early. “A spirited fire of rights and left to the stomach contributed to Britton’s unhappy state,” said the New York Times. Walker drew first blood but Britton made Walker miss and kept his distance in rounds 3 through 5, which were reportedly his only clear rounds in the 15 round affair.
Walker was able to deck the Clinton, N.Y. native three times during the contest and gradually wear down the champion. There was a mad dash for Walker to score a stoppage later in the fight, but he would have to settle for claiming the title at barely 21-years-old after 15 rounds were done.
After the fight Walker told reporters, “It’s funny, this being a champion. Your whole perspective is changed overnight. Everything seems different, and, with my many friends showering congratulations on me since I got home after the bout, I haven’t had a chance to get myself used to it.”
Despite being extremely likable and even becoming a famous artist as an older man, Walker faded from the public consciousness, as did many fighters from the uproarious 20s and 30s. Then again, World War II overshadowed nearly everything.
Walker would say of his art, “There’s not much difference between prizefighting and painting. It’s just a matter of time. As a youth I could express myself with my fists. Physical expression belongs to youth. Then the years go by. I found art — and expression — in colors.”