It was that same old tale, the one we must relive over and over again. The aging champion refuses to move on and leave the cheers of the crowd behind, but a youthful warrior has arrived and is eager to take the veteran’s crown. Jack Britton was a master boxer, an all-time great, no one could say otherwise. But he was also 37-years-old, a veteran of more than 150 fights, and no longer as quick or dangerous as when he had battled the likes of Mike O’Dowd, Perry “Kid” Graves, Benny Leonard and of course fellow great Ted “Kid” Lewis, who he faced no fewer than 19 times.
A year earlier Britton had battled a fresh, new face in the welterweight division, Mickey Walker, and while it was a no-decision affair, most thought the young battler they called “The Toy Bulldog” had gotten the better of it, despite suffering a first round knockdown. A year later, Walker was viewed as a rising force, a future champion. Just 21, he had already answered the bell more than 60 times, 19 since the first match with Britton just 15 months before. (Yes, boxers believed in staying active back in the day.)
Britton vs Walker II attracted great interest from fight fans, and some fifteen thousand crammed into Madison Square Garden to see a fast-paced and dramatic battle. But from the opening bell it was evident Britton did not have the strength to withstand the two-fisted assault of his ferocious challenger. If he were to prevail, it would be by guile and ringsmarts; did he have enough to keep the bulldog at bay?
In the opener, it didn’t look good for Jack. Walker slipped Britton’s jab to repeatedly land his own hook, staggering the champion. But instead of trying for an immediate knockout, Mickey attacked Britton’s ribs and belly, pounding away with abandon to lock up a dominant frame for the challenger.
Round two saw a sensational and violent exchange end with Mickey slamming home a left hook and sending an off-balance Britton to the canvas. The champion instantly jumped to his feet and resumed the battle, his spirit and courage inspiring support from the crowd. And indeed, while all could see that the challenger held the advantages in strength and power, the wily veteran clearly won the next three frames, making Walker miss and then countering with precision. But despite his success, by round six Britton had little left in his gas tank, while young Mickey was just getting started.
Rounds seven, eight and nine were dismal for the old legend as time and again Britton almost went down from Walker’s furious attack. Heavy blows to both body and head had the champion covering up and when he wasn’t forcing a clinch he was crouching against the ropes to shield himself from punishment. In round ten “The Toy Bulldog” almost ended it when he floored Jack with a crushing right to the jaw. No one will know if Britton could have beaten the count or not, as the bell saved him and his cornermen hauled him away and worked furiously to restore him.
By this point it was clear the proud, old champion could not win, but it was also evident that he refused to give up and now the question was whether or not Walker could score a knockout victory. A clearly exhausted Britton barely survived round 11, slipping to his knees more than once, and in the following stanza a left hook to the body scored the third legitimate knockdown of the fight. The champion rose at the count of nine and clinched to make it through the round and indeed, it took all of Britton’s experience and boxing smarts to gallantly survive the final three frames. But survive them he did.
A dramatic scene followed the final bell. After the crowd applauded the unanimous decision in Walker’s favour, the bleeding, hurt and exhausted Britton was pulled to ring center, the announcer demanding “three cheers for the greatest champion who ever lost a title!” The words were barely finished before a huge ovation that literally shook the walls of the old Garden was offered to the now ex-champion, who was then assaulted with an endless series of back pats as he made his way to his dressing room.
Meanwhile, the gleeful new welterweight champion of the world was hoisted up on his supporters’ shoulders and carried aloft to joyous cheers. Now began the amazing run of the immortal “Toy Bulldog,” a future Hall of Famer and all-time great. No shame whatsoever for Britton to suffer defeat to a boxer who would go on to become a paragon of pugilism. And how fitting that Walker’s eminence would be heralded by a victory over a battle-scarred champion of truly legendary status, a fellow all-time great of the welterweight division. — Michael Carbert