On this day in 1980, one of the greatest boxing stars of the 1920s and early 1930s, Mickey Walker, passed away at the age of 79. Walker was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1901 and in 1922 beat fellow Hall of Famer Jack Britton for the welterweight championship.
In 1925, Walker challenged legendary middleweight champion Harry Greb and came up short, losing by decision. He lost his welterweight belt to Pete Latzo in 1926, but later in the year took the middleweight crown from Tiger Flowers, who had won it from Greb.
Nicknamed the Toy Bulldog, Walker was a notorious carouser outside of the ring and a ferocious brawler inside of it. He was a drinking buddy of Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone and once reportedly took a swing at the Prince of Wales, heir to the English throne.
Walker was noted for his extreme toughness, even in an era when toughness was taken for granted. He was noted for his extremely heavy drinking, even in an era where that, too, was generally standard for a man’s man. If he had been just a bit more devoted to his training, perhaps he might have been the smallest heavyweight champion in history.
Even with his lax training, Walker was among the great weight class climbers in history. In 1931, he jumped all the way up to heavyweight and fought to a 15-round draw against the champion, Jack Sharkey. He challenged for the heavyweight crown again in 1932, this time against Max Schmeling, who knocked him out in eight rounds.
Walker then dropped down to light heavyweight and lost a 15-round decision in 1933 to champion Maxie Rosenbloom. He beat Rosenbloom in 1934, but in a non-title bout. If it had been a title bout, he would have been boxing’s third ever three-division title. As it is, few fighters in the entire sport’s history have faced and beaten more champions and legends.
In their 2010 book The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists, both Teddy Atlas and Bert Sugar include Mickey Walker in their top 13 pound-for-pound fighters in history. Sugar has him at 11 and Atlas at seven.