Friday, February 28, 2014
"The Black Boxcar"
In this corner from Cochran, Georgia, Obie Walker! He was big. He was strong. He jabbed his opponents with machine gun like speed. Obie Walker thought he could whip every boxer in the world. But, the Georgia Goliath never got the chance to fight the world champions Max Baer or Joe Louis. This is the story of a local man, who once reigned as the Prince of boxing in Europe and among his race, was considered a world champion.
Obie Diah Walker was born in Bleckley County, Georgia on September 19, 1911. Before the age of nine, Obie was living with his maternal grandparents, Frank and Elizabeth Powell of the Frazier community.
Obie moved to Atlanta as a way to increase his chances for success as a boxer. His first of 100 professional fights took place some eighty five years ago on February 16, 1929 against "Battling Connell" in the Auditorium in Atlanta, Georgia. The hometown fighter had little trouble against Connell, who lost all three of his career professional fights, two of them to the Brute from Bleckley.
Walker won four straight bouts, some people say eighteen, until his first loss on points to Happy Hunter on February 3, 1930.
The "Black Boxcar," built like a bank safe," would not lose again in thirty fights (28-0-2) until he lost a close decision on points to Don "Red" Barry at the Arena in Philadelphia. His last win in America came against George Godfrey, to capture the title of the Colored Heavyweight Champion.
That is when Walker's manager Jefferson Davis Dickson made the decision to take his fighter, with a record of 32-2-2, to take on the best fighters in Europe. Some say that Walker had fought at least sixty other undocumented bouts with colored fighters in addition to his three dozen professional fights.
The first European fight came in Sallewagram in Paris, France. Walker knocked out Belgian giant Louis Verbeeren in the last round of a ten-round match on Groundhog Day in 1934. Fighting primarily in French and Swiss arenas, Walker knocked out all of his first nine opponents. Only one of the ko's came after the third round. After losing two of his next three matches, Obie, trained by former Argentine champion Norman Tomasulo, won nine of ten before leaving Europe on a losing note in June 1936 with a defeat on points.
Named "Enfant Terrible " by his adoring French fans who stormed the headquarters of Joe Louis following the defeat of Max Baer, Walker was praised for his strikingly unorthodox and innovative style.
In commenting on a possible match with Lewis, Walker said, "I ain't been asked yet. And, I ain't askin."
Walker confidently commented on a match with Lewis, the Brown Bomber, "There ain't no fighter in the world who doesn't make a mistake during a fight. Me, I just stand around and wait for that mistake.
"I can take it. And, when Louis makes that mistake, I'll swat him," the Georgia boxer proclaimed.
As he traveled Europe and the states, Walker, a quiet man who could not write and could only read picture books, showed off his strength by going to carnivals and picking up the strong men and their hefty weights - all at the same time.
Obie Walker firmly believed that World Champion Joe Louis and he could beat any boxer in the world. Walker yearned to get his chance just to fight Louis or Louis' arch rival Max Schmelling, of Germany.
"Let Louis clean up the states. I'll clean up Europe. Then we will get together and see what for," Walker once proclaimed.
Walker's first bout upon his return to the United States came in Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. Walker had won a fight at Shibe Park, the home of the Philadelphia Athletics, in 1933. Municipal Stadium was the same outdoor arena where Gene Tunney captured the world heavyweight boxing title from Jack Dempsey. The bout came at the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, where Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952 to win boxing's heavyweight championship.
Walker pulled himself off the mat and won six consecutive fights in his home territory of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina before losing half of his next eight fights. Seven straight wins brought Walker to the climax of his career. No longer the Cochran Colossus he once was, Walker, who had returned to his home at 514 Larkin Street, lost four of his last six fights before the beginning of World War II. Walker hung up his gloves after a failed comeback attempt after the war when he lost to Elza Thompson at Dorsey Park in Miami in March 1946 in a close 10-round decision.
Atlanta Georgian sportswriter Ed Danforth wrote of Walker, "Walker became the toast of Paris. He knocked cold every topnotcher he met on the continent. Max Schmelling shrewdly dodged him, the best of the Englishmen too, sidestepped the squatty brown man who carried lightning bolts in both fists. Competent critics say he could have knocked out Schmelling, Joe Louis and Jim Braddock in one night with the space of ten rounds.
In the 100 recorded bouts of his twelve- year career, the five- foot nine- inch Obie Walker compiled a record of 77 wins, 16 losses and 5 draws. Walker's powerful arms knocked out 53 of his opponents. Remarkably, Walker was never himself knocked out - a feat matched only by a few dozen American professional boxers in the history of the sport.
On May 4, 1989, at the age of seventy-seven, Obie Walker unceremoniously died in his adopted hometown of Atlanta. There is no adequate marker to designate the final resting place of this once proud and powerful Heavyweight Colored Champion of the World. Maybe now, many more people will know his story, the story of the Black Boxcar, aka the Bleckley Behemoth, who in a hundred fights never went down to the mat for the count.