Arnold Raymond Cream (January 31, 1914 – February 25, 1994), better known as Jersey Joe Walcott was born in Merchantville, NJ to extreme poverty in 1914. The son of immigrants from Barbados… Walcott began boxing at the age of 16 to help feed his hungry family. Walcott’s father died when he was 13 years old, so he quit school and took a job working in a soup factory to support his mother and 11 siblings.
He also began training as a boxer. He took the name of his boxing idol, Joe Walcott the welterweight champion from Barbados, hence his nickname, “Jersey Joe”.
He debuted as a professional boxer on September 9, 1930, fighting Cowboy Wallace and winning by a KO in round one. After five straight knockout wins, in 1933, he lost for the first time, beaten on points by Henry Wilson in Philly.
After ten years’ boxing, without proper training and with little to show for his efforts beyond some frightful beatings, Walcott quit the ring. He built a record of 45 wins, 11 losses and 1 draw before challenging for the world title for the first time.
A chance meeting with a local fight promoter who recognized the potential in his iron chin and hard punch turned Walcott’s fortunes around, launching one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history. At age 37, Heavyweight Champion Walcott was the oldest man to ever win the coveted title (George Foreman is the oldest now at 45); lost four title bouts before taking out Ezzard Charles in the 7th round in 1951; and he lost the title the subsequent year, losing to Marciano; he won 50 bouts, 30 of them by knockout, lost 17 fights and fought one stalemate (draw) as a professional.
Along the way in his fight career, he battled some of the most dreaded contenders of his period, including Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, Jimmy Bivins, Joey Maxim, and Rocky Marciano.
In 1956, he co-starred with Humphrey Bogart and Max Baer in the boxing drama The Harder They Fall. In 1963, he tried professional wrestling losing to Lou Thesz. Thesz pinned Walcott in the fifth round, but has stated that Walcott knocked him (Thesz) down and most likely out in that fifth round. As he fell to the floor, he relied on instinct, grabbing Walcott’s knees, taking him down with him and stretching him out for the pin.
In 1965, he refereed the controversial world heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. Walcott lost the count as Ali circled around a floored Liston and Walcott tried to get him back to a neutral corner. Then Walcott looked outside the ring (presumably to the ringside count keeper) as Ali and Liston went at each other before Walcott instructed them to keep on fighting, then Walcott approached the fighters and abruptly stopped the fight. Walcott would never be appointed as a referee after this bout.
It should be said, however, that most of the controversy surrounding this fight had nothing to do with Walcott, as this was the famous fight with the phantom punch. After retiring, Walcott worked for Camden County corrections department. In 1968, he ran for Sheriff of Camden County, but lost in the Democratic primary to Spencer H. Smith, Jr. That same year he was named director of community relations for Camden, NJ.
In 1971 he once again ran for Camden County Sheriff. He defeated Republican William Strang in the general election. He was the first African-American to serve as Sheriff in Camden County. He served as chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission from 1975 until 1984, when he stepped down at the mandatory retirement age of 70.