The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Fall

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” A widely used phrase to mean ‘when prominent people fail, their failure is more dramatic.’ but where di it come from? In […]
March 10, 2016

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall”

A widely used phrase to mean ‘when prominent people fail, their failure is more dramatic.’ but where di it come from?

In 1896, this day in history, Bob Fitzsimmons KOs much larger Jim Corbett to win world Heavyweight championship he says, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”.

It was in 1895, when 5’1″ Joe Walcott (Bardados,not Jersey), welterweight champion of the world from 1901-1904, who actually coined the phrase “the bigger they are the harder they fall.” The phrase belonged to Walcott, who despite his short stature was extremely successful against much larger and heavier opponents. He had fantastic stamina and durability as well as a proven punch. A natural welterweight, he was one of the greatest “pound for pound” fighters in boxing history and fought men weighing from lightweight to heavyweight during his career. Fitzsimmons was more reconizable a name at the time, after his win, gave popularity to the phrase.

Joe Walcott, the “original”, had the power to beat heavyweights; in fact he scored a first round kayo over 180 pound Tom McCarthy fairly early in his career. Walcott fought a number of other light heavyweights and heavyweights. Walcott’s manager, Tom O’Rourke, also handled heavyweight contender Sailor Tom Sharkey, whom some historians compare favorably to Rocky Marciano. Sharkey twice went the distance with heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries. O’Rourke once stated, (Fleischer, p. 198-199), “I had to stop Walcott from sparring with the sailor because Joe dumped him on his ear one afternoon in the gym.” Walcott hit hard enough to knock out heavyweights. Can one picture modern welterweights such as Delahoya, Trinidad or even Ray Robinson ko’ing a 180 plus pounder? Robinson ventured up to light heavyweight once, running out of gas against Joey Maxim. He never again moved beyond the middleweight limit.

One of Walcott’s greatest victories was against Joe Choynski. Choyinski had gone 28 rounds against Jim Corbett, and drew with the likes of Bob Fitzsimmons and Al “Kid” MCcoy and would knock out a young Jack Johnson the following year. Choyinski outweighed Walcott 173 to 137 pounds and was a 5-1 favorite to beat the game little Walcott. The “Barbados Demon” demonstrated his impressive punching power by flooring Choyinski several times in the first round and gave the latter a terrific beating before stopping him in the 7th round.

Walcott spent part of his youth in Barbados. As a youngster, he set out to see the world and got a job as a cabin boy on a ship sailing to Boston. He soon settled in Boston as a piano mover, and porter and took other odd jobs as well. Later, he landed a job in a gym, and became popular with other boxers as a human punching bag before turning professional.

Walcott first challenged for the Lightweight Championship on October 29, 1897, but was TKO’ed by the champion George “Kid” Lavigne in the 12th round. He was also unsuccessful in his first attempt to win the world Welterweight Championship when he was outpointed by Mysterious Billy Smith on December 6, 1898. Walcott won the title on December 18, 1901 from James “Rube” Ferns via a 5 round TKO.

Walcott also fought the well known Sam Langford to a draw and met Joe Gans in a non-title fight. The Gans fight occurred on September 30, 1904, and was scored a draw after 20 rounds. After the Gans fight, Walcott accidentally shot himself in the hand during a New Year’s celebration, effectively ending his days as a top prizefighter. While he would return to the ring in 1906, though losing his welterweight crown to William “Honey” Mellody in the process, Walcott never quite regained his old form, losing many of his subsequent fights.

From his retirement in 1911 until 1935, Walcott worked many different jobs. His boxing fortune had long since been depleted. Destitute he eventually surfaced in New York City. It was there that Mayor Jimmy Walker learned of Joe’s plight. Walker was able to get Joe a job at Madison Square Garden. There Joe stayed for a month or so and then he vanished without a trace. “Barbados” Joe Walcott was a 5’1″ freak of nature with a barrel chest and a reach equal to a much taller man. It was these physical attributes that enabled him to battle even heavyweights with success. Now he had disappeared without a clue to his whereabouts. His final resting place may never have been known if it had not been for the efforts of Bill Cereghin a devoted boxing fan from Defiance, Ohio.

Cereghin went on a mission to find the once great champion. In 1955 Bill’s efforts led him to Massillon, Ohio some twenty years after Joe had last been seen. Massillon is a town famous for the exploits of their high school football team once coached by Paul Brown. In Massillon Bill got the break he was hoping for. Someone remembered a person fitting Walcott’s description working in a small town near Massillon called Dalton. When Bill arrived in Dalton there was no sign or clue of Walcott. He searched the town cemetery with no luck. Finally a gravedigger led Bill to a Potter’s Field on a small hill and said he remembered burring a person of Walcott’s description who claimed he was once a great fighter. Bill then met with the undertaker who verified the gravedigger’s claim. Joe had been walking one night and was hit by a car. He died at the scene. Now satisfied that his search was over Bill decided to try and dignify the unmarked grave. Bill found a slab of cement and with a black crayon wrote “Joe Walcott; Died October 1, 1935”. This was the date the undertaker had put on Walcott’s John Doe death certificate.

Irony of his phrase was transcended into his own life. But alas, his life shall not be forgotten here, as I scribe this.

Total fights 166
Wins 104
Wins by KO 61
Losses 32
Draws 27
No contests 3

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Kenny

Christian. American. Father. Husband. Friend. Brother. Son. Grandson. Uncle. Cubs Fan. Digital.

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