Jersey Joe Walcott
Elmer “Violent” Ray
A Split Second In That Fight
by Bobby Franklin
Followers of this column know I occasionally like to take a photograph from a fight that took place years ago and study it to see what it shows about how the contestants plied their trade. The reason I choose photos from an earlier time in boxing is because it is impossible to find any taken today that show the fighters doing any of these moves.The art and technique no longer exist,
and that is borne out by these photos.
The latest in this series is a shot taken during either the second or third fight between Jersey Joe Walcott and Elmer “Violent” Ray. Both fights took place within a few months of each other and both resulted in very close decision wins, one for Ray and the final contest for Walcott. The two had fought each other once before early in their careers when Walcott scored a knockout over Ray. The first fight was in 1937. The final two were in 1946 and 1947.
Fight fans are well versed in the career of Walcott, the man who at the time was the oldest to win the Heavyweight Title. It can be strongly argued he was the best heavyweight of all time when it came to technical skills. He was fast, agile, could punch with the kick of a mule, and had great stamina. He was a true artist when in the ring, and like any great artist he constantly practiced his craft,
always striving to improve and learn new things. I have been told that if he was in the gym and through working out he would sit and watch other fighters training, even the amateurs. When asked why he would take the time to observe amateurs sparring he reportedly answered, “Because I might learn something, a new move, that I don’t already know.”
Walcott was a master tactician who studied boxing the way a medical student studies anatomy. He would practice his footwork as if it were choreography, which it actually is. To watch Jersey Joe in the ring is to watch a true master at work. Relaxed yet intense.
Elmer “Violent” Ray is an intriguing figure. The man had an incredible record; A total of 108 bouts with 85 wins. A remarkable 64 of those wins were by knock out. He lost just 17 contests and had 5 draws.From October of 1943 until his third fight with Walcott in March of 1947,
Elmer had 50 consecutive fights without a loss Not only is that an outstanding accomplishment given the period he was fighting in, it is also a huge number of fights to have in approximately 3 and a half years.
While some may question the quality of the opposition he faced, a few names do jump out at me. He kayoed Lee Savold and Jay D. Turner as well as having the win over Walcott. He couldn’t have been fighting all stiffs and been able to come up with those wins.
There is little known about Ray. No film exists of his fights, and nobody seems to know what became of him after he gave up boxing. He just seems to have disappeared. If he had won the third fight with Walcott it is likely he would have gotten the title shot against Joe Louis instead of Jersey Joe. Instead, he fought on for a couple of more years, winning a close decision over Ezzard Charles and then being kayoed by Charles in a rematch. Not long after he quit boxing and vanished like Keyser Soze in the movie “The Usual Suspects”.
Now to the photo. This is another of those amazing pictures that captures so much of what is happening in this fight. Though it is just a fraction of a second of action, it shows us two very skilled fighters at work. We see that Walcott has moved to his right and has let fly a very hard right hand. It is possible he feinted Ray with a jab before doing this as Elmer’s right hand appears to be in position to parry a jab. His left is low but also in position to deliver a hook to the body.
Joe is putting the force of his entire body behind the blow. You can see how he has shifted the weight of his body from his right foot to his left, up on the toes of his right and flat footed with the left. He has also dropped his right shoulder further increasing the force of the blow. Just look at the power and torque in his shoulder and chest muscles. His eyes are focused on Ray, and you can see he is ready to follow up with the left hook.
Jack Dempsey used to say he got his power by punching from his hips You can clearly see how Joe has put his hip into this blow. His entire core is at play here. In this photo Walcott is giving a master class in how to throw a right hand.
So, what about Elmer Ray? Well, he certainly is no slouch. As great a move as Walcott has just pulled off, it appears from Elmer’s position that he was sucked in by the feint, but he has reacted well to the move. As soon as he realized what was coming he went to a defensive move and slipped under the punch. Because it happened so fast he is still feeling the power of the blow, but Walcott does not connect to a vulnerable area of Ray’s anatomy. Elmer Ray shows us the art of slipping a punch. Remember, he didn’t have time to think about what he was going to do. He made this great move because he had practiced it over and over again. You are seeing two masters at work.
I would also call your attention to the referee. He is on his toes and as focused on the action as the boxers. He is out of the way but in a position to step in if needed. All three of these men are consummate professionals.
I get more enjoyment just looking at this photo than I can get out of watching any of the so called champs of today in a live fight. Maybe they should take some time to look at pictures such as this. They might learn something. Of course, it would probably just confuse them.