Boxing and Wrestling are the quintessential pair of combat sports, both possessing antediluvian roots and almost universal practice in some form.
Jersey Joe Walcott, Born Arnold Cream, did not hold the greatest record during his career as a professional boxer. He did not have the longest title reign nor the most significant impact on popular culture. What he did have was a fascinating and unusual path to the heavyweight championship of the world, made up of both a unique fighting style, tumultuous life, and a great underhook.
The most important and constant aspect of Jersey Joe’s underhook is hybridization. He did not forgo the fundamentals of boxing or wrestling entirely, but he was not restricted by them either. He demonstrates a conspicuous proficiency in both.
Though a career boxer, Walcott was more than capable of appearing, if just for a moment, to be a wrestler of the same pedigree. In the sequence shown above, Walcott adopts a wedge stance, changes level, and makes contact in a manner that would be enviable among lifelong Greco-Roman wrestlers.
Walcott uses this entry to establish double underhooks and, though he takes no offensive action, he nullifies Ezzard Charles’ offense entirely.
Defense in these quarters demands a different understanding of evasion. When fighting from the outside, at arms length or farther, one can move one’s entire body away from danger; manipulating distance to remain out of reach. While infighting or clinching, the movement of both parties is limited, and both will be well within arm’s reach for the duration.
Because the ability to manage distance is so severely reduced, a successful infighter must be able to manipulate his or her opponent’s reach directly. An underhook can be used in this manner, by raising the shoulder and forcing the elbow out, an opponent’s range of motion can be reduced, allowing for security even in close quarters.
Jersey Joe could also draw upon his punching, as seen in this instance. Impressively, he secures an underhook on the far-arm of his opponent, who has adopted a bladed stance, by employing a long jab.
This sequence displays the offensive fruit of Walcott’s grapppling labors. As a result of the hold, Charles’ body is extended as he is lifted almost onto his toes; this leaves his abdomen vulnerable and out of position while the Cincinnati Cobra was helpless to strike back.
In this instance Jersey Joe both obtained and capitalized on his underhook using his boxing skills. This is in contrast to the previously pictured sequence in which he displayed almost orthodox wrestling.
The use of looping punches becomes a dangerous proposition against an opponent competent in the use of underhooks. Yet however wary his opponents may have been, Jersey Joe could still force them into the use of these punches by crowding the inside position, leaving only outside lines of attack open.
The above sequence displays another facet of Walcott’s tactical proficiency. He is able to not only anticipate, but also influence his opponent’s actions in order to secure a superior position with minimal effort.
Most impressively of all, Walcott was able to apply multiple different entrances in sequence or in tandem with each other. Here he easily secures his first underhook through Ezzard Charles’ stance, but still dutifully applies an inside tie on the other arm. In turning this inside tie into an underhook, Jersey Joe demonstrates a methodical advancement of position that would work against any wrestler; but just moments before took advantage of an opening most wrestlers would never leave.
Furthermore, this sequence shows elements of both attack and defense in different stages. Not only did Walcott land a significant blow, he also displayed a unique type of head movement in reaction to Charles’ looping returns.
The underhook satisfies a special consideration of inside fighting: perception. When fighting from at or beyond arm’s length, one can see the majority of an opponent’s body and use visual cues reliably. As the distance between two fighters shrinks, the amount of the body that is readily visible shrinks as well until, when infighting, a fighter may not be able to see anything useful.
With this in mind, Jersey Joe’s rapid head movement begins to make more sense. He was able to feel, using his underhooking arm, Charles’ short punches and move his head out of the way. The head itself would only be displaced by a few inches, but in that range of fighting a few inches are more than enough.
Throughout this article, the terms boxing and wrestling have been used dichotomously to each other, but in reality the above points show that such a dichotomy does not tangibly exist. Labels and categories are used to simplify complex topics so that such such topics and ideas can be discussed practically. In this case, movements and skills are divided between two combat sports, boxing and wrestling, even though both sports apply the same tools to achieve ultimately similar goals.
Jersey Joe, as shown above, is not practicing two methods, he is applying the same athletic and technical conditioning to techniques which are often viewed as being part of separate bodies. The division of techniques offers a necessary simplicity, but to no longer need them, or to render them un-meaningful as Jersey Joe Walcott did, is a demonstration of mastery.