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robert.snell1@ntlworld.com

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JOHNNY Walker

Jordon Bloxom posted a picture of lightweight supremo of the mid 19th century, Johnny Walker, an interesting character of the prize ring.

Johnny Walker (real name Johnny Badman), born in London, was a well-built, fast, two fisted hard hitter, standing 5’ 5” and weighing 133lbs. His first undated fight was with a navvy called Grant which he won in 60 minutes, but was overmatched in his first recorded fight in the prize ring, when at just 19 years old he took on the experienced Jack Hannan at Wheelers End, Oxfordshire in November 1838, losing in thirty one rounds taking in nearly 3 hours of fighting. A return in April 1839 near Newmarket, Suffolk saw him lose again, this time in thirty nine rounds and nearly 4 hours of scrapping, after dislocating his shoulder.

Two years lapsed before, in June 1841 he beat the highly respected Bill Jones in thirty five rounds at Bray, Berkshire and then in January 1842 at Bagshot, Surrey he outgunned the tough and durable Fred “Bulldog” Mason in a brutal contest lasting sixty two rounds, confirming him to many as the top lightweight in the country, with Johnny Broome having retired. With this accolade Walker’s next fight was against the up and coming Ned Adams, but not being able to agree to an accepted weight limit the contest was made at catch weight for a 200 purse and held at Bracknell, Berkshire in July 1842. Walker and Adams were evenly matched; first Walker then Adams having the upper hand, but heavy rain drained both fighter’s strength until Adams could no longer continue after round forty four.

Walker retired claiming to be the champion of the lightweights and several attempts were made to persuade him back, but all failed until he was coaxed back into the prize ring to fight the promising and unbeaten Sam Simmonds. They duly met at Lakenheath, Suffolk in December 1846 for a 400 purse, with Walker winning easily in thirteen rounds ending the fight with a powerful right. With this Walker again announced himself as the undisputed top lightweight in the country.

This announcement was next challenged by a new rising star, the heavier Tom Lane, a younger brother to the famous “Hammer” Lane. The fight was also to be at catch weight, but Walker had to pay a forfeit as the contest had to be called off due to Walker being ill with the flu. The contest was rearranged for February 1848 at Hythe, Kent for another 400 purse and from the start Walker was not fighting in his usual style; in fact he apparently seemed lethargic and clumsy. Twice he was nearly disqualified and in round thirteen, after 12 minutes of “fighting” and after a warning from his seconds to start fighting properly, to the amazement of everyone present including his opponent, he walked out of the ring! Walker later complained that he had hurt his thumb; many people thought it was a fix and all bets were declared void, robbing Tom Lane of an apparently deserved victory, although compensated for his troubles as he was the innocent party.

Walker relinquished his claim as the best of the lightweights when later that year he travelled to the USA with his brother Alf and on his return in 1853 a contest with Bill Hayes fell through, when Walker declined to fight and again in 1854 when he was absent at the appointed fight time. However, it was finally fixed for December 1854, but the contest was more like an exhibition as the two evenly matched fighters styles cancelled each other out, eventually darkness was the winner and although a continuation was arranged for a later date it never materialized. Walker now 39 was due to fight Bob Travers in 1858 but again forfeited a fight.

Age and appetite for a fight seemed to have caught up on Johnny Walker after two previous long retirements and he never fought again.