Derek Bonnett recounts the history of short but effective boxers, starting with the legendary Manny Pacquiao
Boxing history is replete with stories of David vs Goliath match-ups. Some of them are more figurative clashes between underdogs and elites while others are more literally based on stature. The old adage ‘a good big man beats a good little man’ often rings true, but typically is used in reference to one boxer’s rise in weight class to meet a fighter more naturally placed in that division. However, nature would have it that some fighters possess a less common body type and carry their natural weight in a much more compact physique. In spite of being physically disadvantaged, as height usually correlates with reach, some fighters have been able to overcome the norm and be quite successful at slaying the giants across the ring from them. And, of course, you have those boxers that take a fireplug body and successfully climb the ladder of divisional weight classes with added success.
In today’s game, one such fighter who comes to mind is Manny Pacquiao. At 5ft 5 1/2ins tall, the elite-class welterweight stands as high as super-featherweight titlist Gervonta Davis. Pacquiao is actually half an inch shorter than Davis’ co-titlists at 130lbs, Tevin Farmer and Andrew Cancio. Nevertheless, Pacquiao, 62-7-2 (39), has filled his frame out from a career low of 106lbs to 147lbs and toppled many giants during this odyssey. The Filipino phenom stopped Oscar De La Hoya, giving away five inches in height and 10 years of experience fighting at 147 pounds or above. Antonio Margarito was even taller at 5ft 11ins and absorbed a terrible beating from Pacquiao. Chris Algieri and Jesse Vargas stand at 5ft 10ins and 5ft 11ins, respectively, and both accepted boxing lessons from Pacquiao, while getting off the canvas. In Algieri’s case, multiple times. Even most recent victim Keith Thurman was two inches taller than Manny.
While short in stature, Pacquiao and other boxers are big on commitment. To balance the scales, they hone their skills and technique, build up speed and stamina or take advantage of their durability and grind, grind, grind. In their world, ‘The bigger they are, they harder they fall’. I have identified 10 other vertically challenged boxers, who overcame deficits in height to defeat much taller, world-class opposition. Here are the first five, with the rest to follow in a subsequent article.
Joe Walcott, “Barbados Demon”
Before there was “Jersey Joe”, this Joe Walcott fought from 1892 to 1911. Walcott was known for ‘his ferocity in the ring and willingness to fight anyone willing to step in the ring with him no matter how big.’ Hence, his nickname. Amazingly, Walcott, 87-24-24 (57), stood at a mere 5ft 1 1/2ins and competed within the lightweight and welterweight divisions. Walcott won recognition as the world welterweight champion and even fought against 5ft 9in Frank Childs in a losing bid for the ‘Colored’ heavyweight title. The miniscule welterweight also held greats like Joe Gans, 5ft 6 1/2 ins, and Sam Langford, 5ft 7 1/2ins, to draws. However, Mysterious Billy Smith enjoyed a height advantage of seven-and-a-half inches and still lost the majority of the bouts in their rivalry. Bobby Dobbs possessed the same advantage. The New York Times reported “The top of Walcott’s head was barely as high as Dobbs’ shoulders.” Yet, Walcott KO’d him in six rounds in 1899. Joe Choynski, typically classified as a light-heavyweight, stood at 5ft 11ins. Still, at a height disadvantage of almost 10 inches, Walcott dropped him five times in the first before the bout eventually ended in the seventh. Choynski wasn’t all height either, as he stopped Childs, drew with James J. Jeffries and stopped a young Jack Johnson!
Sam Langford, “Boston Tar Baby”
Due to the era in which he fought, Langford’s career reads like a legend, surrounded by myth, but backed up by history. At 5ft 7 1/2ins, Langford possessed the stature of a solid lightweight, standing right between today’s titlists Vasiliy Lomachenko and Richard Commey, taking and giving a half-inch respectively. The Canadian-born “Boston Tar Baby” turned professional in 1902 and fought until 1926. From roughly 1909 though, Langford fought as the world ‘Colored’ heavyweight champion. The shortest heavyweights in Boxrec’s top ten today, Andy Ruiz Jr and Alexander Povetkin, both stand at 6ft 2: almost seven inches taller! Yet, Langford, 178-29-38 (126), was able to best boxers just over 5ft 10ins such as Fireman Jim Flynn, Jeff Clark, Joe Jeannette and Philadelphia Jack O’Brien. Langford KO’d the 6ft 2in Gunboat Smith in three rounds of a return bout following a questionable decision defeat. Smith was dropped by what one journalist called a ‘”sweeping right”. Langford fought Harry Wills, 6ft 2 as well, a staggering 18 times. History tells us Wills won the war, but Langford took at least one important battle early on and stopped Wills in 14 rounds because “His speed, judgment and force…enabled him to play with Wills.”
Mickey Walker, “Toy Bulldog”
At different points of his career, spanning 1919 through 1935, Walker was recognised as world champion at both 147 and 160lbs. Walker, 94-19-4 (60), also fought for the light-heavyweight title and took on top heavyweights while standing only 5ft 7ins, or one-to-four inches shorter than top-rated super-lightweights Regis Prograis, Josh Taylor, Jose Carlos Ramirez, Viktor Postol and Maurice Hooker. While typically shorter than his foes, the disparity in height got more interesting once Walker ventured beyond the middleweight division. For example, at light-heavyweight, Paulino Uzcudun stood above Walker by three inches, but that advantage was easily negated. Maxie Rosenbloom was 5ft 10 1/2ins, but lost their 1934 bout. Jack Gagnon stood 5ft 11ins and lasted all of 37 seconds with Walker. The equally tall King Levinsky and Johnny Risko lost on points to the “Toy Bulldog”. Both Jack Sharkey and Tommy Loughran checked in right around 6ft. Sharkey managed a dubious draw while Loughran escaped by split decision. Less than a year after his bout with Walker, Sharkey won a decision over Max Schmeling to win the heavyweight championship. Sal Ruggirello was 6ft 1in and fell in the first against Walker. Herman Weiner stood half-an-inch taller than today’s 6ft 4in heavyweights Luis Ortiz and Dillian Whyte, but was KO’d in under two minutes by Walker.
Dwight Muhammad Qawi, “Camden Buzzsaw”
Born Dwight Braxton, the New Jersey boxer became a two-division world champion, fighting from 1978 through 1998. Like Walker, Qawi stood at 5ft 7ins, but the “Camden Buzzsaw” began his career as a light-heavyweight before finding further success at cruiserweight and dabbling in the ring with the big boys of boxing. Two of Qawi’s biggest wins came against Matthew Saad Muhammad, whom he stopped twice in world championship bouts as a light-heavyweight in spite of a four-inch height disadvantage. Mike Rossman, a former world champion, also stood 5ft 11, but couldn’t last the distance with Qawi. James Scott and Jerry Martin were two solid light-heavyweight contenders standing 6ft 1in. Scott lost a decision, but Martin was KO’d by the never-ending grind of Qawi. As a cruiserweight, Qawi despatched Leon Spinks, overcoming six inches difference in height. Ricky Parkey stood 6ft and retired in eight rounds against Qawi due to a fractured nose. Qawi, 41-11-1 (25), didn’t win against “Big” George Foreman, but succeeded in giving the eventual two-time heavyweight champion one of his toughest challenges on the comeback trail, in spite of being eight inches shorter.
Frankie Warren, “Panchito”
Warren, 30-2 (20), fought as a junior-welterweight and welterweight from 1982 to 1989. By comparison to his height-deficient predecessors, his career was almost as short as he was. Warren stands at 5ft 3ins or shorter than current flyweight titlists Kosei Tanaka and Willie Edwards. Light-flyweight champions Ken Shiro and Hiro Kyoguchi are also taller by an inch or two. Warren fought for the world junior-welterweight title, but was stopped in 12 rounds by James “Buddy” McGirt. However, in their first meeting two years earlier, Warren outpointed the master boxer who had four-and-a-half inches in height on him. In fact, in the three bouts leading up to this career-best win, Warren stopped Roberto Elizondo, 5ft 8ins, outpointed Sammy Fuentes, 5ft 7ins and knocked down Ronnie Shields, who was nearly 5ft 10, before winning the USBA title. Early in his career, Warren stole the ‘0’ of 5ft 10in junior-welterweight Ford Jennings.
Look out for Part II and the chance to read about five more giant slayers from the more modern era of boxing.