When Jack Kearns Saved the Bulldog’s Bacon

By Mike Casey on June 3, 2013
When Jack Kearns Saved the Bulldog’s Bacon
Swiderski was cheated out of a historic victory over Walker by the inventive Jack Kearns.

Mickey was on the canvas for a fourth time and looking a lost cause when the bell suddenly rang. But the official timekeeper hadn’t rung it…

Some fellows have a rare talent for throwing embarrassing spanners in the works. New York heavyweight Paul Swiderski was one such man.

In a patchy career that than ran from 1926 to 1935, the erratic and heavy punching Swiderski, managed by the great Harry Lenny,  won twenty and lost seventeen of just 43 fights.

Paul’s career was one of highlights and lowlights. He lost to Max Baer, Jim Braddock, Fred Lenhart and Pete Latzo, got himself disqualified against Jake Warren and featured in a couple of those ‘no contests’ of the era against Maxie Rosenbloom and Joe Sekyra. These were the whiffy affairs of the era where the two boys would be instructed by the referee to take an early shower following a chronic lack of action.

In the middle part of his eventful and non-eventful trek through the Depression era, Swiderski suddenly dropped an almighty bomb that should have given him a career defining victory. He took the great Toy Bulldog, Mickey Walker, by the scruff of the neck and banged him to the canvas six times at the Jefferson County Armory in Louisville on the eve of the Kentucky Derby in 1930.

A stunned Mickey looked as if his own race had been run until his wily manager Jack Kearns reached into his capacious bag of tricks and saved the Bulldog’s bacon. Walker loved to pick on bigger guys, but he was ill prepared to pick on Swiderski.

How did it happen? Walker, the reigning middleweight champion, had already sealed his legendary status and few disputed that he was one of the all-time greats. But even Magnificent Mick’s most ardent supporters would concede that he could fight like a third rater when his mind and his liver were merrily pickling in the bright lights.

Mickey’s frustrated wife never could figure out what happened to her man after he met Jack Kearns. “He just kept chasing booze and women after that,” said Mrs. Walker.

Walker had certainly been having a fine old time in the run-up to his explosive match with Swiderski. He and Kearns spent money as soon as the earned it and frequently needed to top up their funds in order to protect their vital investments in wine, women and song.

If no match of any great significance was on tap for Walker, the money would be made by arranging a series of bouts against “safe” opponents. This was known as “barnstorming” back in the day, and the star of the show was supposed to knock out the chosen opponent and move quickly on to the next assignment. The script didn’t call for getting knocked senseless by a Joe Doakes, a Joe Blow or indeed a Paul Swiderski.

Superb

Towards the end of 1929, Walker had looked superb in successfully defending his middleweight championship against the formidable Ace Hudkins at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Mickey was paid very handsomely for that fight and rewarded himself with a three month “rest” and some carefree spending. He opened his 1930 campaign with a victory over the big punching Leo Lomski, who had nearly upset Tommy Loughran’s apple cart two years before. Lomski lost a decision to Loughran, but not before spilling the boxing maestro for a couple of nine counts in the opening round.

It was after Lomski that Mickey embarked on what was meant to be a pleasant and stress-free tour of the midwest, taking in Chicago, Flint and Davenport as he breezed to quick wins over Jimmy Mahoney, Charley Arthurs and K.O. White. Now these three gentlemen were not of the level of Ace Hudkins or Leo Lomski. K.O. White didn’t kayo too many people and quite often got kayoed himself, prompting one to wonder whether he appreciated irony or was simply in a tragic state of denial.

Paul Swiderski was the next man for the Walker chopping block. Imagine the delight of the Louisville promoters in snaring the hugely popular Walker as the curtain raising act to the Kentucky Derby. Jack Kearns licked his lips at the promoters’ offer of a $7,500 purse, but that offer would soon be more than halved. For not even the magnetic Mickey could pull enough fans away from the pre-Derby celebrations to watch the fight.

Too bad for those missing fans! They couldn’t have imagined the spectacular events that would unfold at the Jefferson County Armory.

The promoters offered Kearns the choice of canceling the fight or taking a reduced purse of $3,000. Jack needed to consult his cash cow. He looked all over town for Mickey, who was enjoying a leisurely workout in a bar. Walker did some quick arithmetic and concluded that three thousand bucks added up to more than nothing. The fight was on and Mick had an extra incentive. He didn’t like Swiderski and intended to knock him out with relish.

The two boys had a history and the feeling of dislike was mutual. Swiderski had been Walker’s sparring partner for a couple of fights, picking up five dollars a day in return for having multiple welts and lumps applied to his body.

It seemed that Swiderski’s body suffered quite a bit in general. He was being plagued by an attack of boils when manager Harry Lenny notified him of the Walker match. “I can clip Walker on the chin with my right any time I like,” Paul told Lenny. “Boils or no boils, I know I can beat him.”

Walker’s riotous affair with Swiderski looks innocuous enough on Mick’s record: ‘May 16, 1930, Paul Swiderski, Louisville, Ky., ND 10.’ Only in recent times, with the wonders of the Internet and the tireless research of boxing enthusiasts, have umpteen asterisks and explanations been added to the many mysterious ‘no decision’ affairs of the era.

Hours

It is not known what exactly Walker and Kearns got up to in the hours leading up to the fight, but it is hard to believe that Mick was doing some vigorous roadwork or sweating it out in the local gym.

Swiderski’s gut feeling about his powerful right hand bringing him glory might have been described as a premonition if justice had been done that night. The New York underdog did indeed knock out Mickey Walker in every fair sense, but the chicanery of Jack Kearns ensured that justice was kidnapped and shoved in a dark closet.

Walker, no doubt distracted by more appealing thoughts, never saw the storm coming in a tumultuous first round in which he was officially knocked down four times. He came out of his corner looking for a quick finish and very nearly got it in a perverse way. Talk about bombs away. The first sensation was when Walker and Swidereski connected with each other’s whiskers simultaneously and both hit the deck. Paul got up a six, but Mickey needed three seconds more.

If anyone doubted Swiderski’s dislike of Walker, the emphatic proof was delivered when Paul decked Mick a second time and gave him a hearty kick for good measure. The referee, whose identity remains a mystery, saw nothing untoward in this behavior and ignored it. So did the Kentucky State commissioners sitting at ringside. The story goes that Walker had upset them at some point and that they were more than happy to see Mick getting a booting as well as a biffing.

Things got worse for Walker until another strange event occurred. At the 2:30 mark, a battered Mickey was on the canvas for a fourth time and looking a lost cause when the bell suddenly rang. But the official timekeeper hadn’t rung it.

The culprit was Teddy Hayes, Walker’s trainer, acting on the order of Jack Kearns. Jack’s golden boy could not be knocked out by Paul Swiderski. Certainly not in Louisville. The Kentucky Derby had vastly overshadowed this lively little jig between Mr. Walker and Mr. Swiderski and Kearns wanted it to stay that way. The timekeeper, understandably miffed at having his bell hijacked, yelled his displeasure through the great noise with all the futility of a man crying for help in Bedlam.

Kearns and Hayes dragged the stricken Walker back to his corner and worked feverishly to bring their man to his senses. Perhaps the strangest thing of all in the chaos was the crowd’s sympathy for Walker rather than Swiderski. A good many people rushed towards the ring to violently protest against Swiderski’s unorthodox tactics. Some sort of order was maintained by a small squad of police offers, who took to the ring and aimed Tommy guns at the dissenters. The cops had discovered the guns in the basement of the armory and figured it was an opportune time to give them a whirl.

To add to the confusion and controversy, Walker got a full two minutes to recover from his shellacking, although he didn’t seem much better for it as he came up for round two. Mickey’s legs were still unsteady as Swiderski attacked again and floored Walker for a count of nine. A sixth knockdown quickly followed, accompanied by a kick to the head.

That timely kick seemed to do Walker far more good than all the punches he had taken. Suddenly he turned into the spinach-fueled version of Popeye and set about making Swiderski pay for his impudence. Mickey decked Paul twice and then gave him a merciless pounding for the remainder of the fight, prolonging the punishment for all ten rounds when many believed that he could have knocked Paul out.

The crowd at the Jefferson County Armory swelled by the minute as word shot around town that Mickey Walker’s routine gig had turned into a barnburner.

Support

Poor Swiderski. He had no public support for his quite justifiable claims of foul play. He was the spoiler without charisma who had dared to vandalize the golden boy. Paul might have helped his cause considerably if he had not employed his feet to enhance the damage, but the cold fact remains that he was cheated out of a historic victory by the inventive Jack Kearns.

Alas, the fickle fans didn’t care about any of that. They had shelled out their money to watch the great Mickey Walker put on a show, not get kicked around and knocked out. Fair play had nothing to do with it.

The one thing Kearns couldn’t prevent was the ensuing publicity, which led to a rematch between Walker and Swiderski in Newark four months later. By then, all the air had gone out of Paul’s balloon and he spent most of the ten rounds trying to avoid Mickey’s heavy artillery. It was a dull affair and Mick got the decision.

A horse called Gallant Fox won the Kentucky Derby that year. I could tell you were dying to know.

Mike Casey is a Boxing.com writer and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

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  1. Mike Casey 09:39am, 06/11/2013

    Tex, I agree! Mickey and Jack - what a combination! Yes, Frankie, boils were much more common in those days - I don’t quite know why! Thanks for your observations, gents.

  2. FrankinDallas 12:31am, 06/11/2013

    Just finished reading a book by Bukowski called Ham on Rye. He suffered from boils in the early 1930’s…..guess it was more prevalent in those days.

  3. Tex Hassler 02:39pm, 06/09/2013

    Mickey Walker was a truly great fighter and he was also fearless. If Walker were here today and in his prime there is no telling how many championship belts he woudl have with all the bogus title floating around.
    Jack Kearns was a gifted manager and could move a fighters career ahead in a number of ways.

  4. Mike Casey 11:05am, 06/05/2013

    Thank you, Michael - be well!

  5. Michael Hegan 10:34am, 06/05/2013

    Thank you Mike Casey !!

    Great read….and information that is solid.

  6. ted 10:06am, 06/04/2013

    hahahahahahah

  7. Mike Casey 10:03am, 06/04/2013

    Steal away, Ted - others are far less honest about it!

  8. ted 09:57am, 06/04/2013

    More nice history ladled up by our resident historian. I tell you, I will start stealing this stuff and post on other sites so I cane be accepted as a true historian. Something about imitating is the best form of flattery or whatever. lol

    In all seriousness, what many readers miss is the amount of effort that goes into historical articles and the fact they become valuable for the future.

  9. Mike Casey 12:13am, 06/04/2013

    Correct, my friend. In Mick’s case, it’s a major body of work involving a cast of hundreds.

  10. Clarence George 10:08pm, 06/03/2013

    Mike:  Splendid, as always, but you fail to deliver in one key area—Walker’s women.  You surely have some specifics to hand…names, faces, predilections, activities engaged in.  Or are you saving the naughty bits for a follow-up article?  You are, aren’t you?  I knew it!

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