Owens & Walker: A Promoter’s Nightmare
By Robert Carson
Bill Owens and Al Walker won’t go down in the Boxing Hall of Fame, but in the late 1920’s these two black gladiators were cutting quite a swath through the heavyweight ranks.
Owens, who was known variously as “Wild Bill,” “Big Bill” and “Cowboy Bill,” claimed to be from Guthrie, Oklahoma, Tulsa and Kansas City. It had been said that he was a full-blooded Sioux, but was actually half Cherokee Indian and half Negro. He had fought Big Bearcat Wright to a draw in 1928.
Al Walker was from Jacksonville, FL and had fought the likes of Ace Clark, Yankee Jack Smith and even won the “Negro” heavyweight championship on a foul over big George Godfrey.
Owens and Walker met in Jacksonville with Walker winning a disputed third-round knockout, leaving plenty of bad blood between them.
A second meeting was arranged on Cowboy Bill’s home turf in Kansas City for April 12, 1929. Three days before the fight both fighters were out on the town around 15th and Troost when by chance they met face-to-face on the street. The old dispute about the Jacksonville fight arose with each claiming to be the better man. “You fouled me at the time, but you won’t get the chance this time,” shouted Owens. Walker glared, “I’ll do it right now if you get smart. Put up your hands.”
Both heavyweight tore into the other with neither giving ground. As soon as one got off the deck, the other was sent sprawling. By this time the brawl started attracting a big crowd since both had a large following. A friend of one of the fighters had the presence of mind to call promoter Nate Becker and let him know what his two main event stars were doing. Becker turned white as a sheet and damn near had a coronary. “The fools,” he shouted. “I’m paying them to fight Friday night, and they decide to fight for NOTHING right out on the street!”
In the meantime fists were still flying with reckless abandon. The police wagon arrived and after a struggle both fighters were bundled aboard still “jawing” at the other.
Promoter Becker, who by now was ready for a strait jacket, saw that his fighters were released on bail, told the two biffed-up battlers, “My God, no more of this until Friday night.”
The brawl got quite a bit of publicity and on fight night the crowd was the largest of the season.
The bout itself was a carry-over from the street, with the 195-pound Owens getting the better of his heavier opponent. Walker seemed handicapped at the start from an injured eye, and his best punches fell short.
After this memorable fight each fighter went his respective way. Owens was to be one of the select victims of barnstorming Primo Carnera, and was taken out in less than two rounds in Newark. Eventually Cowboy Bill and Al Walker drifted into obscurity, but for promoter Nate Becker theirs was one bout he wouldn’t soon forget.