Kid Norfolk







He was never a world champion, but he fought in an era in which the best fighters did not always hold the very few world titles. (Being black did not help, either.) His name was William Ward, but he was known to fight fans as Kid Norfolk, one of the most feared light heavyweights of the 1910's and early '20s.

Born in Norfolk, Va., on September 20, 1895, Ward started boxing in the "battle royals" held there and in other southern cities. Six young blindfolded blacks would battle until only one was left standing. Norfolk, then in his teens, was tough, punched hard, and was courageous. He won a number of battle royals before heading for Baltimore, city of Joe Gans, the great black fighter who had held the world lightweight title several years earlier. Ward now became a "legitimate" boxer.

Boxing constituted a large part of the entertainment for the soldiers, sailors, and laborers then in Panama on the Canal Project. An engineer named V.A. Mason took young Ward to panama, but was unable to get him fights. Ward hung in there, however, eventually hooking up with a West Indian booking agent named Herman Cambridge. The year was 1913.

Kid Norfolk, as he now was known, began to fight white and black opponents in Colon and Panama City. On January 18, 1914, he outpointed Abraham Hollandersky, a legendary white fighter who later claimed to have had over 1,000 professional fights, over 25 rounds in Colon. Several fights later, Ward, then little more than a middleweight, dropped a 20-rounder to Tommy Conners for the Panamanian heavyweight championship. Six months later, he beat Conners in a return bout to win the title.

The following year (1915) saw Norfolk face increasingly rough opposition, as top black fighters made repeated trips to Panama in search of lucrative contests denied them in the U.S. Norfolk lost his title when outpointed by Jeff Clarke, the famous "Joplin Ghost," but regained it in a return go a year and a half later. In between he knocked out Black Gunboat Smith (later well known in Chile) and outpointed tall Bill Tate, among his other victories.

Two knockouts over former "white hope" champion Arthur Pelky brought Norfolk to the attention of famed manager Leo P. Flynn, who started the Kid on a big-time U.S. fight career in 1917. Flynn even got Ward fights against the top white light heavyweights, and Norfolk responded by outpointing Ed (Gunboat) Smith, Gus Christie, and Billy Miske, among others Norfolk claimed the world light heavyweight title after beating Miske over 12 rounds.

Sam Langford dealt Norfolk his first defeat by knockout on December 17, 1917, knocking the Kid flat inside two rounds. The following year saw Norfolk even more improved, however, battling the great Joe Jeannette on even terms in two eight-round contests in Jersey.

The light heavyweight title held no great significance prior to the mid-1920s, and Norfolk's great ambition was to face Jack Dempsey, who took the world heavyweight title from the huge Jess Willard in July, 1919. The Kid was winning consistently by this time, defeating the top light heavyweights of both races-although never able to secure a fight against the world champ, Battling Levinsky- and occassionally beating heavies like Cleve Hawkins and Bill Tate. On June 7, 1920, John Lester Johnson was disqualified in the third round for foul tactics against Norfolk in Rochester, N.Y. One week later, Norfolk and Johnson had a return go in Baltimore. As they came together for the referee's instructions, Johnson grinned and said, "Hello, Willie."

Norfolk, taciturn and angry over Johnson's tactics in their last contest, replied, "Hey, man. You don't mean, 'Hello.' You mean, 'Goodbye.'" He proceeded to knock Johnson out in the first round.

Norfolk reeled off eighteen more wins before Lee Anderson thumbed and stopped him in nine rounds in Phoenix, Ariz. in the years biggest upset. Three months later, Ward squared off with Harry Greb, arguably at the peak of his career, in a 10-rounder before around 5,000 fans at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Norfolk weighed 179, Greb 161 1/2.

Norfolk attacked early, hard, and often. Greb suffered a flash knockdown in the fourth round, but battled back to take the next three sessions. Norfolk fought extremely hard from then until the finish, and most of those at ringside thought he won. The Pittsburgh newspapers gave it for Greb.

They fought again,pictured here, a scheduled ten at Mechanics Hall in Boston on April 19, 1924. This one was wild, ending when Greb hit Norfolk after the bell ending the fourth inning. referee Jack Sheehan gave the bout to Norfolk on a foul. A newspaper description of this fight is on the bottom of this page, just scroll down.

The shot at Dempsey's title had remained Norfolk's dream until March 2, 1922, when he faced number one heavyweight contender Harry Wills, close to six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier, in Madison square garden. It was no contest. Wills stopped Norfolk inside two.

The Garden was not Norfolk's lucky place. The Kid's career as a serious light heavyweight contender ended there on december 9, 1924, when Tommy gibbons stopped him in six rounds. Norfolk lost three fights, two of them by knockout, in the following year, and called it quits when Ted Moore knocked him out in San Francisco on March 19, 1926.

Matchmaker Johnny Bos met Norfolk around 1968. Like harry Wills, he'd purchased an apartment house in harlem and lived off the rental income. Some sources said he worked as a porter in Yankee Stadium, which made Norfolk bristle. "I never worked as no damned porter at Yankee Stadium," he told the teen-aged Bos.

Norfolk died the following year. He was one of the greatest fighters, pound-for-pound, of his day, and it may be said without undue presumption that he would have beaten Battling Levinsky for the light heavyweight championship of the world.

Bos believes that Norfolk should be in the Hall of Fame.

We cannot say different.

Article was printed in the September 2000 issue of Boxing Digest.

The article was written by Herbert G. Goldman



Photos of Norfolk supplied by Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith has written an article in the Boxing Wise Website and is currently in negotiations to publish a great new book "The Carmel Covered Kings." If anyone has information on colored fighters between 1915-1933 you can e-mail Mr. Smith at

For a bio on Kid Norfolk go to the Cyber Boxing Zone Website. Kevin Smith wrote a bio for them titled "The Black Thunderbolt--Kid Norfolk"




RING RECORD: 55 wins - 14 losses - 16 ND's -2 draw - (89 total bouts)

 complete record

unknown	1914	Jack Livingston		unknown		W 10
unknown	1914	Tommy O'Conner		unknown		W 20
unknown	1914	Young Joe Gans		unknown		Exh. 6

unknown	1915	Jack  Louden		unknown		KO 3
unknown	1915	Roughhouse Ware		unknown		W 25
unknown	1915	Jack Herrick		unknown		W 20
unknown	1915	Jeff   Clark		unknown		L 20

unknown	1916	Young Roughhouse	unknown		KO 2
unknown	1916	Young Gunboat Smith	unknown		KO 2
unknown	1916	Miltant Durant		unknown		KO 3
unknown	1916	Jim   Briggs		unknown		KO 4
unknown	1916	Arthur Pelky		unknown		KO 13
unknown	1916	Roughhouse Ware		unknown		W 25
unknown	1916	Bill    Tate		unknown		W 20
unknown	1916	Jeff   Clark		unknown		W 20
unknown	1916	Ambres Belsa		unknown		Draw 6
unknown	1916	Young Sam Langford	unknown		Exh. 6

Jan 10	1917	Sam    McVey		Colon		ND 6
Feb 11	1917	Arthur Pelky		Panama		KO 13
Apr 30	1917	Sailor Grande		Roches.		KO 5
May 10	1917	Morris Tasco		Baltim.		KO 5
Jun 4	1917	Tom   Cowler		Roches.		ND 10
Jun 25	1917	Tom   Cowler		Roches.		ND 10
Jul 19	1917	Tom   Cowler		Buffalo		KO 8
Jul 20	1917	Wild Burt Kenny		NewYork		ND 10
Jul 30	1917	Wild Burt Kenny		Roches.		ND 10
Aug 4	1917	Gunboat Smith		Buffalo		ND 10
Aug 16	1917	Gus   Christie		Buffalo		ND 10
Aug 21	1917	Gunboat Smith		Roches.		ND 10
Sep 24	1917	George  Ashe		Roches.		ND 10
Oct 16	1917	Billy  Miske		Boston		W 12
Oct 26	1917	Johnny Espin		NewYork		KO 7
Nov 6	1917	Tom   Cowler		Provid.		ND 12
Dec 4	1917	Zulu     Kid		Mass.		W 10
Dec 17	1917	Sam Langford		Denver		KO'd by 2

Mar 25	1918	Jack Thompson		Philad.		ND 6
Apr 5	1918	George Robinson		Boston		W 12
Apr 15	1918	George Christian	Philad.		KO 3
Apr 16	1918	Porky  Flynn		Boston		W 12
Apr 22	1918	Bill    Tate		Baltim.		W 10
May 14	1918	George  Ashe		Boston		KO 3
Jul 16	1918	Jim  Johnson		NewYork		Exh. 4
Jul 19	1918	Joe Jeannette		Jer.Cit		ND 8
Oct 18	1918	Joe Jeannette		W.Hobo.		ND 8
Nov 19	1918	Clay  Turner		Boston		L 12

unknown	1920	Bill    Tate		unknown		W 10
unknown	1920	Jeff   Clark		unknown		W 15
unknown	1920	Billy  Miske		unknown		ND 10

unknown	1921	Jamaica  Kid		unknown		W 15
unknown	1921	Clem Johnson		unknown		W 10
unknown	1921	Jamaica  Kid		unknown		W 10
Aug 29	1921	Harry   Greb		Pitts.		ND 10 (W news) Norfolk weighed 179 pounds.Greb weighed 162. The referee was Yock Henniger.
unknown	1921	Lee Anderson		unknown		KO'd by 9

unknown	1922	Clay  Turner		unknown		KO 4
unknown	1922	Clay  Turner		unknown		ND 10
unknown	1922	John Lester Johnson	unknown		KO 1
unknown	1922	John Lester Johnson	unknown		W 12
unknown	1922	Pinkie Lewis		unknown		KO 2
unknown	1922	Jack  Taylor		unknown		Draw 10
unknown	1922	Pinkie Lewis		unknown		KO 5
unknown	1922	Lee Anderson		unknown		W 10
unknown	1922	George Lawson		unknown		KO 5
unknown	1922	Larry Williams		unknown		ND 8
unknown	1922	Harry  Wills		unknown		KO'd by 2
unknown	1922	George  Ward		unknown		KO 2
unknown	1922	Lee Anderson		unknown		W 10
unknown	1922	George  Ward		unknown		KO 3

Jan 31	1923	Wolf  Larsen		NewYork		LF 2
Mar 27	1923	Jack  Taylor		NewYork		W 12
Mar 31	1923	Wolf  Larsen		Portla.		KO 1
Apr 24	1923	Battling McCreary	Boston		L 10
May 8	1923	Tiger Flowers		Ohio		KO 1
Jul 14	1923	Jamaica  Kid		NewYork		KO 2
Aug 23	1923	Tut  Jackson		Baltim.		KO 3
Sept	1923	Kid    Nolan		Baltim.		KO 3
Nov 20	1923	Battling Siki		NewYork		W 15

Jan 9	1924	Sidney Grant		Baltim.		KO 2
Feb 8	1924	Battling McCreary	Boston		W 10
Feb 23	1924	Lee Anderson		NewYork		W 12
Apr 18	1924	Harry   Greb		Boston		WF 6  (Both men weighed exactly 172 and 3/4th) Referee was Jack Sheehan.
May 12	1924	Bob   Lawson		Buffalo		LF 10
May 28	1924	Tut  Jackson		Ohio		KO 2
Jun 6	1924	Battling Kavanaugh	Illino.		ND 6
Jul 17	1924	Joe   Lawson		Atl.Ci.		KO 6
Sep 9	1924	Battling McCreary	Boston		W 10
Dec 9	1924	Tommy Gibbons		NewYork		KO'd by 6

Mar 14	1925	Bob   Lawson		NewYork		KO'd by 1
May 6	1925	Ray    Pelky		Calif.		KO 5
May 25	1925	Jack Reddick		Sask.		W 12
June 1	1925	Frankie Farmer		Portl.		W 10
Jun 17	1925	Floyd Johnson		Calif.		LF 4
Sep 21	1925	Frank  Moody		NewYork		KO'd by 4

Mar 19	1926	Ted    Moore		Calif.		KO'd by 4


The following is from a newspaper article after the fight: Norfolk vs. Greb 1924


Harry Greb, world's middleweight champion, was disqualified last night in the sixthe round of his scheduled 10 round bout with Kid Norfolk,claimant of the world's colored light-heaveyweight championship. The bout was staged in Mechanic's Building, under the auspices of the Feneull A.C. So abrupt was the termination of the affair that the crowd was in a niate of great excitement and it was difficult to keep some of the spectators in order.

Referee Jack Sheehan, after repeated warnings to Greb, disqualified him. He and Norfolk had exchanged blows after the bell sounded for the end of the sixth round.

Throughout the fight, Greb displayed a tendency to wrestle, holding his opponent's head in chancery while he himself inflicted unfair punishment. The colored boxer stole the fighting away from the champion in the first round by rushing to close quarters and hammering with his right hand to the ribs.

Greb attempted to fight back by holding his rivals neck with his left hand. The colored man would not be denied, however. On every break he would jab the champions head back with stiff punches to the face.

Early in the second round it became apparent that the referee would have his troubles, for Greb insisted upon getting in close and holding his opponent's free elbows.

Greb and Norfolk each weighed 172.5 poiunds.

For the first five rounds Greb was outclassed. At the opening of the sixth he complained of being hit low, but it was rather an error upon the part of Norfolk than intentionally fouling. It occured during a curious mixup which did end when the bell sounded.

As Gene Durgin clanged the gong for the end of the sixth round, Norfolk, who was boxing head to head and toe to toe with Greb, drove a blow for his body. Instantly the Pittsburger became enraged and fought back as he had in the earlier rounds.

He commited a foul by striking Norfolk four times, according to the referee, before the two fighters could be separated.

While it was one of the fantent and most curious combats ever in a Boston ring, the sudden ending caused much comment upon the part of the spectators. So sudden was the disqualification, indeed, that half of the 9000 present were unaware of the action of the veteran referee.

In the preliminary bouts, Frankie Murray of Somerville beat Frankie Kelly of Dorchester in three rounds. Johnnie Andrews of East Boston defeated Willie Rose of the West End in five rounds, and Frankie Mersa of South Boston won a close decision over Bert Jones of Revers in eight.

Article By Lawrence J. Sweeney