Joe Waterman

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Joe Waterman

Name: Joe Waterman
Alias: Old Salt
Birth Name: Joseph Hyman Waterman
Hometown: USA
Birthplace: Malden, Massachusetts, USA
Died: 1949-05-04 (Age:61)
Matchmaker: Record
Promoter: Record

Brief Summary

Boxing Promoter, Manager, and Matchmaker on the West Coast of the United States

Born: December 5, 1887 in Malden, MA
Died: May 5, 1949 in Tacoma, WA (heart attack)

Joe Waterman was nicknamed "Old Salt" by longtime Portland Oregonian Sports Editor L.H. Gregory. Gregory dubbed him this because he thought the "Old Salt" in Waterman's veins left him always on the move. Waterman was known to travel to Chicago and New York to watch fights while he was on the coast promoting. He was also a regular at other cards throughout the coast between his shows, and was a big fan of college sports and would hop on train on short notice to catch an event.

Early Years in Denver and the Navy

After Waterman's father died when he was 12-years-old, he was sent to live with his brother Phil, who was eight years older, in Denver, Colorado. Phil was a traveling barber by trade, but on the side he was a boxer. It was through his brother Phil, that Joe began boxing. He had his first bout when he was 13 years old, weighing 112 pounds, earning eight silver dollars in a draw against a fighter named Jimmy Fisher. While boxing in Denver, Waterman used the name Joe Reilly.

When Waterman was 18 he decided to join the Navy, and continued boxing, using the name "Joe Dailey" when he was on shore leave. After he suffered a severe injury to a knee ligament in a bout with Eddie McLarney (whose brother Art coached the University of Washington football and baseball teams) aboard the USS Paul Jones, he was offered the choice of a medical discharge or the privilege of going to Navy School. Waterman chose to enter Navy School and graduated from a yeoman course.

In the Philippines

During World War I, Waterman's unit was called upon to pick up a German boat that had been captured and taken to Manila harbor. On shore an officer recognized him, and asked him if he was the boxer from the USS Paul Jones; Waterman told him yes, and he was named the matchmaker of the Knights of Columbus at Cavite, which was the Naval base in the Philippines.

Waterman did not have much success in his early days as a matchmaker, as he was frustrated by the continual unexpected transfers of many of the sailors that filled his cards. Frustrated by this, he began working with the native population who had not become interested in the local rooster fights. One day a young 115-pound Filipino, who worked at the Navy Cooper Shop with long hair named Dencio Cabanella came to Waterman's boxing classes.

Waterman would later tell the Tacoma News-Tribune in April 1949, that Cabanella was the most naturally gifted fighter he had ever saw, and "instinctively did things that would take other fighters years to learn, if ever." Waterman quickly discovered that the local sailors were no match for Cabanella, even with a 20 pound weight advantage, and he sent him off to Manila with Frank Churchill and the brothers; Eddie Tait and Stewart Tait.

Cabanella quickly emerged as a national star in the Philippines as he continued to win regularly against fighters twenty pounds bigger than him, until he took a terrible beating in a bout in Australia and died.

Arrival in the Northwest (1920s)

Joe Waterman & Bud Ridley

After World War I, Waterman left the Navy and returned to the United States, arriving in Tacoma, Washington. He brought over from the Philippines some of the first Filipinos to box in America, including: Frankie Haynie, Cowboy Reyes, Young Zuzu and Macario Flores. During the early 1920s, Waterman would promote (in Tacoma) and manage boxers. His most notable boxers were Doc Snell and Bud Ridley. By 1924 Waterman was the matchmaker for Tacoma's Kay Street Athletic Club. According to the April 25 Tacoma News Tribune, he was to resign that position, effective May 1--because Tacoma rules prohibited a person from exercising matchmaker and manager duties simultaneously. His client Bud Ridley was returning to the ring, after being out for some time with a broken arm he had sustained while training.

In November 1925, Waterman was hired by the Portland Boxing Commission as matchmaker. Waterman was very successful, doubling the attendance and establishing boxing as a weekly event on Tuesday, during the normal October-April indoor boxing season. Some of the popular main event fighters developed in Portland by Waterman included, Harry Dillon, Chuck Hellman, and Leo Lomski. Under Waterman's tutelage, Lomski would become Portland's most consistent gate attraction, until Waterman developed Joe Kahut in the 1940s.

Waterman left the matchmaker post in March 1927, shortly after he was married. He left for Los Angeles, and managed boxers there, including, Sailor Willie Gordon, Tony Portillo, as well as continuing with Doc Snell.

In 1929, Waterman came to Seattle and began working with Seattle promoter Nate Druxman, serving as Druxman's matchmaker. Druxman who had been promoting in Seattle for nearly 15 years, was experiencing growing success in spite of the Great Depression which hit in 1929, using fighters such as Snell, Leslie (Wildcat) Carter, Dode Bercot, and eventually a young up-and-coming Freddie Steele.

Second Stint in Portland (1931-34)

In November 1931, Waterman returned to Portland, this time as an independent promoter. Devoid of exciting main event talent, Waterman initially identified his main event stars as Abie Israel and Johnny Hansen. However, Israel was grabbed by Nate Druxman, where he became a main event fighter in Seattle and lost a title bid with Featherweight champ Freddie Miller. Hansen was tragically murdered by fellow boxer Jack Kentworth on March 1, 1932.

Waterman though, was able to find his main gate attraction though in the form of Chinese-American boxer Ah Wing Lee, a native of Portland's St. John's neighborhood, who had boxed for Waterman and Druxman in Seattle as a prelim fighter, before stepping up in competition and getting stopped by Leslie (Wildcat) Carter. Waterman matched Lee, four times in 1932 with South Portland rival Benny Pelz. After three draws with Pelz, Lee finally beat Pelz on his fourth try. By this time, Lee was now drawing nearly 4,000 fans to his bouts and had become a hero in the local Chinatown.

As Lee's popularity continued to rise in the summer of 1933, Waterman matched him with a comebacking Doc Snell, who was at the end of the career. In front of 7,280 fans at Multnomah Stadium, Lee finished Snell off in two rounds. Waterman then travled to Chicago, to try and lure Junior Welterweight Champion Tony Canzoneri to Portland to face Lee in a title fight. Canzoneri's team would not take the fight though, until they had seen him fight and offered up Eddie Anderson as an opponent for Lee to prove himself. Anderson was then brought to Portland, where Lee stopped him in three rounds.

Joe Waterman

Canzoneri's team did not take the title fight however, discovering that Lee was a southpaw and also perhaps realizing that Lee had not quite acheived the notoriety needed for a title fight. Waterman shifted gears, and brought in California State Lightweight Champion Young Peter Jackson. In front of over 14,000 fans, Lee was stopped by Jackson in the 4th round. The attendance was a record for Portland, excluding a Jack Dempsey exhibition. It may have not been surpassed, until Roy Jones Jr. defeated Clinton Woods at the Rose Garden in 2002.

Lee was never quite the same after the loss to Jackson, though he did beat a faded Billy Townsend, he was beaten by Billy Wallace, and for a final time by clubfighter Ernie Cavelli. After Lee's loss to Cavelli, Waterman quit as a promoter in Portland. It should also be noted that Waterman, also had success in developing Young Firpo into a top main event attraction in Portland both before and after Lee's rise. Firpo's four fight series with Wesley (Kayo) Ketchell, arguably the most exciting rivalry in Portland boxing annals, played a key role in making him an attraction. Waterman would actually manage Firpo during the summer and remainder of 1934, guiding him in his notable bouts with Tiger Jack Fox and John Henry Lewis in Portland.

Working with Dave Miller's Stable

After he left Portland in March 1934, Waterman returned to Tacoma and bought a half interest in the stable of Tacoma manager Dave Miller. Miller, whose business interests included a hotel and the concessions at the since-closed Longacres racing track, was unable to leave the Northwest for an extended period of time with his stable of boxers, due to his business interests. Most important for Miller was that he needed someone he could trust, who could watch over his prized prospect, a rising Freddie Steele.

Waterman would take Steele to San Francisco for a few bouts, however Steele injured his shoulder prior to a schedulded rematch with Sammy (Kid) Slaughter and left San Francisco without telling anyone. As a result Waterman, Miller, and Steele were both suspended by the California State Athletic Commmission. During this time, Waterman was also handling Miller's fighter Fred Lenhart, as well as Young Firpo, whom he guided in his first bout with Tiger Jack Fox.

Third Stint in Portland (1935)

In January 1935, Waterman went to Los Angeles and applied for the matchmaker job at the Olympic Auditorium. Apparently set to take the job, Waterman and the Olympic became hung up over the financial terms of Waterman's contract. After Waterman turned the Olympic job down, Portland promptly fired their matchmaker Tex Salkeld. (In time, however, Waterman would have at least three stints at the Olympic.) Waterman was quickly lured back to Portland where he put on his first show on February 12, 1935--using Freddie Steele in his first main event.

Portland was more or less devoid of quality main event talent at this time, and shortly after Waterman was unable to get Portland Middleweight Paul Karch past Baby Joe Gans, he again gave up his post in Portland and headed back to Los Angeles.

In September 1935, Waterman became the matchmaker at the Olympic Auditorium.

Los Angeles, the Olympic & Other Spots in California (1935-42)

Largely because of the Great Depression, it had been very difficult to stage boxing shows in the Olympic Auditorium for a number of years before Joe Waterman took over as the matchmaker in September 1935. In one of his first moves, Waterman slashed ticket prices so that the gate for a full house for a regular show was about $5,200.00, down from the middle 1920s figure of about $18,800. Moreover, the new general admission ticket price was twenty-five cents, in comparision to the middle-1920s price of $1.00.

In addition to slashing ticket prices, Waterman applied his matchmaking skills to developing new talent and to putting together good boxing cards. After toiling for small purses since he became a professional for a number of years, Henry Armstrong would get a big boost when he was headliner on a number of Waterman's cards.

By the end of 1936, it was obvious that Waterman had turned things around at the Olympic Auditorium. Since cards were staged weekly at the Auditorium on a regular basis, the attendance was over 400,000, reportly the largest for any boxing venue during the same year.

Waterman also was the matchmaker at the Ocean Park Arena during the late 1930s to early 1940s.

In early 1938, Waterman resigned his post at the Olympic after running into difficulties with Lou Daro, an important figure behind the scenes. He would return soon after as the matchmaker, after Tom Gallery became the promoter at the Olympic.

On March 23, 1939, Waterman bought out the promotional interest of Oakland promoter Leo Leavitt. Waterman intended to promote in Oakland, which was struggling at the time. Longtime Oakland promoter Tommy Simpson had been struggling recently, and had retreated from active promoting.

Waterman would only put on one show in Oakland, which was a financial dud. Waterman claimed to have lost over $1000 on the promotion, and he quickly left Oakland. Tommy Simpson would return to his role as the dominant promoter in Oakland upon Waterman's departure. By August 1939, Waterman was reported to be in Portland, resting and waiting his next move. (Some sources say he remained the Olympic's matchmaker until 1942.)

Fourth Stint in Portland (1942-46)

(Under construction)

Return to Tacoma and Death (1949)

(Under construction)

Miscellaneous Factoids


  • Portland Oregonian research conducted by Matt Tegen
  • March 27, 1949 "Roar of the Crowd Long Has Been Music to Joe Waterman" Tacoma News-Tribune