More than 55 years after he became an unlikely heavyweight champion, the late Jersey Joe Walcott is finally getting his day in his hometown of Camden.

The city has declared today Jersey Joe Walcott Day, and a four-foot granite monument of the boxer will be unveiled in Jersey Joe Walcott Park at Master and Chelton Streets.

"Nobody wanted to fight him, because he was that tough," said boxing promoter Lou Duva.

Walcott, who died in 1994, became a symbol of perseverance in the area, rising not only to become a boxing champion but also to be Camden County sheriff. Both were unlikely achievements.

Walcott, born Arnold Cream in Merchantville to a father who was an immigrant from Barbados, became a professional fighter in 1930. He was just 16.

He became a good boxer, but not good enough to give up his day job at a shipyard.

Walcott did not fight between November 1933 and May 1935, or for a stretch in the early 1940s during World War II.

Still, Walcott kept returning to the ring and had success. At one point in the mid-1940s, he had 12 consecutive victories.

By the end of 1946, he was fighting in marquee matches. In 1947, at 33 - practically ancient for an elite boxer in those times - he landed a title fight against Joe Louis, the undefeated heavyweight champion. Louis, also 33, had been champion for 10 years when he stepped into the ring to fight Walcott.

Hardly anyone who dared to fight Louis had managed to avoid being knocked out. But Walcott did. Using his unique shuffling style - sportscaster Don Dunphy called it his "cakewalk" - he knocked Louis down twice with sneaky right jabs.

Walcott thought he had won, as did many of the fans. But the judges declared the champ the winner.

Walcott would lose another fight to Louis, then two title bouts against Ezzard Charles when Charles was the champ. But in a third match against Charles, in Pittsburgh in 1951, Walcott finally became the champion.

At 37, Walcott became the oldest heavyweight champion - a record that would stand until George Foreman took the title in 1994 at 45.

Walcott's reign was not long.

He defended his title against Charles. In 1952, he took on an undefeated challenger, Rocky Marciano. Walcott knocked him down and was ahead on all the judges' scorecards in the 13th round when Marciano knocked him out. Marciano's punch was captured in one of the most famous boxing photographs.

It took several minutes to revive Walcott. He lost a rematch with Marciano, then hung up his gloves.

He would go on to appear in the Humphrey Bogart boxing film The Harder They Fall, and become a boxing referee, presiding over an 1965 Sonny Liston-Muhammad Ali heavyweight-title bout.