Born Rocco Francis Marchegiano but more widely known as Rocky Marciano, is a name which is often debated at long lengths as to his standing as one of the heavyweight division best, often brought into context with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis which is hilariously portrayed in the Eddie Murphy starred ‘Coming to America’ (I’ve left the clip below)
I’m not about to debate that issue here but can find merit in each of the conversations that will continue for generations to come in Pubs, Social Media and Barber Shops the world over.
A constant battle for survival as a young child, Marciano the eldest of six children was thought lucky to overcome his affliction of pneumonia, he left school at sixteen to work a number of dead-end jobs with the dream of someday becoming a baseball player constant in his ambition.
After being drafted into the United States Army in 1943, Marciano was Stationed in Swansea, Wales where he helped ferry supplies across the English Channel to Normandy.
After the war had ended, he completed his service in March 1946 at Fort Lewis, Washington when his dreams of playing baseball disappeared for good shortly afterwards with a failed trial with the Cubs.
It’s surprising to see that Marciano’s introduction to the amateurs was very short with him still being a novice in a lot of respects before he turned professional, fighting just over a handful of times in accumulating a record of 8–4 or 9–4, the number differs from who you ask, its without splitting hairs I think we can all agree it remains a low number for a fighter who ultimately finished his career without a single blemish.
He made his Professional debut in March 1947, knocking out Lee Epperson in the third round, cutting his teeth in the Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island, Rocky started to make a name for himself which wasn’t long before alerting the attention of many a manager, none more so than New York’s Al Weill.
Al at the time was a well renowned, astute businessman showing as much as he immediately sought out the corner expertise of Charley Goldman for his new client which later would become a dream partnership.
Rocky’s New York introduction excitedly came in his 23rd Professional contest, stepping into the historic Madison Square Garden briefly in knocking out Pat Richards in just two rounds.
The biggest win up until this point was a split decision victory over Roland La Starza on Mar 24, 1950, wins over the likes of Rex Layne, Freddie Beshore and an ageing Joe Louis followed on route to his shot at the World title and a date with Jersey Joe Walcott on Sept 23, 1952.
Marciano came into the contest with a record of 42-0, whilst Walcott had taken the crown from the brilliant Ezzard Charles and retained it in the rematch.
The scene was set for what would later be named ‘fight of the year’ in the ring magazine, Walcott gained the upper hand with a knockdown in the first round courtesy of a left hook, It was the first time Marciano had ever been on the canvas, Walcott was ahead on the judges scorecards when he was blasted with a shot from Marciano in the thirteenth which still to this day holds up as one of boxing history’s best knockouts, leaving Walcott unconscious for over two minutes.
Marciano needed seven fewer rounds in the rematch, knocking out Walcott in his last ever appearance to a boxing ring in just one round on May 15, 1953.
A win over Roland La Starza, back to back victories over Ezzard Charles and the stoppages of Don Cockell and the great Archie Moore followed before his eventual retirement in April 1956, aged just 32.
Marciano’s record stood at 49-0 with an incredible 43 coming by way of either stoppage or knockout with plaudits aplenty.
The one that stands out for me was Archie Moores’ notion when asked about Rock a day after he was beaten, telling the New York News “Marciano is far and away the strongest man I’ve ever encountered in almost 20 years of fighting. And believe me I’ve met some tough ones.”
His detractors remain to this day, claiming he wasn’t the most gifted, he fought fighters past their prime years, the heavyweight division wasn’t competitive yada yada yada.
His defenders will reply that Joe Louis may have been 37 Years Old but was never beaten the way in which he was at the hands of Marciano, neither were the household names of Charles or Moore.
The fact of the matter was, whatever a fighter stood in front of Marciano he had to be prepared to walk through hell to gain victory, the power, the determination and the never-ending come forward style were attributes that none of the 49 opponents was able to match
Boxing historian Bert Sugar best described Marciano’s right-hand punch as “the most devastating weapon ever brought into the ring.”
Whilst his younger brother Peter Marciano gave us a first hand account of his brother saying, “Rocky lived like a monk. He was always in incredible condition. He was devoted to training and he could always throw more punches than he ever faced. He’s never been given full credit for his condition.”
I’d have to agree with Peter.
Marciano would go on to enter the realm of Film/Television shortly before his demise but the news that brought the boxing world to its knees took place on August 31, 1969 (the day before his 46th birthday),
Marciano was a passenger in a small private plane heading to Des Moines, Iowa. It was a nighttime flight and bad weather made the conditions for flying even more troublesome. The pilot, Glenn Belz, had 231 total hours of flying time, 35 of them at night and had no instrument rating.
Belz tried to land the plane at a small airfield outside Newton, Iowa but the aircraft hit a tree two miles short of the runway.
Flying with Marciano in the back seat was Frankie Farrell, 28, the oldest son of Lew Farrell, a former boxer who had known Marciano since his childhood. Marciano, Belz and Farrell were killed on impact.
The National Transportation Safety Board report said, “The pilot attempted an operation exceeding his experience and ability level, continued visual flight rules under adverse weather conditions and experienced spatial disorientation in the last moments of the flight.”
Marciano will forever be compared with the divisions best, a 5’10 fighter who only weighed 85kg would be dwarfed by the fighters of this generation but I can guarantee that none possessed the heart of the ‘Brockton Blockbuster’.