Rocky Francis Marciano (September 1, 1923 - August 31, 1969), was the heavyweight champion of the world from 1952 to 1956. During his career, he complied a record of 49-0, 43 by knockout, and is the only heavyweight champion in boxing history to never record a defeat or a draw in a professional bout. Marciano's first of six title victories occurred on September 23, 1952, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania against Jersey Joe Walcott. While the fighter enjoyed great popularity during his prime, he had to overcome constant criticism by the media during his rise to the top. His determination and hard-hitting style led to his tremendous success as one of the best fighters in the history of boxing.
Marciano was born and raised a Italian American in Brockton, Massachusetts by his parents Pierino and Pasqualena Marchegiano. Rocky had 3 sisters-Alice, Concetta, and Elizabeth and two brothers-Louis and Peter. Early in his childhood, he contracted pneumonia, a disease that almost took his life. As a child, he displayed his athletic ability in various sports from baseball to American football. To stay in shape, Rocky often worked out on homemade weightlifting equipment, and used a stuffed mail bag that hung from a tree in his back yard as a heavy bag. He attended Brockton High School, where he continued to succeed in sports, and played on the American football and baseball teams. Later on, he was cut from the school baseball team because he had joined a church league, violating a school rule forbidding players from joining other teams. After the tenth grade, he dropped out of school and began to work at a variety of jobs, from being a chute man on delivery trucks for the Brockton Ice and Coal Company, to working as a ditch digger and a shoe salesman.
In March of 1943, he was drafted into the army to serve a term of two years. Marciano didn't take up the sport of boxing until after 1943, when he started boxing to avoid having to assist the cooks and other tasks. Stationed in Wales, he helped ferry supplies across the English Channel to Normandy. After the war ended he completed his service at Fort Lewis, Washington.1
While awaiting discharge from the army, Marciano won the 1946 amateur armed forces boxing tournament. His amateur career was interrupted on March 17, 1947, when Marciano decided to step into the ring as a professional competitor. That night, he won his first professional fight when he defeated Lee Epperson by knockout in three rounds.
Despite the victory, Marciano made the unusual move of returning to the amateur ranks, and fought in the Golden Gloves All-East Championship Tournament in March 1948. The young fighter was beaten in the tournament by Coley Wallace, the last fight he would ever lose. He continued to fight as an amateur throughout the spring. It was then that he competed in the AAU Olympic tryouts in the Boston Garden, knocking out George McGinnis, but had to withdraw from the tryout after hurting his hands during the bout. The McGinnis fight was his last amateur bout.
During his time as an amateur fighter, Marciano was known for his awkward yet effective boxing technique. He would dance around the ring and take punch after punch from his opponent until he saw an opening to land a big punch. While boxing scouts and critics questioned his tactics, they couldn't ignore his success as a amateur, finishing with impressive a 11-3 record.
In late March 1947, Marciano and a few of his friends traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina to try out for the Fayetteville Cubs, a farm team for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Marciano, who tried out as a catcher, lasted three weeks before being cut from the team. After failing to find a spot on another team, he returned to Brockton and began boxing with his trainer Charley Goldman and longtime friend, Allie Colombo.
Marciano's boxing career started to take shape when Al Weill, a New York manager, stumbled upon the fighter's talents. The powerful Weill got him started with the Boston fight mob, and started to schedule bouts to give Rocky experience. Weill was the person responsible for the young fighter's rise to the top, finding him top fights, and scheduling them all over the country in places like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Although Weill did indeed take him to the boxing promised land, it was not without difficulty. In fact, before Marciano got connected with Weill, the fighter had trouble getting the attention of most trainers and managers. A Boston fight promoter once said, "Of all the kids around, Rocky was the most unlikely to succeed. He was clumsy and awkward. He had no stance, no style, nothing."
While it was hard to find a manager willing to admit he passed on Marciano, one young promoter, Peter Fuller, spoke up about his chance. The book, "The Rock, The Curse, And The Hub," a collection of stories about the history of Boston sports, describes the chance Fuller had to become the fighter's manager for a $1,000 contract fee. He was also the son of former Massachusetts governor Alvan T. Fuller, and had a history as a amateur fighter himself in the late 1940s. When asked if he was willing to pay the one-thousand dollars to become Rocky's manager, he replied, "Why should I pay $1000 to a guy I can beat myself?"2
Early Professional Career
Although he had already fought against Lee Epperson, July 12, 1948, marked the time when Marciano began fighting permanently as a professional boxer. The fight was a early example of his style-hard-hitting and mentally tough, as he successfully notched a win over Harry Bilizarian. Between July of 1948 and May of 1949, Marciano won 13 of his 15 consecutive knockout victories in Providence, Rhode Island, almost all of them occurring in three rounds or less. He won all his first 16 bouts by knockout, all before the fourth round, and nine before the first round was over.
During this time, Marciano's popularity began to rise so dramatically, he changed the spelling of his last name. The ring announcer in Providence, Rhode Island could not pronounce Marchegiano, so his handler said to call him Marciano. He was a headliner for Almeida's Monday night show and a gigantic fan favorite with the Providence crowds. Rocky could hit, he was an exciting fighter, and by the end of 1949, Rocky Marciano was undefeated with a 25-0 record.
Don Mogard became the first boxer to last the distance with "The Rock," but Marciano won by decision.
One of the more memorable fights of his early career was when he met Ted Lowry. Ted, according to many scribes and witnesses, probably managed to win three or four of the ten rounds from Marciano. Nevertheless, Marciano kept his winning streak alive by beating Lowry by decision. Marciano fought Lowry again and both times the bout went the scheduled ten round distance. Four more knockout wins followed, and Marciano was ready to enter the big stage.
First Big Fight
Marciano's first big fight occurred in March of 1950, when more than 13,000 fans were in attendance for his fight against Roland La Starza at Madison Square Garden. The fight had a huge pre-fight buzz, as the match was carried in 27 cities on the NBC Television network.
After overcoming what some called stage-fright, Marciano won a close decision to remain undefeated. While the fighter continued to win, his critics continued to harass him, as many New York boxing fans deemed he was not ready for the Prime Time.
Rocky's First Boston fight
Four months after his controversial win, Rocky had his first boxing match in Boston, Massachusetts. Up until this point, John Weill would not let him fight in Boston, but on July 10, 1950, a crowd of 4,900 at Braves Field saw the "The Brockton Bomber" fight for the first time in person. Rocky knocked Weill down in the first round, but his opponent, and former Italian champion, would not back down. After tiring his opponent down, Marciano knocked his opponent to the floor again in the ninth round, and the fight was called early into the tenth. After the win, a local writer called Marciano nothing more than a good club fighter.
Continued Suceess, Rise to Title Fight
Rocky continued his streak of winning with a six round victory over Red Applegate. He was showcased on national TV again at Madison Square Garden, when he knocked out Rex Layne in six rounds on July 12, 1951. This win would prove to be a huge victory in the young fighter's rise to the title; he was nicknamed by locals as the "Great White Hope." After the win, Marciano was on the Ed Sullivan Show.
After defeating Freddie Beshore in front of 9,523 at the Boston Garden, Marciano was put on another huge stage. He was again on national TV at Madison Square Garden, but this time against Joe Louis, one of the biggest boxing stars at the time. The prestige of Joe Louis, combined with the 37-0 record of Marciano, made it a huge boxing event everywhere. During the fight, the streets of Boston were empty, as fans everywhere searched for a bar, pub, or restaurant to watch the action on television. When Marciano knocked out Louis in what would be the latter's last career bout, cheers could be heard from all around Boston. The victory was an emotional one for Rocky, as Louis had been the idol of his childhood.
In no time Marciano was a ranked heavyweight. After four more wins, including victories over Lee Savold and Harry Matthews, Marciano faced world heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952. After being dropped in round one, Marciano got up and knocked Walcott out in the thirteenth round, becoming the new world heavyweight champion.
Marciano entered the round with little or no chance to win the decision on points; Walcott, a local product, was ahead on the judges' scorecards. However, Rocky ended the fight with a huge right, and knocked out the hometown hero in front of thousands. A rematch was fought one year later, and, in Marciano's first title defense, he retained the title with a first-round knockout of Walcott.
Next, he fought against his former competitor Roland La Starza, who took his turn to challenge Marciano for the title. After building a small lead on the judges' scorecards all the way to the middle rounds, Marciano won by TKO in the eleventh round.
Then came former world heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, whom Marciano had beaten by a decision in their first bout. Ezzard Charles was the only man to ever last 15 rounds against Marciano; the champ later praised him as one of the toughest men he ever fought in his life. After having his nose split in round six of the rematch, Marciano retained the title with an eighth-round knockout win. Then, Marciano met British and European champion Don Cockell, stopping him in nine rounds.
Marciano's last title bout was against Archie Moore on September 21, 1955. The bout was originally scheduled for Tuesday, September 20, but because of hurricane warnings it had to be moved to the twenty-first. Marciano was knocked down for two seconds, but he got up and knocked out Moore in the ninth round. Moore was also knocked down in the sixth and eighth round but was saved by the bell. Despite organized crime figures trying to convince the champion to throw the fight, Rocky defended his title for the sixth time. There was a game before the boxing match and all the fights started late. When Marciano was proclaimed winner, it was already morning of September 22, 1955.
Rocky Marciano retired from the sport at the age of 31 on April 27, 1956, after an amazing career. He wanted to retire before his reputation and legacy were tarnished. "I thought it was a mistake when Joe Louis tried a comeback," the New York Times quoted him as saying. "No man can say what he will do in the future, but barring poverty, the ring has seen the last of me. I am comfortably fixed, and I am not afraid of the future."3 When he followed through with his retirement, fans from all over paid tribute, praising the fighter's tremendous career. It took several days after the announcement for the city to stop talking about the fighter. After his retirement Marciano received some criticism about retiring without having fought Floyd Patterson. During Marciano's reign, Patterson was not a contender for a heavyweight title and he was not a ranked heavyweight. In fact, during Marciano's reign, Patterson fought mainly at the light heavyweight limit. Only after Marciano's retirement did Patterson officially move from light heavyweight rankings to become a heavyweight. Patterson entered the rankings as number five on May 2, 1956, eventually winning the championship on November 30.
Marciano considered a comeback in 1959 when Ingemar Johansson won the heavyweight championship from Floyd Patterson on June 26, 1959. After almost a month of training, Marciano decided against it and never seriously considered a comeback again. Patterson also had a rematch clause for a return bout with Johansson which would have complicated any attempt by Marciano to fight for the title.
After his retirement, Marciano invested in restaurants, though many of his investments, such as his purchase of Florida wetlands, were disastrous. Many times, the money he loaned to his friends was not repaid.
To make money, he hosted a weekly boxing show on TV, made personal appearances at events, and used his wrestling knowledge to work as a troubleshooting referee. He continued as a referee and boxing commentator in boxing matches for many years.
In 1969, shortly before his death, Marciano participated in the filming of the fantasy, The Super-fight: Marciano vs. Ali. The two boxers were filmed sparring, then the film was edited to match a computer simulation of a hypothetical fight between them, each in their prime. The bout was aired on Tuesday, January 20, 1970. More than 7,000 fans filled the Boston Garden to witness the airing, and shouts of "Long live Rocky" were heard from inside the arena. Marciano won by KO in the thirteenth round.
In 1969, on the eve of his forty-sixth birthday, Marciano was a passenger in a small private plane, a Cessna 1724 headed to Des Moines, Iowa. It was at night, and bad weather set in. The pilot, who was not certified to fly in such dangerous conditions, tried to set the plane down at a small airfield outside Newton, Iowa, but hit a tree two miles short of the runway. The plane was out of gas as well. Rocky, the young pilot, and another passenger (alleged Iowa mob boss Louis Fratto's son) were killed on impact. Marciano was on his way to give a speech to support a friend's son and there was a surprise birthday celebration waiting for him. He had hoped to return early the next morning for his forty-sixth birthday celebration with his wife. He was coming from a dinner in Chicago at STP CEO Andy Granatelli's home, where he reportedly gave boxing lessons to Granatelli's son, who was being picked on in school. Marciano died intestate (without a will). He is interred in a crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His wife, who died five years after him at the age of 46, is entombed next to him. His father died in March 1973, his mother died in early January 1986.
Marciano is generally considered among boxing critics and his fellow fighters as one of the greatest heavyweights to ever fight. The boxer prided himself on his underdog status, and took his conditioning to a level many other fighters couldn't even dream of. Many say that it was his conditioning that gave him more stamina and energy to defeat Jersey Joe Walcott to win the heavyweight championship on Sept. 23, 1952. He holds the record for the longest undefeated streak by a heavyweight and for being the only World Heavyweight Champion to go undefeated throughout his career. Marciano was knocked down to the canvas only twice in his professional career. The first occurred in his first championship bout, against Jersey Joe Walcott and the second occurred against Archie Moore. On both occasions, he rose to knock his opponent out. Pulitzer Prize winner Red Smith once wrote: "Rocky couldn't box like Gene Tunney, and probably couldn't hit like Joe Louis, but in one respect he had no challenger. He was the toughest, strongest, most completely dedicated fighter who ever wore gloves. Fear wasn't in his vocabulary and pain had no meaning."5. Even in today's boxing population, many honor the fighter that was Rocky Maricano. Recently in 2006, an ESPN poll voted Marciano's 1952 championship bout against Walcott as the greatest knockout ever. George Foreman, a fighter of more recent time once said, "He was relentless. The bell would ring, he would be on you. The bell would ring, he stopped. The bell would ring again, he'd be right back on you."6.
- ↑ Everett M. Skehan, 1977, Rocky Marciano: Biography of a first son. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 39. ISBN 039525356X.
- ↑ R. Roberts, 2005, The Rock, the Curse, and the Hub: A Random History of Boston Sports. Harvard University Press, 2005. ISBN 0674015045
- ↑ BIOGRAPHY, Estate of Rocky Marciano. Retrieved March 18, 2008.
- ↑ ACCIDENT DETAILS, Richard Kebabjian. Retrieved March 18, 2008.
- ↑ Marciano glorified boxing, ESPN. Retrieved March 18, 2008.
- ↑ Marciano glorified boxing, ESPN. Retrieved March 18, 2008.
- Roberts, R. 2005. The Rock, the Curse, and the Hub: A Random History of Boston Sports. 2005. ISBN 0674015045
- Skehan, E. 1999. Rocky Marciano. Robson Books. ISBN 0860512347