Rocky Marciano is the only heavyweight boxing champion ever to retire without being defeated. With a perfect 49-0 record—which included forty-three knockouts—he started his professional boxing career in 1947, and reigned as champion from 1952 until his retirement
First a Baseball Player
Rocco Francis Marchegiano, the future Rocky Marciano, was born on September 1, 1923, in Brockton, Massachusetts, the son of working class parents. An immigrant from Italy, his father worked in a shoe factory. This factory made a big impression on the young Marciano. It was Marciano's job in the family to take lunch to his father at work each day, and there he saw first-hand the toll factory work took on the people who worked there. Marciano vowed that he would never make his living that way.
In high school, Marciano excelled in sports. He played on the Brockton High football team as a linebacker, once intercepting a pass and running sixty-seven yards for a touchdown. His dreams were of baseball, however, and he planned to become a professional player after he dropped out of school at the age of sixteen. He worked in blue-collar jobs, including a two month stint at the shoe factory, while he trained to become a professional baseball player. His fledgling baseball career was interrupted, however, when the United States entered World War II at the end of 1942.
Drafted into the army in 1943, Marciano discovered the sport that was to be his career when he took up boxing to avoid kitchen duty. After serving in Wales and at Ft. Lewis, Washington with the 150th Combat Engineers, Marciano was discharged following the close of the war. He worked at odd jobs to support himself while he pursued a career in baseball. His hard work paid off when he landed a tryout with the Chicago Cubs as a catcher and first baseman. But he failed to make he team after a throw from home plate to second base fell short.
Commits to Boxing
Returning to boxing, Marciano began to make a name for himself on the amateur circuit, quickly becoming known as a hard-hitting, if somewhat awkward fighter. He became a professional boxer in 1947. Managed first by a mechanic from his home town, he soon realized the need to place himself in the care of a well-known professional if he wanted to advanced his career. He switched to the management of Al Weill, a promoter from New York who was to remain his manager throughout his career. It was the right move. Weill introduced Marciano to famous trainer Charlie Goldman, who helped Marciano hone what was to become his signature fighting style, and made him into a true professional. At five feet, eleven inches, about 185 points, and with the shortest arms of any heavyweight champion in the modern era, Marciano also tended to slouch, and was not particularly agile. But he packed a powerful punch, and that's what Goldman trained him to focus on. He also taught him to emphasize his small stature, crouching low to avoid his opponents' own punches, and moving in with powerful right punches and left hooks. Marciano also developed the ability to absorb a tremendous amount of punishment, often coming back from blows that would have finished a lesser fighter, to knock his opponents out. Broken hands, back injuries, and countless facial cuts all were meted out to Marciano during the course of his career.
|1923||Born in Brockton, Massachusetts|
|1943||Drafted into the army, serves in Wales|
|1947||Tries out unsuccessfully for the Chicago Cubs baseball team|
|1947||Fights in first professional boxing match, knocking out Lee Epperson in three rounds|
|1951||Defeats former heavyweight champion Joe Louis|
|1952||Defeats "Jersey Joe" Walcott to become world heavyweight champion|
|1953||Defeats "Jersey Joe" Walcott in a one-round rematch|
|1953||Successfully defends title against Roland LaStarza|
|1954||Defeats Ezzard Charles in two separate bouts to retain title|
|1955||Knocks out Don Cockell to retain title|
|1955||Knocks out Archie Moore, retaining title in his last professional fight|
|1956||Announces retirement from boxing|
|1969||Dies in a small plane crash outside De Moines, Iowa|
|1990||Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame|
With Weill and Goldman's help, Marciano's career took off. He knocked out the first sixteen opponents he faced in professional bouts, steadily moving up through the boxing ranks to face stronger and more skilled opponents. Maricano continued to prove his mettle through 1949, winning all of his fights, more than half of them by knockouts. Marciano knew that he had a chance to fight for the title of heavyweight champion of the world after he defeated Roland LaStarza on March 24, 1949. The fight lasted ten rounds, and was called Marciano's in a close decision. He received national attention after a fight with Carmine Vingo on December 20, 1949 in which Marciano seriously injured his opponent when he knocked him out.
At the Top of His Game
Marciano married his childhood sweetheart, Barbara M. Cousins on the last day of 1950. The couple eventually had one child of their own, Mary Anne, and adopted another, Rocky Kevin. Back in the ring soon after the wedding, Marciano continued his climb through the boxing ranks, fighting more and more powerful opponents, including Red Layne, whom he knocked out in six rounds on July 12, 1951.
Marciano faced his most powerful opponent yet when he squared off against former world champion Joe Louis on October 26, 1951. Louis was one of Marciano's idols, but at the end of his career, and Marciano, with thirty-seven wins to his credit so far, including thirty-two knockouts, was in his prime. The former champion went down under Marciano's onslaught in eight rounds. It happened after Marciano got Louis against the ropes, and managed to slip in a powerful left hook. Louis was stunned, dropping his guard, and Marciano immediately followed up with a right that knocked his hero out. "Imagine looking at Joe Louis lying there on the ropes," he was quoted as saying afterward by Newsweek. "And I did it. I don't know if I'm happy about it." So distraught was Marciano at felling his hero that he cried in the exchampion's dressing room after the match.
The fight with Louis cleared the way for a championship bout with the heavyweight champion of the world, 'Jersey' Joe Walcott in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952. Marciano got off to a bad start in the first round when he was knocked down. Off balance from then on, and behind on points, he got in one of his bynow-famous right hand punches to the jaw, flooring Walcott and knocking him out in the thirteenth round.
An Unbeatable Champion
With his defeat of Walcott, Marciano became the first white heavyweight boxing champion since 1937. He defended his title six times, winning each time. The first was in a rematch with Walcott on May 15, 1953, a bout he won handily with a knockout in the first round. He next faced his old adversary Roland LaStarza on September 24, 1953, and won in eleven rounds, putting LaStarza in the hospital for several days. LaStarza said afterwards that he wished Marciano had just knocked him out to end it instead of working him over for so long. A fifteen-round fight with former champion Ezzard Charles followed on June 17, 1954. Marciano won that match in a decision, and the two faced each other again later that year, on September 17, 1954. Charles got the better of Marciano in the sixth round, battering his nose so badly that Marciano's cornermen were unable to staunch the bleeding. The ring doctor very nearly called the fight, but Marciano rallied in the eighth round, knocking out his opponent.
Marciano's next title fight was against Don Cockell on May 16, 1955. In spite of pressure from organized crime elements to throw the fight, Marciano won it in a knockout in the ninth round, and moved on to what was to be his last title fight, on September 21, 1955. The bout took place at Yankee Stadium, and it was the third time he had defended his title there. His opponent was former light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore . Marciano knocked him out in nine rounds. The fight was witnessed by more than 400,000 people watching via the fairly new medium of television.
Awards and Accomplishments
|In his nine years as a professional boxer, Marciano was never defeated, winning all of his forty-nine bouts, an astonishing forty-three of them in knockouts. He is the only heavyweight boxing champion to retire completely undefeated.|
|1948||Golden Glove Champion|
|1951||Awarded Packy McFarland Memorial Trophy by an association of Chicago boxing writers|
|1952||World heavyweight boxing champion|
|1952||Awarded Edward Neil Memorial Plaque by an association of New York boxing writers|
|1952, 1954||Named Fighter of the Year by Ring magazine|
|1990||Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame|
Although no theatrical-release films have been yet been made about the life of Rocky Marciano, the Showtime cable TV network aired a dramatic interpretation of the famous fighter's life in 1999. Called Rocky Marciano, the 100-minute program featured Jon Favreau in the title role, and the great George C. Scott in one of his final roles, as Marciano's father.
Not praised for its brilliant acting or quality of writing, Rocky Marciano nevertheless distinguished itself by presenting a reasonably accurate portrayal of the boxer's beginnings, his rise to fame, and his post-boxing years. Of particular note was a lavish, stylized treatment of Marciano's fight with Joe Louis, mournfully underscored by the music of Samuel Barber. The program was directed by Charles Winkler, and written by Winkler with William Nack, Lary Golin, and Dick Beebe.
Rocky Marciano was later released on video.
A Life Cut Short
The champion retired from boxing in 1956, when he was 31 years old. His record between 1947 and 1956 of forty-nine victories to zero losses included forty-three knockouts. Weary of training, and with tension rising between him and his manager, Al Weill (his arrangement with Weill required him to split all of his earnings 50-50), Marciano welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with his family. A careful manager of his own money, Marciano was set for life with a four million dollar fortune, and did not want to go out with a whimper as other champions had done, by continuing to fight past his prime. He did nearly succumb to temptation to stage a comeback in 1959, and spent a month training in secret before thinking better of it.
Now the only heavyweight boxing champion to retire completely undefeated, Marciano spent the next ten years making personal appearances. He died on the night of August 31, 1969 when the private plane in which he was a passenger crashed outside of Des Moines, Iowa. He died one day shy of his 46th birthday. He was survived by his wife Barbara—to whom he had been married for nineteen years—and his two children, Rocco Kevin, and Mary Anne. He was said to have had many close friends and to be a loving husband and father, but nevertheless to be extremely secretive about his post-boxing business dealings. He died without making a will, and without revealing where he had placed much of his fortune.
Somewhat awkward, not noted for his speed or agility, Marciano nevertheless overcame his opponents through sheer drive, determination, and the power of his punches. He remains today the only heavyweight champion boxer to retire completely undefeated.
Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 8: 1966-1970. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, 1988.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.
Anderson, Dave. "The Last Great White Hope." New York Times (September 15, 2002): section 7, p. 21.
"Rocky Drops His Idol, Gender Politics on Center Court." Newsweek (October 25, 1999): 61.
"Rocky Marciano." American Decades CD-ROM. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.
"Rocky Marciano." Apollo Movie Guide. http://www.apolloguide.com/mov_fullrev.asp?CID=1523=1531 (October 30, 2002).
"Rocky Marciano." Cyber Boxing Zone. http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/rocky.htm (October 15, 2002).
"Rocky Marciano." International Boxing Hall of Fame. http://www.ibhof.com/marciano.htm (October 15, 2002).
"Rocky Marciano." Internet Movie Database. http://us.imdb.com/Title?0183718 (October 30, 2002).
Sketch by Michael Belfiore
Boxer Rocky Marciano held the heavyweight boxing title for four years during the 1950s. He is the only boxing champion to ever retire undefeated.
His younger years
Rocky Marciano was born Rocco Francis Marchegiano on September 1, 1923, in Brockton, Massachusetts. His father, Pierino, worked at a shoe factory. His mother's name was Pasqualena. Rocky would spend much of his life making sure she would not live in the poverty he had known growing up. He worked many different jobs to help his family, including as a dishwasher, in a candy factory, as a gardener, and in a shoe factory.
As a youngster Rocky played baseball and football and dreamed of a professional career in one of those sports. He got into many fights when he thought he or his friends had been insulted, but he did not take up boxing until after 1943, when he was drafted into the army. He took the sport up because it helped him avoid "KP" ("kitchen police," soldiers who assisted the cooks) and other less desirable activities. He showed a natural ability and fought as an amateur following his discharge from the army in 1946. He won twenty-seven of his thirty fights.
In 1947 Marciano had a chance to fulfill his dream of being a baseball player. He was given a tryout with the Chicago Cubs as a catcher. He did not make the team, because he could not accurately throw from home plate to second base due to an arm injury he received in the army. It was the end of his baseball dreams. The following year he turned professional in the boxing ring.
By the spring of 1949 Marciano's boxing skills had received attention, after he knocked out his first sixteen opponents. The people he fought were not up to his level, but he learned much about the sport during this period. The quality of his opponents improved over the latter half of 1949 and 1950. Marciano continued to beat all opponents, knocking out most of them.
Proved doubters wrong
There were those who thought not much good would come from the 190-pound heavyweight from Brockton in the early days. Goody Petronelli, who was a famous fight trainer, saw one of Marciano's early fights. In a story for Sports Illustrated he said, "I never thought he'd make it. He was too old, almost twenty-five. He was too short, he was too light. He had no reach. Rough and tough, but no finesse [refinement]." The hometown folks believed in him, though. They traveled in groups to Marciano's fights in nearby Providence, Rhode Island, and yelled "Timmmmberrr" when Rocky had an opponent ready to go down.
Charley Goldman was the trainer who taught Marciano his trademark technique, which would serve him well as champion. Marciano was shorter than many of his opponents and his arms were not as long. Goldman taught him to use these characteristics to his advantage. He told him to make himself smaller by bending his knees almost into a deep knee squat. This gave his opponents less targets on his body to hit. He learned to punch from that position, coming straight up almost from the floor with amazing power. Even with what seemed like a physical disadvantage, because of his training and will to win, Marciano turned out to be one of the best-conditioned athletes in sports.
Marciano defeats Joe Louis
By October 26, 1951, Marciano had thirty-seven wins and thirty-two knockouts under his belt. That was the day Marciano faced his most formidable (challenging) opponent—former heavyweight champion Joe Louis (1914–1981). Louis was past his prime, his best fighting years, and Marciano knocked him out in the eighth round. Marciano had such mixed feelings about beating a man he had considered his hero that he cried in Louis's dressing room after the fight. The fight established Marciano as one of the most famous fighters in the heavyweight division, and assured him of a chance to box for the title before too long.
Takes the Belt from Jersey Joe
After another five fights he got the chance to go for the title. Jersey Joe Walcott was the defending champion and Marciano was the challenger when the pair met in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952. Marciano won a victory that is remembered as typical of his tough-guy, never-say-die style. Marciano was behind on points and struggling all night. He would not give up and finally caught Walcott with a short, overhand right to the jaw in the thirteenth round. Walcott was knocked unconscious and Marciano won the championship belt.
His years as champion
Marciano defended his title only six times, but some of those fights are considered classics by boxing fans. He knocked out Walcott in the first round of their rematch in 1953. He then knocked out challenger Roland La Starza later that year.
Marciano won a decision against Ezzard Charles in 1954. He almost lost his title in their rematch later that year. In the sixth round Charles cut Marciano's nose so badly that his cornermen (the people who Marciano had in his corner of the ring) could not stop the bleeding. The ring doctor watched the cut closely and considered stopping the fight, but Marciano came back forcefully against Charles in the eighth round and knocked him out.
Marciano defended his title against Don Cockell in 1955 by a knockout. It was later learned that organized crime tried to get him to throw the fight.
Marciano's last fight was September 21, 1955, the third time he defended his title in Yankee Stadium. He knocked out Archie Moore in the ninth round. Over four hundred thousand North American viewers watched the bout on closed-circuit television.
Retired from boxing
On April 27, 1956, Marciano retired from boxing. He was thirty-one. "I thought it was a mistake when Joe Louis tried a comeback," he told the New York Times in an interview. "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." He said he wanted to spend more time with his family. Some people have said that he also was upset because he had to pay half of his earnings to his manager.
The last years
After Marciano retired he made money from personal appearances. He was frugal (very careful with money). He preferred getting rides from friends who had private planes, even though he could usually be given paid transportation to and from any of his personal appearances.
On August 31, 1969, the day before his forty-sixth birthday, he died in a private-plane crash near Des Moines, Iowa. He was survived by his wife of nineteen years, Barbara, and his two children, Rocco Kevin and Mary Anne.
Marciano was never among the top boxers of all time in terms of skill, speed, or power, but he knew how to use the skills he had developed and his fans recognized his grit. One sportswriter commented that if all the heavyweight champions of all time were locked together in a room, Marciano would be the one to walk out.
For More Information
Skehan, Everett M. Rocky Marciano: The Biography of a First Son. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
Sullivan, Russell. Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
(b. 1 September 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts; d. 31 August 1969 near Newton, Iowa), boxer who is best remembered for his heavyweight record of forty-nine professional wins and no losses.
Born Rocco Francis Marchegiano, Marciano entered the world weighing twelve pounds, the first of six children of Italian immigrants Pierino Marchegiano, a machinist at a shoe factory, and Pasqualena Picciuto Marchegiano, a homemaker. "Marciano" became his stage name when a ring announcer had trouble pronouncing Marchegiano. Marciano was not pleased, but at least satisfied that it remained an Italian name. Despite a serious bout with pneumonia at eighteen months of age, Marciano enjoyed a vigorous youth on the streets of Brockton. He regularly brought lunch to his father at the shoe factory, and dismayed at the prospect of such drudgery, Marciano began to dream that sports could help him escape the poverty and hard work of his parents.
As a youth Marciano spent most days at the James Edgar Playground, one of the few places in ethnically segregated Brockton where working-class Irish and Italians congregated. He played baseball and dreamed of becoming a major leaguer. He also developed a reputation as a fighter who was unafraid to engage other kids on and off the field. Still, by the time he was fourteen, his notoriety as a baseball slugger eclipsed his reputation as a pugilist. He would later declare that baseball was always his first love.
In 1938 Marciano entered Brockton High School and within a year won the position of linebacker on the varsity football team. In the spring of 1940 he became the starting catcher on the school's varsity baseball team. At the same time he played in a local church baseball league, violating a school rule that prohibited students from playing for more than one team. Though school officials warned him repeatedly that he would have to leave the St. Patrick's team, Marciano refused and was cut from the team at high school. Displaying characteristic defiance, he decided not to return to Brockton High the following fall.
Without the prospect of a higher education, Marciano turned to a number of odd jobs, trying his luck as a gardener, a delivery boy, a laborer for the gas company, and a leather tanner at the shoe factory where his father worked. In 1943 he was inducted into the U.S. Army and shipped overseas to England. He did not see combat in Europe during World War II and was soon flown back to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he represented his army unit in a series of amateur fights. After scoring several successes in the ring and acquiring some serious hand injuries, Marciano realized that a successful boxing career would require more training and more experience than he had believed.
Following an honorable discharge from the army, Marciano returned to Brockton in 1946 to pursue his dream of success on the baseball diamond. He played on local teams and even tried out for a Chicago Cubs farm team the following year, but he learned he just was not good enough to be a professional baseball player. Legend has it, ironically, that he was told he did not have a strong enough right arm.
Determined to avoid the menial jobs that his father had endured, Marciano focused his energies on becoming a champion boxer. With the help of a family friend, Allie Colombo, he trained on Brockton's streets and began to work seriously to optimize his physical condition. At five feet, ten inches tall, and 185 pounds, Marciano was smaller and slower than most heavyweights. Tradition holds that since his mother was opposed to boxing, he and Colombo tossed a football back and forth when she was around to fool her into thinking he was training for the gridiron. Within a few months the "Brockton Blockbuster" was trimmed down and ready to fight professionally. He was signed by New York manager Al Weill, and groomed for greatness by experienced trainer Charley Goldman.
Marciano's career is the stuff of Hollywood legends. His first professional bout, held in Massachusetts on 17 March 1947, was a third-round knockout over Lee Epperson. He became nationally known in 1950 after a 24 March bout in which he fought Roland LaStarza to a decision and won. Like Marciano, LaStarza had been an undefeated newcomer. Experienced fighters such as Don Mogard, Ted Lowry, and even Joe Louis soon fell victim in Marciano's battle for the championship. Marciano and Barbara Cousins married on 31 December 1950. They had one daughter and adopted a son.
After winning thirty-seven fights by knockouts, Marciano finally achieved his goal on 23 September 1952, when he fought Jersey Joe Walcott for the World Heavyweight Championship. Although he was knocked down in the first round—and was behind in the scoring for the first seven rounds—Marciano finally won in the thirteenth by knocking out Walcott with a desperately powerful—and accurate—right punch. He dubbed this crashing right "Suzie Q."
Marciano defended his title six times, winning five by knockout. "The Rock" was undefeated in forty-nine professional fights, forty-three of which were won with knockouts. In addition to those he fought on the road to championship, Marciano successfully defended his title against Archie Moore, Don Cockell, and Ezzard Charles. He was named Ring Magazine 's Fighter of the Year in 1952, 1954, and 1955. Marciano said it was personal determination that pushed him past his rivals. Still, he took none of his success for granted. "I'm heavyweight champion of the world, but is there some young fighter somewhere who wants it as much as I did?" As it turned out, there was not. Marciano would later leave the ring with a record of forty-nine wins, a champion who completed his career undefeated.
Marciano said his most challenging fight was his encounter with the boxer he had idolized as a youth, Joe Louis. In his dressing room before the match, Marciano is reported to have said, "This is the last guy on Earth I want to fight." It was a tough match, since the aging Louis was still a formidable opponent. But in the eighth round, Marciano landed several punches from which Louis could not recover. "When he defeated me, I think it hurt him more than it hurt me," Louis later said. It was Louis's last fight. By age thirty-two, Marciano himself was ready to retire. He told family and friends that "he didn't want to go out broke or beaten." With an eye toward his legacy, he founded a boxing foundation that aided and gave security to boxers later in their lives.
On 31 August 1969, one day before his forty-sixth birthday, Marciano died in a plane crash near Newton, Iowa, en route to a birthday party. He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The likelihood that Marciano would succeed in boxing seemed about the same as his chance of reaching baseball's major leagues. He was a street brawler with a short reach, a heavyweight who was considered too short and too light. What he did have, however, was the instinct to win and the refusal to fall. He might get cut (he was known for a slash above his eye), but he would not be beaten. According to the Pulitzer Prize–winner Red Smith "He was the toughest, strongest, most completely dedicated fighter who ever wore gloves."
Biographies of Marciano include Robert Arthur Cutter, The Rocky Marciano Story (1954); Bill Libby, Rocky: The Story of aChampion (1971); Everett Skehan, Rocky Marciano: Biography of a First Son (1977); and Michael N. Varveris, Rocky Marciano: The 13th Candle—The True Story of an American Legend (2000).
Boxer Rocky Marciano (1923-1969), who held the heavyweight boxing title for four years during the 1950s, is the only boxing champion to ever retire undefeated.
Certain names always come up, and always will come up, when boxing fans discuss the question of who was the greatest heavyweight boxing champion of all time. Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey are all names which have their supporters. So is Rocky Marciano, who held the title for four years in the 1950s and who has one accomplishment no other heavyweight champ can claim: He is the only one ever to retire undefeated.
Boxing Not First Choice
Marciano was born Rocco Francis Marchegiano on September 1, 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts. His father, Pierino, worked at a shoe factory. His mother's name was Pasqualena, and Rocky would spend much of his life making sure she didn't have to live in the poverty Rocky knew growing up. Rocky was a typical American kid growing up, playing baseball and football and dreaming of a professional career in one of those sports. He didn't take up boxing until after 1943, when he was drafted into the army. He took the sport up mainly as a way to avoid KP (assisting the cooks) and other less desirable activities, but he showed a natural ability and fought as an amateur following his discharge in 1946.
In 1947 Marciano had a tryout with the Chicago Cubs as a catcher, but was let go because he couldn't make the throw from home plate to second base with accuracy. It was the end of his baseball dreams, and the following year he turned professional in the ring. By the spring of 1949 his boxing skills had garnered some attention, as he knocked out his first 16 opponents. The quality of his opponents improved over the latter half of 1949 and 1950, but Marciano continued to beat all comers, knocking out most of them.
Proved Doubters Wrong
There were those who thought not much would become of the 190-pound heavyweight from Brockton in the early days, however. Goody Petronelli, noted fight trainer, caught one of his early fights and recalled for Sports Illustrated, "I never thought he'd make it. He was too old, almost 25. He was too short, he was too light. He had no reach. Rough and tough, but no finesse." The hometown folks became believers, though, traveling in groups to Marciano's fights in nearby Providence, Rhode Island and yelling "Timmmmberrr" when Rocky had an opponent ready to go down.
The trainer Charley Goldman taught Marciano his trademark technique, which would serve him well as champion. Legendary trainer Angelo Dundee remembered for Sports Illustrated Goldman telling him for the first time about his new young fighter: "So Charley told me, 'Ange, I gotta guy who's short, stoop-shouldered, balding, got two left feet and God, how he can punch!'" He went on, "Charley taught the technique that if you're tall, stand taller. If you are shorter, make yourself smaller. Charley let him bend his knees completely in a deep knee squat. He was able to punch from that position, come straight up from the bag and hit a heck of a shot…. It was just bang-bang-bang-bang-BANG and get him outta there. And he was the best-conditioned athlete out there."
Marciano Defeats Joe Louis
On October 26, 1951, with 37 wins and 32 knockouts under his belt, Marciano faced his most formidable opponent in former heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Louis was past his prime and when Marciano knocked him out in the eighth round, he had such mixed feelings at beating his hero that he cried in Louis's dressing room after the fight. Sentiment aside, however, the fight established Marciano as one of the marquee fighters in the heavyweight division, and assured him of a title shot before too long.
Takes the Belt from Jersey Joe
Five fights later, on September 23, 1952, he got that chance. Jersey Joe Walcott was the defending champion and Marciano the challenger when the pair met in Philadelphia. Marciano pulled out a victory which would be remembered as typical of his tough-guy, never-say-die style: Way behind on points and struggling offensively all night, he caught Walcott with a short, overhand right on the jaw in the 13th round which knocked him unconscious, giving Marciano the championship belt.
Marciano only defended the title six times, but some of those fights are considered classics by boxing fans. He knocked out Walcott in the first round of their rematch in 1953, then knocked out Roland La Starza later that year. He won a decision against Ezzard Charles in 1954, and almost lost his title in their rematch later that year. In the sixth round Charles cut Marciano's nose so badly his cornerman couldn't stop the bleeding. With the ring doctor watching the cut closely and considering stopping the fight, Marciano erupted against Charles in the eighth round and knocked him out.
Marciano defended his title against Don Cockell in 1955, knocking him out despite organized crime enticements for him to throw the fight. His last fight was September 21, 1955, his third Yankee Stadium defense. He knocked out Archie Moore in the ninth round. The unofficial attendance through closed-circuit television across the great cities of North America was over 400,000.
Retired from Boxing
On April 27, 1956 Marciano retired from boxing at the age of 31. "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." He said he wanted to spend more time with his family; it has been said since that he resented having to pay 50 percent of his earnings to his manager.
The Last Years
Marciano spent the years following his retirement making money from personal appearances. Notoriously frugal, Marciano insisted on bumming rides from friends with private planes, even though he could usually be given paid transportation to and from any of his personal appearances. On August 31, 1969, the day before his 46th birthday, he died in a private-plane crash near Des Moines, Iowa. He was survived by his wife of 19 years, Barbara, and two children, Rocco Kevin and Mary Anne.
Remembered for his Grit
Although he may not rank in the top five boxers of all time in terms of skill, speed, or power, Rocky Marciano was tough enough to compensate, and his fans recognized his grit. A sports writer commented that if all the heavyweight champions of all time were locked together in a room, Marciano would be the one to walk out.
Everett M. Skehan, Rocky Marciano: The Biography of a First Son (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977). □