World Heavyweight Champion: 1952-1956
Rocky Marciano was a fighting machine out of the Dempsey mould. He was no fistic stylist, but he had two huge assets: he was a destructive puncher, and he was incredibly resilient. This simple formula proved to be devastatingly effective. The record books don’t lie: 49 fights, 49 wins, 43 of them inside the distance. Nobody else has achieved 100 per cent success rate. Maybe Marciano didn’t either. It is said that he did suffer one defeat as a professional, early in his career, and that his manager deliberately erased it from the record books. Does this matter? To the sport’s statisticians, certainly; but whatever the truth of the matter, it cannot detract from the fact that Marciano reigned supreme from 1952 to 1956.
Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, on 1 September 1923. He excelled in many sports in his early years, but decided to concentrate on boxing after winning several competitions during the Second World War, when he was stationed in England. After he was discharged, he wrote to Madison Square Garden, hoping to be taken into the professional ranks.
Al Weill, who would later become his manager, was initially unconvinced. At 5ft IOV2 in Marciano was small; he weighed in at just 13 St 21b; his reach was woefully short; and his lack of technique made him an easy target. Weill slowly changed his mind when he saw that Marciano had extraordinary stamina, durability and punching power.
After turning professional in 1947, Marciano was nursed through his early fights. Weill wanted to keep his record intact; he also wanted to buy time for the trainers to get to work on his technical flaws.
Tears as Louis KO’d
A major step up the ladder came in 1951, when Marciano had to face one of his heroes, Joe Louis. Marciano took everything the former champion could throw at him, and knocked him out in the eighth round. Many onlookers -Marciano included – were said to have had a tear in their eye at the end of the fight.
Marciano had soon beaten all the top contenders as well as a string of has-beens. He was widely being talked about as the Great White Hope. A crack at Jersey Joe Walcott’s title was now inevitable.
The champion was confident. ‘He can’t fight. If I don’t win, take my name out of the record books.’ It was, quite literally, fighting talk.
The contest took place on 23 September 1952, in Philadelphia. It was a bruising encounter. Marciano was down in the very first round, seeming to support the view of those who thought Walcott’s superior ringcraft would win the day. But Marciano brushed aside Walcott’s superbly executed left hook with apparent disdain. As his corner screamed at him to take an eight-count, Marciano bounded to his feet at three. It must have been very demoralising for the champion.
Marciano kept going forward like a juggernaut, seemingly impervious to the punches Walcott landed. He even shrugged off the fact that he was having difficulty seeing. This had nothing to do with physical damage. Marciano’s corner suspected that Walcott’s gloves had been smeared with a substance which was causing their man’s eyes to sting. Whatever the cause, Marciano wasn’t about to let it stand in his way. He was a man on a mission. Round after round the two continued to pound each other. ‘Suzy Q’ wins title
By the 13th, Walcott was well ahead on points. Had he been able to stay out of trouble, victory was his. But that disappeared in one short pulverising right to Walcott’s jaw in round 13. Marciano’s right was a hammerblow affectionately named Suzy-Q; Walcott became the latest fighter to feel its awesome power. He crumpled to the canvas and didn’t move until long after the count was over.
Almost inevitably, the new champion’s first defence was a rematch. This was also brutal, but this time it was one-sided and short. Walcott was knocked out inside a round.
After stopping Roland La Starza, Marciano had two titanic battles with former champion Ezzard Charles. The first encounter was a classic. Charles took the champion the distance, and it was probably his finest hour in the ring, despite the fact that it ended in defeat. Both men handed out and took severe punishment; Marciano got the verdict.
All or nothing
In their second battle, Charles had the better of the early rounds, and also managed to split Marciano’s nose wide open. The referee came perilously close to stopping the fight after seven rounds, but the stakes being what they were, he decided to allow the champion the latitude of another three minutes. Marciano knew it was all or nothing. He waded into Charles and hit him with everything, ignoring his opponent’s shots as he did so. Charles didn’t survive the onslaught.
Marciano’s penultimate defence pitted him against England’s Don Cockell. The champion was always savage and brutal in the ring; and on that May night in 1955 he was also positively dirty. He butted, elbowed and thumbed Cockell; he hit him low, and hit him when he was down. After the fight was stopped in the ninth round, Cockell was remarkably phlegmatic. He bore Marciano no ill will, and gave a very apt description of what had happened. ‘Rocky kept beating away at me like a demented butcher flattening a lump of veal.’
Marciano’s swansong came on 21 September 1955, with world light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore his opponent. The veteran challenger started very well, and put Marciano on the canvas in the second round. It was a beautiful punch, but as usual, Marciano shrugged it off and was up at two. Seven rounds later, Marciano ground his man down and battered him into submission. He had taken a lot of punishment, but he had given better than he had got.
Computer puts Marciano No.l
Under pressure from his family to quit, and with no other obvious contender in sight, Marciano chose to retire the following year, his reputation intact, his place in the history books secure.
Outside the ring Marciano was gentle, courteous and slow to anger. Inside it he was frightening. His raw power, ability to absorb punishment and sheer will to win gave him an air of invincibility. Would he have beaten Louis in his prime? Or Dempsey? Or Muhammad Ali? A computer thought so. In 1967, two years before his death in a plane crash, Marciano came out on top of the pile in a computerised contest between 16 of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
Born: Brockton, Massachusetts, USA. Sept 11923
Died: August 31 1969
Height: 5’ lQi/4’ Weight: 189lbs
World Heavyweight Champion: 1952-1956
Record: Won 49 (43 Kos)
Rocky Marciano’s manager and mentor Al Weill embraces his man after a devastating performance against Britain’s Don Cockell in May 1955. Weill had astutely seen beyond the young Marciano’s lack of skill and style, focusing instead on the vast potential of his awesome punching power.
Marciano in vicious battle with Cockell
Rocky Marciano’s fifth defence of the title matched him against British Empire champion Don Cockell. The fight took place in the Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, on 16 May 1955. It was an ugly, one-sided encounter, which Cockell bravely extended to the ninth round before the referee stepped in to save him from further punishment. Backed into a corner , the challenger survived an onslaught in the eighth. One round later and it’s the beginning of the end when Marciano rocks Cockell with a wicked right . Marciano emerged with his title and record intact, but with very little credit. Many observers were incensed by his rough-house tactics, although Cockell himself said he had no complaints.