Rocky Marciano was born Rocco Francis Marchegiano, on September 1, 1923, in Brockton Massachusetts. During his career, Marciano held the heavyweight boxing title for four years in the 1950s and retired with a perfect record of 49-0 with 43 knockouts.
The Rock is an extremely rare example of a boxer that made it to the elite top level of boxing despite being a late comer to the sport. He first played football and baseball, dreaming of becoming a professional athlete with either endeavor. A catcher in baseball, he had major league tryouts. When they didn’t pan out, he turned to boxing.
He didn’t garner much attention at first, predictably so as he had an amateur record of 8-4 before turning pro at 23 years of age. It wasn’t until he started beating journeymen to contender level opponents such as Phil Muscato and Carmine Vingo that people took notice. The Vingo bout nearly ended in tragedy when Vingo got knocked out and suffered a brain injury that ended his career. Long forgotten by the boxing community, Carmine remained a friend of The Rock and always said that he was the nicest person a guy would ever meet.
Rocky’s first big bout was against Roland LaStarza at Madison Square Garden in March of 1950. Both fighters were undefeated with a combined record of 62-0 with 40 knockouts. The bout was close by the scoring system then in effect. The ref had it 5-5 and the judges were split, each scoring it 5-4-1. By rule, the referee kept a supplemental scorecard to be used in the case of ties that took into effect such factors as knockdowns. Marciano had LaStarza on the canvas in the 4th round, a contributing factor on the supplemental scorecard which favored Rocky 9-6. Bottom line: Marciano was credited with winning a split decision.
The Rock’s next big fight was his first on television in July of 1951. He was facing Rex Layne who, like Marciano, was known as a powerful puncher The two fighters had a combined knockout percentage of 80%. Rocky upset the odds, beating up Layne with a two fisted attack on route to stopping him in the sixth round. This is the fight that really got the serious title talk started for Marciano.
On came the fight with Joe Louis, who was well past his prime and Rocky’s longtime idol. The Brown Bomber was no match for the young, hungry machine in front of him. Marciano bided his time against the legendary but shopworn 38-year-old ex-champion, respecting Louis’s power, until Louis started to fade and then blasted right through him. The loss was Louis’s third and the last of his career.
Five fights later, in September of 1952, Rocky, now 42-0, got his long awaited title shot against Jersey Joe Walcott. Jersey Joe was the 38-year-old ageless wonder, the oldest man to ever hold the heavyweight title at that time. As most everyone knows, Marciano was trailing on the scorecards when he knocked Walcott out cold with a vicious right hand in the 13th round.
Marciano would go on to defend the title six times. He knocked out Walcott in the first round of their rematch in May of 1953, then knocked out Roland La Starza later that year. He won a decision against Ezzard Charles in June of 1954 and then almost lost his title when they fought again three years later. In the rematch, Charles cut Marciano’s nose so badly that Marciano’s corner warned him before the eighth round that he had one more round to win the fight before they stopped it to prevent permanent damage to his nose; it looked like a split walnut. The Rock went out with a two fisted power attack in the eighth and stopped Charles. It was classic Marciano.
On April 27, 1956, Marciano retired from boxing at the age of 31. As everyone knows, he retired undefeated. True to his word, he never did make a comeback. While his title reign was relatively short, Rocky does have a few signature wins that are cemented forever in boxing history to go along with his perfect record. It goes to show that heart, toughness, discipline and determination can overcome other intangibles in boxing. Add to that the fact that Rocky is a perfect example that late comers can rise to the very top in boxing; it just requires a very special person.
In memoriam we say happy 93rd birthday to Rocky Marciano