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Still No Consensus on Rocky Marciano's Place in Boxing History

BY Bernard Fernandez ON August 29, 2014
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Aug. 31 marks the 45th anniversary of the day when Rocky Marciano died in the crash of a small plane in an Iowa cornfield. The only heavyweight champion to quit the ring while undefeated -- he was 49-0, with 43 knockouts, following his final bout, a ninth-round knockout of the great Archie Moore on Sept. 21, 1955 -- Marciano was on his way to a celebration of his 46th birthday the following day, Sept. 1, in Des Moines, but he and the Cessna 172’s other two occupants, both of whom also perished, never got there.

More than four decades later, boxing historians and fight fans of a certain age who actually saw Marciano bludgeon his way to the top are still divided as to whether the “Brockton Blockbuster,” just 32 when he announced his retirement on April 27, 1956, is truly among the best of the best, or an inelegant but sturdy brawler who was fortunate enough to come along during a fallow period in the heavyweight division that fell between the more regal reigns of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

Opinions as to Marciano’s place in the all-time heavyweight pecking order are as strongly stated, and as widely diverse, as any that can be found in the fight game. His crushing overhand right, which he had dubbed the “Suzie Q,” has to rate as one of the most potent weapons in the arsenal of any fighter. But, some critics sniped, that big right hand, as well as Marciano’s relentless determination to succeed and seeming imperviousness to pain, were the only real assets of a short (5-10¼) and short-armed man (his reach of 68 inches is 4 inches shorter than welterweight Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s) whose original goal was to become a catcher in baseball’s big leagues. That dream died when Marciano, a decent hitter with a bat in his hands, was sent home without a contract from a Chicago Cubs tryout camp in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1947 because of – get this – a weak throwing arm.

Even when he won, Marciano was sometimes targeted for barbs that stung his pride as much as the punches he received from gloved opponents. In writing of Marciano’s emphatic stoppage of Moore, the 175-pound champion who was moving up in weight, Nat Fleischer, founder of The Ring, noted that the winner was “crude, wild-swinging, awkward and missed heavily.”

After his eighth-round TKO of a 37-year-old Joe Louis on Oct. 26, 1952, in Madison Square Garden, Arthur Daley was almost contemptuous in his dismissal of the then-29-year-old Marciano as a worthy heir to the twice-removed crown of the faded “Brown Bomber.”

“The Louis of 10 years ago would have felled Rocky with one punch,” Daley wrote. “Louis losing is more important than Marciano winning.”

Even Marciano’s very astute trainer, Charley Goldman, had to admit that his man had rough edges that could never be completely sanded smooth by any chief second, no matter how much time and effort was put into the attempt. Marciano had only taken up boxing in the Army to get out of kitchen duty and other less-than-desirable assignments, and although he won the 1946 Armed Forces boxing tournament, he was just 8-4 as an amateur, getting by almost solely on crude, raw power.

In recalling his first glimpse of “prospect” Marciano, Goldman jotted down all his negatives into a notebook: wild punches, poor balance, legs too far apart, stride too long, non-existent defense, over-reliance on his right hand and a disinclination to throw combinations, among other things. But when the kid connected, he somehow made magic.

“Marciano was so awkward we just stood there and laughed,” Golden was quoted as saying in author Bert Randolph Sugar’s 2005 book, “Boxing’s Greatest Fighters.” “He didn’t stand right, he didn’t throw a punch right. He didn’t do anything right.”

Later on, as Marciano continued to knock everyone stiff, Goldman, who had previously been the manager-trainer of middleweight titlist Al McCoy, allowed that “I got a guy who’s short, stoop-shouldered and balding with two left feet. (Rocky’s victims) all look better than he does as far as moves are concerned, but they don’t look so good (laying) on the canvas.”

So what is the most accurate assessment of what Rocky was, or wasn’t?

Sugar, always opinionated and frequently controversial, had Marciano at No. 14 on his list of the 100 greatest fighters of all time, and the fifth-best heavyweight, behind Louis (4), Ali (7), Jack Dempsey (9), Jack Johnson (10) and Gene Tunney (13). Other renowned big men who fell in behind The Rock were Sam Langford (16), Ezzard Charles (24), George Foreman (31), Joe Frazier (37), Evander Holyfield (42), Larry Holmes (45), John L. Sullivan (54), Bob Fitzsimmons (66), Jim Corbett (69), Sonny Liston (73), Jersey Joe Walcott (79), Peter Jackson (80), James J. Jeffries (84) and – obviously, a lot of fight fans will dispute back-of-the-line status – Mike Tyson (100).

“As indestructible as any fighter in history, Marciano walked into, and through, thousands of hard, clean jolting shots in the manner of a human steamroller, wrecking his opponents with baseball-bat swings to the arms, the midsection, the head, and just about anything else within reach,” Sugar wrote. “Always ready to give two or three punches to land one, the determined Marciano melted down the guards of his opponents, and with the shortest arms of any champion in the history of the heavyweight division, hewed them down to size.”

Moore, who was on a 21-bout winning streak when he challenged Marciano, wasn’t about to dispute Sugar’s assessment. “The Mongoose” holds the all-time professional record with 131 knockout victories, so he knows a thing or two about what it feels like to deliver and to be on the wrong end of a takeout shot. And Marciano, he marveled, rose above all the big bangers of his acquaintance.

“Marciano is far and away the strongest man I’ve ever encountered in almost 20 years of fighting,” Moore said in an article that appeared in the New York Times the day after the bout. “And believe me, I’ve met some tough ones.”

The Rocky Marciano story is pure Americana, regardless of where the so-called experts are apt to place him on their best-of lists. The grandson of Italian immigrants, the young Rocky – whose birth name was Rocco Marchegiano; it was changed by his manager, Al Weill, because Weill thought the shortened version was easier to pronounce and to fit in newspaper headlines – grew up knowing only that he didn’t want to work in the shoe factory where his father, Pierino, worked long hours for short wages under dismal conditions.

Perhaps Marciano’s burgeoning popularity owed in part to the exciting nature of his no-frills, all-thrills style; he was involved in The Ring’s Fight of the Year in three consecutive years, from 1952 through ’54, scoring knockouts of Jersey Joe Walcott, Roland La Starza and Ezzard Charles (the last two were rematches). Maybe it was because he was seen in some quarters as a “White Hope,” the man who would end a 17-year domination of the heavyweight division by black fighters that had begun with Louis and extended on to Charles and then Walcott. There also was the constant expectation of sudden lightning, a thunderbolt in the late going of bouts Marciano was trailing on the scorecards, with his undefeated record further endangered with each passing round.

Such was the case in his challenge of Walcott, who had wrested the championship from Charles on a seventh-round knockout on July 18, 1951, in Pittsburgh, the putaway blow a perfectly timed, walk-in left hook that was and still remains one of the most aesthetically perfect punches in boxing history. For all the world, it looked as if Jersey Joe was headed to an even more significant triumph, increasing his points lead over the bull-strong Marciano as the fight, scheduled for 15 rounds on Sept. 23, 1952, in Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium, headed into the 13th. Marciano clearly needed a knockout to claim the title, and he knew it. So, you would have thought, did Walcott.

But Walcott wanted to chisel boulder that had been The Rock down to a pebble, and he attempted to put an exclamation point to his seemingly imminent success in that fateful stanza by stepping up the pace even more. Instead he was sent down and out by what might have been the most spectacular one-punch knockout ever, a short – maybe six inches – right to the jaw that landed with the force of a meteor slamming into the earth. Walcott, whose face was distorted into that of an anguished gargoyle at the point of impact, was unconscious as he slid down the ropes. Referee Charlie Daggett went through with the formality of a count, but he could have tolled to 100 and Walcott wouldn’t have risen in time.

After vanquishing Moore, however, the inner fire that had always burned so hot into Marciano began to cool. His retirement stuck after he defeated Moore, who had decked him in Round 2, although Rocky was sorely tempted to go for win No. 50 after Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson lifted the heavyweight title from Floyd Patterson on a third-round TKO on June 26, 1959, in Yankee Stadium.

“I don’t want to be remembered as a beaten champion,” said Marciano, who understood how great the difference was between 49-0 and 49-1, for the purpose of retaining the unique legacy he had consecrated with his blood. And so he walked away from a seven-figure payday that would have added a bundle to the $4 million or so in career earnings he had amassed at a time when a million dollars went a hell of a lot further than it does now.

There would be one more moment of semi-glory for Marciano, however. A Miami-based entrepreneur named Murry Woroner in 1967 came up with the idea of a “fantasy boxing tournament” to determine the best heavyweight of all time, the results of which would be spit out by something called the NCR 315 computer. The data on 16 all-time greats fed into the gadget, admittedly primitive by today’s standards, and in the final Marciano emerged as the winner via 13th-round knockout of Jack Dempsey.

Muhammad Ali – who was in the midst of his three-year suspension from boxing for refusing to be inducted into the Army and whom the computer had deemed a quarterfinals loser to James J. Jeffries – filed a $1 million lawsuit against Woroner for defamation. Ali claimed that Woromer had, in effect, stolen his good name by rigging the computer to have him lost to someone he claims he could have beaten a hundred times in a hundred tries.

Woroner slipped the legal punch by offering Ali a filmed fantasy fight against Marciano, who was 45 and had not fought in 13 years. Both men signed on, and the filming took place in early 1969 with a flabby Ali nearly 40 pounds over his best fighting weight and Marciano, wearing a toupee for vanity’s sake, 45 pounds lighter thanks to a crash diet. Seventy one-minute rounds were filmed, including seven different endings. Neither Ali nor Marciano, it was said, was told beforehand which outcome would used in the telecast, to be shown in some 1,500 closed-circuit locations around the world.

A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Arnold Davis, told Ali – who was cash-strapped and who reportedly accepted Woroner’s offer of $9,999 to participate – that he was crazy if he thought the final cut would have him winning.

“The end is supposed to be a mystery? To whom?” Davis asked Ali. “Marciano will beat you bloody. And it will sell like hell in South Africa, to say nothing of Indiana and Alabama.”

As Davis had predicted, Marciano did win, coming from behind to win by a knockout in the 13th round, just as he had done in his title-winning bout with Walcott. An unusually gracious Ali, speaking to Howard Cosell on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in 1976, said, “I think on my best day and his best day I would have beaten him, (but) probably not knocked him out. I think he was better than Joe Frazier, and you know what Joe Frazier did to me.”

Three months after the Ali-Marciano “fight” became a cause celebre, Rocky’s plane crashed in that Iowa cornfield and his legend was forever set, no longer susceptible to the alteration of ongoing events.

So, again, the question must be asked: How good was The Rock? Better than his detractors insist, or worse than his admirers claim?

Given Marciano’s squatty build and comparative lack of heft – his highest weight for any fight was 192½ pounds – his most obvious reference points are Frazier and Tyson, similarly constructed close-to-the-ground power punchers.

Boxing writer Monte D. Cox said transposing Frazier’s opponents with Marciano’s tells you all you need to know. “Is there one person that Marciano beat that Joe Frazier would not beat?” he asked. “The answer is clearly no. Joe Frazier would have little trouble with Marciano’s opponents and would easily have gone 49-0 against them … Had the two all-time greats switched eras, Frazier would have been 49-0 and Marciano would likely have had losses to Ali and Foreman on his record.”

But the floating of hypotheticals is easy. It is human nature to remember what we care to remember, to believe what we want to believe, and we will furiously forward our point of view with those holding a contradictory position. So let Peter Marciano, whom I interviewed in 2006, offer his thoughts on his older brother in response to all the Monte Coxes who would cast aspersions upon Rocky’s memory.

“Any fighter you might mention – and I like to believe I’m not being prejudiced – could not have beaten Rocky,” Peter said. “I honestly believe that. The only way I can ever imagine him losing is on an accidental head-butt, a head cut or something like that. Forget size. Rocky was tremendously strong. His strength was, and I hate to use the word, but it was almost superhuman. Big guys were made for him. The bigger they were, the easier it was for Rocky to tire them out and then to knock them out.

“Muhammad Ali was terrific, but it wasn’t just his speed and mobility that made him a great champion. It was his mental strength. He believed, as Rocky did, that he could not be beaten. The difference between them is that Ali told everyone how good he was and Rocky, who was a very humble man, did not feel he had to come out and say it. It was enough that he knew it.

“The other difference, of course, is that Rocky was never beaten.”

Which brings us back to that 49-0 record which remains the unassailable summit that all other heavyweight champions have endeavored to scale without success. Larry Holmes came closest, getting to 48-0 before he was dethroned on a close but unanimous 15-round decision to Michael Spinks on Sept. 21, 1985, in Las Vegas – ironically, but not coincidentally, the 30th anniversary of Marciano’s 49th and farewell win against Moore.

At the postfight press conference, a miffed Holmes said, “Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap,” a rather indelicate statement considering the fact that Peter Marciano was on hand to offer a congratulatory handshake he really didn’t want to extend, and now didn’t have to.

“Quite honestly, I never want to see Rocky’s record broken,” Peter said. “As a boxing fan, if someone is good enough to ever do it, I would tip my cap to him. But I think the chances of that happening is almost non-existent given the current landscape. The best fighters don’t fight more than two or three times a year once they achieve pay-per-view status. That makes it difficult for the elite guys to even have 50 fights, much less to win them all.”

Marciano’s sheen of perfection is not entirely resistant to the shadow of doubt. In his first fight with La Starza, who was 37-0 at the time, The Rock won a decision that was more than a little disputed. And if title fights went 12 rounds in his day, instead of 15, he would never have gotten the chance to starch Walcott in Round 13. As another Rocky – that would be Graziano – once said, “Somebody up there likes me.” And that may well have been the case for Marciano, who didn’t get to 49-0 easily, but got there nonetheless.

The fight game is primordial, and that is reason enough to have an affinity toward the Marcianos and the Fraziers and the Tysons, who give it all that they have for as long as they have it. They strike a chord within us, the sound of a wolf howl, reminding us that at our core we perhaps aren’t really as prim and proper as genteel society might prefer.

“Rocky is not in there to outpoint anybody with an exhibition of boxing skill,” Ed Fitzgerald, one of the top sports writers of the Marciano era, observed. “He is a primitive fighter who stalks his prey until he can belt him with that frightening right-hand crusher. He is one of the easiest fighters in the ring to hit. You can, as with an enraged grizzly bear, slow him down and make him shake his head if you hit him hard enough to wound him, but you can’t make him back up. Slowly, relentlessly, he moves in on you. Sooner or later, he clubs you down.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Marciano, and know that a little bit of you lives on in certain select fighters who know that even the sweet science sometimes needs an infusion of sweet savagery.

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Comment on this article

New York Tony says:

Rocky Marciano is easily among the top heavyweights of all time. The current revisionism, the sneering "need" to chisel away at the Rock's greatness, comes almost exclusively from people who wouldn't know boxing if it hit them with a right on the point of the chin. For instance, the contention (always expressed with the smugness of the ignorant) that the 1952 model of Joe Louis was a decrepit jalopy just waiting to be dismantled is ridiculous on the face of it. Sure, Louis' best days were behind him, but he was 37 when Rocky beat him - not 87. Let them deride - Marciano is a god of the ring and no amount of so-called reevaluation will knock him from this throne. If true greats couldn't wrest his title from him in the squared circle, you can bet that a handful of armchair "experts," who wouldn't know Sugar Ray Robinson from Sugar Ray Leonard, won't either. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

oubobcat says:

I loved watching ESPN Classic when I was younger and they would replay old fights constantly. That's where I got to see many of Rocky Marciano's old fights.

The man retired undefeated and that to me means something. Yes it was not the top competition that some others faced but that's also not his fault. He beat everyone put in front of him and the best of his era. He was pushed on a more than once occasion and always found a way to pull the fight out.

I rank Ali as the best heavyweight ever and Joe Louis 2nd (not a far 2nd). Marciano is 3 on my list and honestly closer in my mind to Ali and Louis than most have him (not a distant 3rd but almost neck and neck with Ali and Louis).

Coxs Corner says:

Since I'm quoted in the article I would like to add some further commentary. The author here borrowed a bit from my article that he quoted where I have Fleischers comments used in this article as well as the comparison of Marciano's reach compared to Mayweather. The article the author refers to also says about Rocky;


"Rocky Marciano is the only unbeaten and untied boxing champion in history. 49-0 is his legacy. Of his 49 wins 43 came by way of knockout. His knockout percentage of 87.75 is the highest among all heavyweight champions. He is 7-0 in title fights. On his accomplishments alone he deserves consideration for a spot among the ten best heavyweights ever."

and

"Rocky brought punching power, a high work rate, endurance, durability, excellent conditioning and the will to win into every fight. He also carried his power into the late rounds, which is a short list of punchers of which only Joe Louis and Joe Frazier definitely belong with Marciano. Rocky came inside low in his crouch to get underneath his opponents and was not as easy a target to hit as some fans think. He was unceasing in his firing of his hammer blows at his opponent’s, although he lacked punching accuracy. Rocky was an “anywhere hitter” but anywhere he hit, he hurt. Rocky was known to bust the blood vessels in his opponent’s arms as they covered up trying to protect themselves from the onslaught. He nearly clubbed Carmine Vingo to death; he survived but was never able to fight again."

About Joe Louis. Yes Louis was 37 not 87 but it was an old balding 37. Age 37 some 60 years ago is not the same as 37 today where fighters have better access to nutrition and other enhancements. Ali was an old 36 when he lost to Leon Spinks. I wrote, "Joe Louis was the biggest name on Marciano’s resume, but he was 37 years old and had lost much. By the time of their fight the once legendary Louis had “long since lost his once devastating punch” as Nat Fleischer wrote. This is true because Louis depended greatly on speed, timing and sense of distance for his hitting power. His lost reflexes robbed him of his explosiveness and therefore his punching power. Louis still was a solid fighter when Marciano beat him because he was fundamentally sound, but he lacked the speed and power that he once possessed."

The fact is Louis missed 4 years of his best fighting years due to inactivity during the Second world War. He was never the same fighter after that. When Louis retired he 60-1, 51 ko's. When he came back he only scored 3 knockouts in his last 10 fights which is proof of what Fleischer, who sat ringside for their fight, said is the truth. Sugar Ray Robinson was only out 2 years when he retired after the Maxim fight (and was younger than Louis) and he struggled when he came back so much that the top writers were saying he should stay retired. Robinson lost to a lesser fighter in Ralph Tiger Jones and was a heavy underdog to Bobo Olson when he received a title shot. In any event, Louis post WW 2 was simply not the explosive hitter he was previously and had lost a lot.

On the other points. I stated, " How would Marciano have fared against Frazier’s opponents? Marciano would be an underdog to Ali and would likely lose a decision. Ali was more susceptible to a left hook, Frazier’s bread and butter punch, than he was to a right hand, which was Rocky’s best shot. Cus D’Amato once said that, “No swarming heavyweight who ever lived could beat George Foreman coming to him.” Marciano would have had the same trouble trying to get inside George’s long arms and massive uppercuts, as did the bobbing and weaving Frazier. It seems highly unlikely that Marciano could overcome the freakish power of the much larger Foreman in a slugfest. Frazier holds a win over Muhammad Ali and defeated other quality heavyweights such as Jerry Quarry who were superior to most of Marciano's competition. Had the two all time greats switched era's Frazier would have been 49-0 and Marciano would likely have had losses to Ali and Foreman on his record."

Not just my opinion. I think Cus D'Amato knew boxing pretty well. There are other boxing people who share this opinion. I would add that Frazier actually had the better style when facing a smooth boxer type because he applied consistent pressure, slipping and cutting the ring. Marciano was a little more measured in his approach and fought more in spurts. However, I do favor Marciano over Frazier head to head, although its not a given.

"Consider that in the Dec. 1962 Ring magazine poll of 40 boxing experts it was Jack Dempsey that was rated the # 1 Heavyweight of all time with Joe Louis 2nd, Jack Johnson 3rd and Marciano finishing a distant 7th, way behind Dempsey. If he was considered 7th in 1962 how does he propel to the top 5, when since then we have had Muhammad Ali who faced much tougher competition, the big power hitting George Foreman, Larry Holmes who made 20 title defenses, the bigger, faster and more powerful Mike Tyson, and the giant Lennox Lewis who at 6’5” 245 pounds would enjoy a 60 pound weight advantage over Marciano? This is a key point. Nat Fleischer rated Marciano at # 10, Charley Rose rated him at # 8, McCallum's survey of old-timers had him at # 9. No major historian who saw Maricano in their lifetime thought he was a top 5 all time heavyweight and 50 years have passed since Rocky retired as champion."

The reason there is no consensus on Marciano is the same reason there will not be one on Floyd Mayweather when he is 50-0 because he lacked the competition to be truly tested. "John Durant author of The Heavyweight Champions wrote in 1971 (pg 123,) “Critics do not rate Rocky with the great ones, like Jeffries, Johnson, Dempsey, Tunney, and Louis. He never faced topnotch fighters like they did. It was not Rocky’s fault, of course, that there was not much talent when he was fighting. He fought them all and that is what a champion is supposed to do.” In Mayweather's case he avoided certain fighters and Marciano never did. If Roy Jones had retired after beating John Ruiz what would his legacy be? It is unfortunate that Marciano's quality of opponents did not let him shine against stellar competition.

"Since Marciano’s claim to greatness is based largely on his unbeaten record one must put his quality of opponents under the microscope. It is true that most of Rocky’s best opponents were past their prime when he faced them. Jersey Joe Walcott was 38-39 years old, Ezzard Charles was 32-33 and was at his peak at light-heavyweight and 175 pound champion Archie Moore was 42. One of the best men Marciano defeated prior to winning the title was Rex Layne. Layne lost often when he stepped up in competition. Another of the top contenders Marciano faced was Lee Savold whose career record was 89-37-3, hardly inspiring. Rocky came up in one of the weakest periods in heavyweight history, in fact the only era that is weaker than the early mid 50's amongst heavyweights is the current crop."

Rocky’s unbeaten record is certainly not without tarnish. Many believe that Marciano actually did lose to Roland LaStarza in their first fight but got a gift decision. Jesse Abramson, boxing writer for the New York Daily Herald called it a “paper thin and exceedingly odd decision.” And it was “universally condemned around ringside as a miscarriage of justice”, according to newspaper reports. Even a member of the New England Press Corp, who would be inclined to favor Marciano in the New York bout against LaStarza, said it was a “dubious decision.” More than 50 years later LaStarza was incredulous of the decision, “I won that fight,” he maintained. In the New York Herald Tribune, Mar 25, 1950, LaStarza said, “The fact is his manager Al Weill was matchmaker for the Garden. I would say that had a lot to do with the decision.”

After the LaStarza fight Marciano's handlers were afraid to put him in with anyone who could fight. His next opponent was Eldridge Eatman who had lost 8 of his last 9 fights. Tiger Ted Lowry who had a career record of 60-54-9, went the distance with Marciano. Others such as Harold (Kid) Mitchell, Art Henri, and Willis Red Applegate all had losing records. It is little wonder that Rex Layne was a 9-5 favorite over Marciano when Rocky finally stepped up in competition. It should be noted that Layne was no world beater, like most of Marciano's top opponents Layne weighed well under 200 pounds and he finished with a career record of 50-17-3."

Those are the facts of Marciano's record. Is he a top 10 all time heavyweight, most likely yes. Is he in the top 5? If you rate him that highly that is based more on myth of what you think he would do against the field rather than what his actual competition indicates.

You can read my article in its entirety below:

[URL="http://coxscorner.tripod.com/rocky.html">http://coxscorner.tripod.com/rocky.html

..........

The Commish says:

It's ironic that this thread was just put up, as my next Commissioner's Corner is going to be about Rocky Marciano and where I believe he fits into the all-time heavyweight puzzle.

The column will be up early in the week.

-Randy G.

brownsugar says:

Since I'm quoted in the article I would like to add some further commentary. The author here borrowed a bit from my article that he quoted where I have Fleischers comments used in this article as well as the comparison of Marciano's reach compared to Mayweather. The article the author refers to also says about Rocky;


"Rocky Marciano is the only unbeaten and untied boxing champion in history. 49-0 is his legacy. Of his 49 wins 43 came by way of knockout. His knockout percentage of 87.75 is the highest among all heavyweight champions. He is 7-0 in title fights. On his accomplishments alone he deserves consideration for a spot among the ten best heavyweights ever."

and

"Rocky brought punching power, a high work rate, endurance, durability, excellent conditioning and the will to win into every fight. He also carried his power into the late rounds, which is a short list of punchers of which only Joe Louis and Joe Frazier definitely belong with Marciano. Rocky came inside low in his crouch to get underneath his opponents and was not as easy a target to hit as some fans think. He was unceasing in his firing of his hammer blows at his opponent’s, although he lacked punching accuracy. Rocky was an “anywhere hitter” but anywhere he hit, he hurt. Rocky was known to bust the blood vessels in his opponent’s arms as they covered up trying to protect themselves from the onslaught. He nearly clubbed Carmine Vingo to death; he survived but was never able to fight again."

About Joe Louis. Yes Louis was 37 not 87 but it was an old balding 37. Age 37 some 60 years ago is not the same as 37 today where fighters have better access to nutrition and other enhancements. Ali was an old 36 when he lost to Leon Spinks. I wrote, "Joe Louis was the biggest name on Marciano’s resume, but he was 37 years old and had lost much. By the time of their fight the once legendary Louis had “long since lost his once devastating punch” as Nat Fleischer wrote. This is true because Louis depended greatly on speed, timing and sense of distance for his hitting power. His lost reflexes robbed him of his explosiveness and therefore his punching power. Louis still was a solid fighter when Marciano beat him because he was fundamentally sound, but he lacked the speed and power that he once possessed."

The fact is Louis missed 4 years of his best fighting years due to inactivity during the Second world War. He was never the same fighter after that. When Louis retired he 60-1, 51 ko's. When he came back he only scored 3 knockouts in his last 10 fights which is proof of what Fleischer, who sat ringside for their fight, said is the truth. Sugar Ray Robinson was only out 2 years when he retired after the Maxim fight (and was younger than Louis) and he struggled when he came back so much that the top writers were saying he should stay retired. Robinson lost to a lesser fighter in Ralph Tiger Jones and was a heavy underdog to Bobo Olson when he received a title shot. In any event, Louis post WW 2 was simply not the explosive hitter he was previously and had lost a lot.

On the other points. I stated, " How would Marciano have fared against Frazier’s opponents? Marciano would be an underdog to Ali and would likely lose a decision. Ali was more susceptible to a left hook, Frazier’s bread and butter punch, than he was to a right hand, which was Rocky’s best shot. Cus D’Amato once said that, “No swarming heavyweight who ever lived could beat George Foreman coming to him.” Marciano would have had the same trouble trying to get inside George’s long arms and massive uppercuts, as did the bobbing and weaving Frazier. It seems highly unlikely that Marciano could overcome the freakish power of the much larger Foreman in a slugfest. Frazier holds a win over Muhammad Ali and defeated other quality heavyweights such as Jerry Quarry who were superior to most of Marciano's competition. Had the two all time greats switched era's Frazier would have been 49-0 and Marciano would likely have had losses to Ali and Foreman on his record."

Not just my opinion. I think Cus D'Amato knew boxing pretty well. There are other boxing people who share this opinion. I would add that Frazier actually had the better style when facing a smooth boxer type because he applied consistent pressure, slipping and cutting the ring. Marciano was a little more measured in his approach and fought more in spurts. However, I do favor Marciano over Frazier head to head, although its not a given.

"Consider that in the Dec. 1962 Ring magazine poll of 40 boxing experts it was Jack Dempsey that was rated the # 1 Heavyweight of all time with Joe Louis 2nd, Jack Johnson 3rd and Marciano finishing a distant 7th, way behind Dempsey. If he was considered 7th in 1962 how does he propel to the top 5, when since then we have had Muhammad Ali who faced much tougher competition, the big power hitting George Foreman, Larry Holmes who made 20 title defenses, the bigger, faster and more powerful Mike Tyson, and the giant Lennox Lewis who at 6’5” 245 pounds would enjoy a 60 pound weight advantage over Marciano? This is a key point. Nat Fleischer rated Marciano at # 10, Charley Rose rated him at # 8, McCallum's survey of old-timers had him at # 9. No major historian who saw Maricano in their lifetime thought he was a top 5 all time heavyweight and 50 years have passed since Rocky retired as champion."

The reason there is no consensus on Marciano is the same reason there will not be one on Floyd Mayweather when he is 50-0 because he lacked the competition to be truly tested. "John Durant author of The Heavyweight Champions wrote in 1971 (pg 123,) “Critics do not rate Rocky with the great ones, like Jeffries, Johnson, Dempsey, Tunney, and Louis. He never faced topnotch fighters like they did. It was not Rocky’s fault, of course, that there was not much talent when he was fighting. He fought them all and that is what a champion is supposed to do.” In Mayweather's case he avoided certain fighters and Marciano never did. If Roy Jones had retired after beating John Ruiz what would his legacy be? It is unfortunate that Marciano's quality of opponents did not let him shine against stellar competition.

"Since Marciano’s claim to greatness is based largely on his unbeaten record one must put his quality of opponents under the microscope. It is true that most of Rocky’s best opponents were past their prime when he faced them. Jersey Joe Walcott was 38-39 years old, Ezzard Charles was 32-33 and was at his peak at light-heavyweight and 175 pound champion Archie Moore was 42. One of the best men Marciano defeated prior to winning the title was Rex Layne. Layne lost often when he stepped up in competition. Another of the top contenders Marciano faced was Lee Savold whose career record was 89-37-3, hardly inspiring. Rocky came up in one of the weakest periods in heavyweight history, in fact the only era that is weaker than the early mid 50's amongst heavyweights is the current crop."

Rocky’s unbeaten record is certainly not without tarnish. Many believe that Marciano actually did lose to Roland LaStarza in their first fight but got a gift decision. Jesse Abramson, boxing writer for the New York Daily Herald called it a “paper thin and exceedingly odd decision.” And it was “universally condemned around ringside as a miscarriage of justice”, according to newspaper reports. Even a member of the New England Press Corp, who would be inclined to favor Marciano in the New York bout against LaStarza, said it was a “dubious decision.” More than 50 years later LaStarza was incredulous of the decision, “I won that fight,” he maintained. In the New York Herald Tribune, Mar 25, 1950, LaStarza said, “The fact is his manager Al Weill was matchmaker for the Garden. I would say that had a lot to do with the decision.”

After the LaStarza fight Marciano's handlers were afraid to put him in with anyone who could fight. His next opponent was Eldridge Eatman who had lost 8 of his last 9 fights. Tiger Ted Lowry who had a career record of 60-54-9, went the distance with Marciano. Others such as Harold (Kid) Mitchell, Art Henri, and Willis Red Applegate all had losing records. It is little wonder that Rex Layne was a 9-5 favorite over Marciano when Rocky finally stepped up in competition. It should be noted that Layne was no world beater, like most of Marciano's top opponents Layne weighed well under 200 pounds and he finished with a career record of 50-17-3."

Those are the facts of Marciano's record. Is he a top 10 all time heavyweight, most likely yes. Is he in the top 5? If you rate him that highly that is based more on myth of what you think he would do against the field rather than what his actual competition indicates.

You can read my article in its entirety below:

[URL="http://coxscorner.tripod.com/rocky.html">http://coxscorner.tripod.com/rocky.html

..........


Its good to read some balanced and perceptive reasoning coming out of this thread. A very thorough analysis considering the relative short length of the post.

Radam G says:

Dang, Coxs Corner! You came blitzing with it. The truth should not be that mean. I'm still ducking for cover. You straight up hurt the feeling of believers of fairy tales. Tearing out the guts of history is a muthasucka. But that is how it goes. And optical illusions are everywhere.

Last month ArneK snitched out truths about the late, great "Brownbomber" Joe Louis. And now you just killed the legend of Rocky M. Blood and guts are over the metaphoric squared jungle. I got to vomit -- urrrkrrrrrrrmffj!

Can we get a warning next time. What long-past legend of yesteryears will be put under of the blood-and-gut bucket challenge next?

I don't wanna know. Holla!

the Roast says:

Larry Holmes was right about Rocky.

Steve V. says:

Just a quick point to Monte Cox -- whom I've read and enjoyed and even corresponded with occasionally --: take it for what it's worth to you, but I do not believe that Joe Frazier at his best would have beaten Joe Walcott on the night that Rocky won the title. And I really wonder if he would have caught up to the still dangerous and mobile Ezzard Charles. Frazier was a great fighter, but he had his faults and was not blessed with a Marciano-type set of whiskers. Steve V.

the Roast says:

Did anyone beside George Foreman drop or stop Smokin Joe?

Radam G says:

Did anyone beside George Foreman drop or stop Smokin Joe?


Only (Rev.) "Big" George stopped him -- twice. Oscar Bonavena knocked him down in the every days of his career. I think the late, great Smoke would have chopped up and stopped the late, greats Rocky Marciano and Jack Dempsey. The Smoke is a top 10 ATG on my list. Holla!

stormcentre says:

On the subject of stopping Smoking Joe (because, even though I have seen it many times before; the "Thriller In Manilla" ran again on free TV and, of course I watched it again).

Has there ever been a more disrespectful and conclusive destruction of a seriously capable and frightening heavyweight as what George did to Joe?

That first uppercut George hit Joe with was thrown with such disrespect and utter carelessness for defence and any counter that may come back; it was clear what Foreman was thinking.

Terribly sad that the truth about Joe/Ali and their last fight, never came out sooner.

And terribly sad that Joe was never able to cash in like Ali was.

It's hard to believe that a name like Joe Frazier - one that was thrown around in many gyms I grew up in as a boxing metaphor for an opponent that was both relentless and as serious as cancer and the shortest life expectancy that can be associated with its diagnosis - could not have been spun, somehow into a decent revenue for Joe.

After all his name, in my view, particularly in boxing, is more recognisable and genuinely inspirational than Everlast, Lonsdale or Grant.

Anyway . . . . back to the "Thriller In Manilla" . . .

Ali's Doctor's comments to the interviewer's question(s) were brilliant . . . "Are you stupid? I can't believe you asked me that question. You better edit that out for your own reputation. Of course Ali was manipulated? When doesn't the power to manipulate people ever gravitate to fame and money?"

Domenic says:

I love how Eddie Futch said to Joe, during his vehement protest of the Manila stoppage, "No one will ever forget what you did here tonight." Powerful, powerful words, and he was right. That's exhibit A of a loss not being a loss at all. I always thought that Joe turned out alright financially (alright vis a vis that era, which predates the cartoonish sums of today). But I couldn't agree more, Joe Frazier is among the gold standard tier with Ali, Louis, Marciano, et al. I still fondly remember my grandfather telling me of seeing Marciano fight numerous times on his way up at the Providence Civic Center in RI (don't think it was named that then, but same building I think). I've never been a big fan of blaming the competition. Guys have to step up, it's incumbent on them, not the champion. It's similar to the Klitschkos. History will treat them kinder than their contemporaries.

It's hard to judge eras against one anther, for obvious reasons. Liston and Foreman, during their prime, are right up there. They just didn't have longevity. Almost like Sandy Koufax in baseball. Utter dominance for a handful of years, but hard to fathom he only won 165 games.

Great article - Thanks for posting.

stormcentre says:

[url]http://espn.go.com/boxing/story/_/id/11452987/a-9-foot-joe-frazier-statue-rising-philadelphia

At last.

brownsugar says:

Its good they are honoring a real boxer instead of a fictitious mover character.

stormcentre says:

Absolutely.

Smoking Joe Frazier is - without doubt - one of the all time greats of boxing and a genuinely nice guy.

Who else would have helped Ali (during those times Ali was unpopular due to his war-draft attitude) like Frazier did?

Frazier gave him money and lobbied for him to get his boxing license back.

Frazier was willing to, and did, go through hell; to make his point.

Forever a champ Joe; in my books.

Glad to see he is finally and immortally honored.

Shame it happened after his passing.

Radam G says:

It is about "The City of Brotherly love" manned up to honor a real-life hero over a fictionist character. Holla!

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