The Original Rocky
The Story of Rocky Marciano
Few conversations are had about Rocky Marciano that aren’t centered-on the fact that he retired as the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World at 49-0. Beyond that, his impact on the boxing scene and in the heavyweight division of the 50’s actually goes much further than just his unblemished record. In fact, several factors set Marciano apart from any other heavyweight before that time, during his reign or ever since.
One, was his story. The kid from Brockton, Mass. was an unlikely champion. Usually weighing-in around 185-190lbs, he was too light to be a heavyweight and too heavy to be a light heavyweight. His arms were “too short,” his legs were too thick and he was oftentimes described as “clumsy.” At just over 5’10”, Marciano wasn’t considered tall enough to be a heavyweight. As far as genetics go, he had everything going against him. Plus, starting a boxing career at twenty-four years old was considered way too late.
From early on in his career, Marciano was also plagued with persistent hand problems and he also battled back problems that peaked during his 19th pro fight against the Pete Louthis. He painfully made it through the ropes, but even stood between rounds to relieve the pressure. After the fight, he was diagnosed with a slipped disc and the doctor recommended surgery that would have him out of commission for a year and could ultimately end his boxing career. Marciano refused and was determined to fight through it.
Then, there was Marciano’s unorthodox style. The fact that he only had 12 amateur fights, meant that his form was still crude and his technique was raw. Oddly enough though, all of this; his size, build, style and determination to succeed at all costs, ultimately, all played-into his mass appeal. Like his predecessors (Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis) who had both gained wide-spread popularity and attention, Marciano outwardly displayed his hunger to win and got right down to business when he entered the ring. There was very little feeling-out but, instead, he went right after his opponent from the opening bell. Marciano once said “Why waltz with a guy for ten rounds, when you can knock him out in one?” It was a philosophy that he not only believed, but carried out in the ring.
In spite of all of these shortcomings, Marciano had determination, heart and power in both hands. He was anxious to win and was constantly looking to improve, which he did, under the tutelage of experienced trainer, Charley Goldman. With Goldman, Marciano learned to turn his weaknesses into strengths. Goldman shortened Marciano's stride, taught him to fight from a lower, crouched position to get more leverage on his punches and helped develop Marciano's devastating left hook. All became part of The Rock’s personae, his individual technique.
In meteoric fashion, Marciano barreled through the heavyweight division, with only four of his thirty-seven victims going the distance. Number thirty-eight would be his boyhood idol and legendary heavyweight, Joe Louis. It was not a fight that Marciano relished or even wanted, but knew that Louis, even an over-the-hill Louis, was his ticket to a shot at the title.
He finally got there on September 23, 1952. Marciano lifted the Heavyweight Championship of the World from Jersey Joe Walcott by way of a knockout in the thirteenth round. It was a memorable fight and, alongside the infamous photo of Muhammad Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston, the next most recognizable photo might be the classic picture of Marciano landing his legendary short right hand, what he called the “Suzi Q”, right on the Walcott’s kisser. Jersey Joe was actually ahead on points on all of the judge’s scorecards and on his way to keeping his title, when Marciano perfectly-timed a cross that put Walcott down and out. Marciano had to have the KO and got it in unlucky round thirteen.
Marciano made such a mark and impression in the short time he held the title that it’s hard to comprehend that he only defended it, over a span of three years, just six times – defeating Jersey Joe Walcott a second time, Roland La Starza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell, and Archie Moore. Then, the Brockton Blockbuster abruptly retired. At only thirty-two years old, Rocky Marciano hung up his gloves.
Marciano’s eagerness to learn quickly, his insistence to not let his numerous injuries slow him down or stall his career, his rush to end fights quickly and even his short reign as actual Heavyweight Champion all seem eerily prophetic now. He had no time to waste. He had no time to lose. He had to fit it all in before August 31, 1969, when the day before his 46th birthday, the small private plane Marciano was riding in crashed in a field just south of Newton, Iowa. Marciano, the pilot and one other passenger all died instantly.
Against the circumstances, against the odds and against 49 opponents, The Rock beat them all. That’s what real champions do. They find a way to win. That, more than a number, will forever be Marciano’s boxing legacy and solidifies him as one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time.