By David Martinez / Boxing Historian / dmboxing.com
Rocky Marciano had forty-nine professional fights as a heavyweight with 49 wins, No Losses and No Draws. He never lost a professional fight and that is something many have tried to emulate without success.
Born Rocco Francis Marchegiano on September 1, 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts, he was the eldest of six children whose parents were poor Italian immigrants. In 1943, during World War II, he was drafted into the US Army. He served overseas and was stationed in Wales with a Combat Engineer outfit. It was while finishing out his time in the service, at Ft. Lewis, Washington, that he started boxing and began to compile a winning record. Upon discharge, he returned home and began earning a living as a factory worker.
Although he was successful as an amateur boxer, Rocky’s first love was baseball and he had dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. He was known as a standout catcher on the baseball fields of Brockton and was good enough to earn a tryout with the Chicago Cubs organization. Fortunately for boxing … the Cubs didn’t feel he was major league caliber and sent him packing. It was then that he returned to boxing with a vengeance!
Rumor has it, “Rocky Marciano” was born one night when a ring announcer couldn’t pronounce Rocco Marchegiano! A quick change and the name stuck! Rechristened Rocky Marciano, he made his pro debut on March 17, 1947 and went undefeated in his first thirty-five fights scoring 31 of those wins by KO. Along the way he beat two up and coming big names in the heavyweight division, Roland LaStarza who had 37 Wins, No Losses and No Draws, until he stepped into the ring with Rocky and Rex Layne who had 34 Wins against only 1 Loss and 2 Draws.
In 1951, Rocky would fight the aging, and past his prime, former heavyweight champion, Joe Louis (66 Wins -2 Losses). The result was an eighth round knockout of Louis, which ended the career of a great champion. Joe Louis retired after the fight.
Eleven months after the Louis fight, and with four more knockout wins added to his resume, the stage was set for a match with Jersey Joe Walcott for the heavyweight championship. The fight took place in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952.
In the opening round of a scheduled 15 round title fight, Walcott dropped the undefeated challenger with a beautifully timed short left hook. Stunned, as many in the crowd were, Marciano recovered and remorselessly battered the champion. Going into the 13th round, Rocky was behind on all three scorecards (7-5, 7-4-1, 8-4). It was then, in the blink of an eye, Rocky knocked out Walcott with perhaps one of the greatest single right hand punches ever thrown. So devastating, that I rank it as the single best knockout in a heavyweight title fight.
The following year proved to be a big one in Rocky’s career. He made two title defenses and old scores were settled. On May 15, 1953 Walcott was given a rematch. It took place at the Chicago Stadium and as was the case in their first fight, a knock down occurred in the opening round. But this time it was Marciano who landed the punch. He knocked out Walcott in the first round! Four months later on September 24th he knocked out Roland LaStarza in their highly anticipated rematch.
Over the next two and a half years Marciano defended his title six times. The only man to go the distance with him was Ezzard Charles in June of 1954. He would knockout Charles in their rematch on September 17,1954. Don Cockell would be his next knockout win, in 9 rounds, on May 16, 1955.
The final fight of Rocky’s career took place four months later against Archie Moore. It was held in New York’s Yankee Stadium, on September 21, 1955. Moore had the distinction of dropping Marciano in the second round, but he would get up off the canvas and finish Moore off by knocking him out in round nine.
On April 27, 1956, Marciano officially retired as undefeated Heavyweight Champion of The World. His impressive professional ring record of 49 wins with No Losses, No Draws, and 43 wins by knockout computes to a knockout-to-win percentage of 87.76%. To put this in perspective, that rates higher than the KO percentages of Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko or Evander Holyfield and still ranks today as one of the highest in heavyweight history.
Once retired, Marciano stayed retired, and was satisfied with his professional career and the four million dollars in earnings he amassed as a prize fighter.
Marciano was a mild mannered, gentle man, by contrast to what he was in the ring – a durable, devastating force of stamina and pure perseverance. He was short, just five feet eleven inches in height and had a reach of only 68 inches, to this day the shortest of any heavyweight champion. But he made up for any physical shortcomings by processing a tremendous will to win. He could also take the heavy blows of others and deliver devastating punches in return. One of Rocky’s greatest assets was that he could take the punches. His other great asset was his physical conditioning; he always trained rigorously and never took an opponent for granted.
Marciano was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1959, World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Ring magazine founder and boxing historian Nat Fleischer rated Marciano the #10 greatest heavyweight of all time, Bert Sugar rated Marciano #19 on his list of the greatest boxers of all time and BoxRec rates him at #5 greatest heavyweight of all time. I rank Marciano as the #5 greatest heavyweight and the #21 greatest boxer of all time.
On August 31, 1969, the eve of his 46th birthday, Rocky Marciano was killed in a plane crash in Newton, Iowa, en-route from Chicago to a personal appearance in Des Moines, Iowa.