Inspirational Athletes

Rocky Marciano

Physically, Rocky Marciano did not seem like the prototype for a great heavyweight fighter. At five foot ten inches in height, with a reach of 68 inches, and weighing in at about 185 pounds, he barely even looked like he belonged in the heavyweight division.

As for his fighting style, there was nothing about it that would immediately make him seem like an elite fighter. Though he was not sloppy, he also was not what many would consider a polished and masterful boxer--in fact, he fought more like a scientific or refined version of a barroom-brawler.

And from a conventional perspective of athleticism, Rocky did not have many attributes of a great athlete, other than his exceptional overall strength.

Yes, taking a superficial look at him, Rocky Marciano did not really look the part of a dominant heavyweight. However, in the ring, over the duration of the fight, it was very apparent that he was an almost supernatural fighter; and that though his opponents might be able to outbox him over spurts of a fight, he would eventually give them the beating of a lifetime.

For, although Rocky Marciano was a somewhat small and somewhat crude-styled heavyweight fighter, he also was perhaps unparalleled when it came to toughness, determination, dedication, conditioning, heart, strength of will, and sheer brutality--plus, he also packed a punch that could knock virtually any fighter out with just one shot.

And so, though he might have seemed like a very beatable fighter, it soon became clear that, after taking everything into account, Rocky Marciano seemed almost unbeatable.

And if his professional record is any indication, he very well might have been unbeatable. In 49 professional fights, he went a perfect 49-0, registering 43 wins by knockout, and retiring at age 32 in 1955 as the undefeated undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. To this day, he remains the only heavyweight champion in history to retire without any professional losses on his record.

But the numbers don’t fully express what Rocky Marciano was about--49-0 (43 KO) can tell us a great deal, but by no means can truly sum up all that he was.

Rocky Marciano was born in 1923 in Brockton Massachusetts. The child of Italian immigrants, he spent much of his earlier years avidly playing a variety of sports, including football and baseball during high school. He later dropped out of high school and worked a variety of jobs.

At age twenty, Rocky joined the army, and during his brief service, he became involved in amateur boxing.

In 1947, Rocky turned pro and won his first fight by knockout, while fighting under an alias in order to retain his amateur status. He still continued pursuing a career as a professional baseball player, but later that year he was cut from a minor league team, and decided to pursue boxing full time. After fighting as an amateur for another year, he officially turned pro in 1948.

Armed with a powerful right hand punch and an aggressive attacking style, Rocky went 11-0 as a pro in 1948, winning all his fights by knockout, and eight in the first round.

He soon teamed up with trainer Charley Goldman, who advised Rocky to fight out of a crouch stance--a crouch that was further developed to a deep knee squat as Rocky’s career progressed. This crouching style made Rocky--who was already somewhat short for a heavyweight--fight from a low position, and then come up and nail his opponents with explosive shots.

By October of 1951, Rocky had compiled an outstanding 37-0 record, and was set to take on the legendary Joe Louis--a former heavyweight champion who, at age 37, was in the midst of an impressive comeback, and was on an eight fight win streak over a one year span.

It was an intriguing match-up: the up and coming contender Rocky Marciano, taking on the regressed but still effective living legend Joe Louis, a fighter who was not only beloved by most of the world, but was also one of Rocky’s own boyhood heroes.

Louis entered the ring a slight favorite*, and the early goings of the fight were competitive, though Rocky seemed to have the upper hand. Then in round eight, Rocky knocked down Louis with a left hook. Louis managed to get up, but later in the round, Rocky landed a powerful short right to the jaw, knocking Louis right through the ropes.

Louis would not be able to beat the count this time. Rocky had managed to knockout the former champion in impressive fashion--though it was a bittersweet win for Rocky, who actually cried afterwards when he visited his fallen hero Louis in the locker room.

After his win over Louis, Rocky won four more fights by knockout, and took on champion Jersey Joe Walcott for the world heavyweight title.

Forty seconds into the very first round of the match, the slick boxing veteran Walcott landed a left hook that sent Rocky to the canvas for the first time in his 43-0 pro career. Rocky got up at the count of five, bloodied and shaken up, and continued.

As the fight went on, Walcott generally had the upper hand as he boxed and counterpunched, while Rocky managed to get in a few good flurries when he cornered the champion against the ropes.

Then in rounds 11 and 12, Walcott, slightly ahead on the cards at the time, switched from counter-puncher to aggressor, and took over as he punished the challenger with several major shots.

As that round ended, it seemed as if Rocky’s bid for the title was near-hopeless. Now clearly behind on the scorecards with three rounds left, and having just taken a beating for the preceding two rounds, the young challenger seemed to be running out of options against his experienced opponent.

Then in round 13, the 38-year old champion Walcott seemed tired as he returned to his counter-puncher role and went back towards the ropes, while Rocky fought from his crouch and stalked his opponent.

Suddenly, thirty seconds into the round, Rocky landed a devastating short right to Walcott’s jaw, sending the champ down and out, with his head tilting down and his left arm hanging over the rope as the referee reached the count of ten.

The fight was over!

It was an incredibly brutal end to a brutal bout, and Rocky Marciano was now the new heavyweight champion of the world.

Eight months later, Rocky successfully defended his title in a rematch versus Walcott, this time winning by first round knockout, and sending Walcott into retirement from the sport.

In his next fight, Rocky defended his crown against top-rated contender Roland LaStarza in an exciting and competitive match that ended in round eleven, after a Rocky punch sent LaStarza right through the ropes.

In Rocky’s third defense, he took on highly skilled ex-champion Ezzard Charles. In a fight with numerous thrilling and vicious exchanges between the two fighters, Rocky was able to win a unanimous decision over the game challenger, after pulling away with most of the later rounds.

A much-anticipated rematch took place between the two fighters just three months later. In the early goings of that fight, Rocky built a solid lead, and seemed headed towards adding another notch in the W column of his flawless 46-0 record. However, in the sixth round, a Charles left hook severely cut the middle of Rocky’s left nostril; and in the seventh round, Charles added another severe cut near Rocky’s left brow.

With blood gushing out of both cuts, and in danger of having the referee stop the fight, Rocky unleashed a brutal attack in round eight, and dramatically knocked the challenger out.

After knocking out challenger Don Cockell in his next defense, Rocky took on veteran light heavyweight Archie Moore. Moore, a legend in the sport who came into the fight with a record of 148-19-9 over a twenty-year career (and even went 38-3-2 after his fight with Rocky), was one of the best yet most avoided fighters in the sport’s history, and was still a formidable opponent even at his advanced age of 41, now facing the biggest opportunity of his lifetime after making a full fledged campaign demanding the title shot.

In the fight that ensued, the cagey Moore, also known as “The Old Mongoose,” managed to floor Rocky in the second round. Rocky, however, managed to score five knockdowns himself en route to a KO stoppage of the challenger in the ninth round of their battle.

The Moore fight would turn out to be Rocky’s final bout, as he announced his retirement from the sport several months later at age 32.

Tragically, in 1969, one day before his 46th birthday, Rocky was killed when a small plane he and two others were flying in crashed in an Iowa cornfield.

At the funeral service, his hero and former opponent Louis said, “Something’s gone out of my life. I’m not alone; something’s gone out of everyone’s life.”

Inspirational Athletes