Rocky Marciano was a highly popular American professional boxer who went on to become world heavyweight champion, and who remains known for his unrivaled 49-fight winning streak. Our recent post on boxing champions shows that defending the title is not an easy thing to do, but Marciano managed to keep his six times before he retired in 1956.
There are many boxing legends that young fighters can get inspiration from, but Rocky Marciano is usually at the top of the list. He was born in 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts, and after he went professional in 1948, he won his first 16 fights.
Rocky Marciano’s early years
Given that things were not easy during those days, Marciano had a rather tough life in his early years. His father worked at a shoe factory and money was rather scarce, which is why the fighter would spend many years afterward, making sure that his mother would not live in poverty like he did as a child.
During his early years, Marciano did a wide range of jobs to help his family, from being a worker in a shoe factory and a candy factory, to dishwashing and gardening. He also played football and baseball, dreaming of having a professional career in sports.
The tough neighborhood also turned him into a person who would get into fights, especially when he felt that he had been insulted. However, it was not until 1943 that he took up boxing, and this only happened because he joined the army and it worked to avoid the kitchen police.
Even though this was not his original plan, Marciano showed a lot of talent and, following his discharge, he kept on fighting as an amateur, throughout 1946. Given his strength and abilities, he managed to win 27 out of the 30 fights he was in. While Marciano was boxing, he was still trying to pursue his dream of becoming a baseball player, and a chance was offered to him in 1947.
It was then that he was offered an opportunity to try out as a catcher for the Chicago Cubs. However, he didn’t make it, because he couldn’t properly and accurately throw all the way from home plate to second base. This was because in the army he received an arm injury, so this also meant that his dreams of becoming a baseball player were over.
In the following year after the baseball tryouts, he went back to the boxing ring and turned professional. Then, by 1949, he started receiving a lot of attention given that he had knocked out his first 16 opponents and that he showed excellent skills. Even though he fought other fighters that were not necessarily up to his level, he did learn a lot about competitions and became known.
The level of his opponents improved during 1949 and 1950, and he also continued to win all of his fights, usually by knockout. Many people in boxing were pretty sure Marciano was never going to make it big. He was too short, too light, and almost 25 years old, which by some standards also meant he was too old.
As Goody Petronelli once said about Marciano, he was tough, but he was not refined. People in his town were highly supportive, on the other hand, following Marciano in nearby cities when he fought and cheering him on, which definitely helped during that period.
Marciano was also known for his trademark fighting technique which he learned from Charley Goldman, the trainer he worked with. This technique would be the one to serve him very well as champion. Because the fighter was shorter than the usual boxer, which meant many of his opponents were taller, his arms had a shorter reach as well.
Goldman was the one to teach Marciano how to use this fact to his advantage, by bending his knees to make himself even shorter. This meant that his opponents had fewer targets that they could attack on his body. Plus, he had to learn how to throw punches from that position, coming straight up with amazing power.
Thanks to this technique, what otherwise seemed to be a physical disadvantage was turned around, allowing Marciano to become one of the best boxers in the sport’s history.
Fighting Joe Louis & winning the title
By 1951, Marciano had managed to make a name for himself in the boxing world, holding an impressive record of 37 wins, out of which 32 were by knockout. On October 26 of that year, he met his most challenging opponent, namely Joe Louis, the famous former heavyweight champion.
Louis was not in his prime anymore, which allowed a top-shape Marciano to secure his victory in the eighth round by knocking him out. However, Louis was a hero for Marciano, so the young fighter had extremely mixed feelings about the fight and even cried in Louis’ dressing room once the fight was over.
On the other hand, this was a match that established Marciano as a famous fighter in his division, and which also ensured a chance to fight for the title only 5 fights afterward. In September 1952, Marciano challenged Jersey Joe Walcott for the world heavyweight title in a fight that took place in Philadelphia.
The win was a representative one for the short but tough fighter, as Marciano struggled all night and remained behind on points. However, he did not give up and, finally, managed to throw a final, short, overhand right in the thirteenth round which landed on Walcott’s jaw knocking him out. It was this move that secured Marciano’s championship belt.
Marciano had to defend his title six times, and some of those matches are considered to be classics by passionate boxing fans and experts. The rematch with Walcot in 1953 was won by knockout in the first round, and challenger Roland La Starza was defeated later that year.
The 1954 fight with Ezzard Charles was a challenging one, as Marciano had such a serious nosebleed that his cornermen were unable to stop it. Even though the ring doctor considered stopping the fight, Marciano managed to make a comeback and, in the eighth round, knocked out Charles.
In 1955 he had to defend his title against challenger Don Cockell, and he also did that winning by knockout. It was later revealed that he was pressured to throw the fight by organized crime. Later that year, in September, Marciano had his last fight defending his title against Archie Moore.
The fight took place in Yankee Stadium, and he knocked out his opponent in the ninth round. This was a highly watched boxing match, as over 400,000 American viewers were registered only on closed-circuit television.
Retiring from boxing
In April 1956, when he was aged 31, Marciano decided to retire from boxing. He thought that trying to make a comeback is a mistake, and that he wanted to enjoy his time with his family. Rumors had it then that he was upset as well because he had to pay a lot of money to his manager who took half of what he was earning.
After he stopped fighting in matches, he made a lot of personal appearances which earned him money. He was known for being very careful with money and not overspending, as he preferred getting rides from other friends who had private planes. Even though he could be offered paid transportation for his personal appearances, he was not one to spend more than necessary.
Unfortunately, his life came to an abrupt end on August 31, 1969, which was only a day before his 46th birthday, when the private plane he was on crashed near Des Moines, Iowa. His wife Barbara and two children, Mary Anne and Rocco Kevin, survived him. Barbara went on to live another five years before she died of lung cancer.
Marciano’s legacy is not one that involves speed, skill, or power, as he was never among the top boxers when it comes to these. However, his grit is what makes him an inspiration, and the ability to turn disadvantages to his favor and develop his own skills and techniques.
As one sportswriter once commented, if all the heavyweight champions would be locked in the same room, Marciano would be the one to make it out, which says a lot about his skills and what made him a highly popular boxing figure.