FOUR years ago, a free-swinging guy named Rocky Graziano warmed the hearts of hard-bitten American fight fans as he slugged his way from New York’s East Side to the championship of the world. Although he is still active today, ex-champ Graziano’s exploits are somewhat overwhelmed by those of another guy named Rocky. Biggest name in the fight game today’s Rocky Marciano, undefeated heavyweight from Brockton, Massachusetts, who recently wrote finis to the comeback of ex-champion Joe Louis.
Right now Rocky is sitting pretty, for, when Joe Walcott gets around to defending his heavyweight title, he’ll find a readymade challenger on his doorstep. With the full backing of the International Boxing Club, Marciano looks a safe bet to slug his way right into the championship.
Rocky’s story has its beginning in Brockton, Mass., where he was born on September 1, 1923, the son of a shoemaker who was invalided out of World War I. His square name is Rocco Francis Marchegiano. Eldest of six children, three of whom are girls, Rocky often got into fights while protecting his younger brethren.
TAUGHT IN THE CELLAR
His uncle, determined that young Rocky should be able to handle his fists, hung a punch bag in the cellar and taught the kid the rudiments of boxing. Like most American kids, Rocky loved baseball and football. Although he spent only two years in high school, he made the football team in his freshman year, and, on leaving school, played “semi-pro” football for $10 a game.
Times were hard at home when Rocky left school, and he worked as a dish-washer, shoemaker, truck driver’s mate, in fact any job that was going until at the age of nineteen, he entered the US army in 1943. During his three year’s service, Rocky spent sixteen months bouncing around Europe.
He served with an amphibious unit, transporting supplies across the Channel to Normandy after the invasion. It was the army that really started Rocky Marciano in boxing. In camps around the States, Rocky and his buddies had lots of time to kill, and they used to put on the gloves.
HE TRIED BASEBALL
Demobbed in 1946, Rocky went to work with a road gang, and in his spare time kept up his amateur boxing. He still had a yearning to be a baseball star and even got a trial with the Chicago Cubs, as a catcher. However, a sore arm discouraged him and he concentrated on boxing.
In thirty simon-pure bouts, he was beaten only three times. In the Golden Gloves finals he lost to Coley Wallace. In 1948 Rocky turned pro, having his first fight on July 12. He was crude, but the dynamite packed in his fists enabled him to flatten his first 15 opponents, 9 in the first round.
A stumpy little guy named Charley Goldman was instrumental in bringing Rocky to the notice of Al Weill, manager of three former world champions. When Al was appointed matchmaker for Madison Square Garden he turned Marciano over to his stepson Marty Weill and with Goldman training him, Rocky began to move.
In December, 1949, he made his debut in the Garden, scoring two smashing kayos. Carmine Vingo was belted out in the sixth round of a savage brawl, and was rushed to hospital with a brain concussion and suffering from partial paralysis. After hovering at death’s door, Vingo recovered and boxing breathed again.
Last year, Rocky was given his toughest fight yet when Roland La Staza took him to a split decision, a knockdown clinching the verdict for Marciano. This year, the Brockton Bombshell hit pay dirt with the knockout of Rex Layne.
The young Mormon from Utah had beaten Jersey Joe Walcott and Cesar Brion among other stars, but he couldn’t do a thing against Rocky. Twelve thousand fans were in the Garden to see Marciano blast his way to his 31st kayo in 36 starts. Layne took the count in the sixth round.
The way was clear for the big match of the year, Joe Louis v Marciano. Although he was underdog in the betting, Rocky stormed into the old “Brown Bomber” [below] as if he owned him and after flooring Joe in the eighth heat turned loose a vicious onslaught which blasted Louis right out of the Garden ring leaving Rocky the winner. A new star had arrived – with a bang!
Originally printed in Boxing News on November 14, 1951