AT first glance there’s nothing immediately conspicuous about the date April 27, 1956. President Dwight Eisenhower sat in the White House. A four hundred foot rampaging reptile monster called Godzilla was unleashed and played to packed movie theatres. Elvis Presley topped the music charts with Heartbreak Hotel, his first million selling record as the Rock and Roll dance craze swept the nation. Sex symbol Brigitte Bardot took centre stage at the Cannes film festival as the paparazzi shot pictures of her frolicking on a beach with a parrot. Meanwhile, at a press conference held at the Hotel Shelton in New York City Rocky Marciano, world heavyweight boxing champion announced that at 32, he was hanging up his gloves to spend more time with his family.
Sixty-one years on is Marciano an enduring legend or a faded hero who belongs to a misty-eyed bygone age? His retirement brought the curtain down on the last great heavyweight from the Golden Age of Boxing. With his fighting reputation intact Marciano’s 49 victories in 49 contests and 43 knockouts is still the yardstick by which future heavyweight champions are judged. We look back at how Marciano became the undisputed heavyweight king.
Rocco Francesco Marchegiano was born in Brockton, Massachusetts on September 1, 1923, the eldest of six children. For Marciano, the son of a shoe factory worker, life was a continuous fight. Afflicted by pneumonia as a child he was given little chance of survival. He waged a tireless battle against excruciating back pains. He quit school at sixteen to work in a succession of dead-end jobs; firstly as a truckloader followed by stints in a sweet factory and shoe-shining parlour and then as a gas company pick-and-shovel labourer. Life looked bleak. In 1943 he was drafted into the United States Army, and on his return his dream of becoming a baseball player vanished following an unsuccessful trial with the Chicago Cubs.