WHEN Rocky Marciano made his retirement from boxing official, it was a time of mob rule, a time of confusion, blood, lies and invented history in the boxing business. Marciano was not running from anybody, there was not a great unbeatable ogre on the heavyweight horizon or fighting at the time; Marciano had beaten the best available during his years as champion. He just left on his terms. And, he left behind a mess.
When Marciano fought for the last time in September of 1955, stopping Archie Moore, there was not a natural successor. In that fight, watched by a crowd of 61, 574 at Yankee Stadium in New York, Marciano dropped Moore five times, but he was also dropped in the second. He was hurt, gone, to tell the truth. And then he bashed Moore, leaving the veteran slumped in the ninth.
Moore had earned the right to fight Rocky by beating the big Cuban, Nino Valdes, who stood 6ft 3ins and weighed about 15 stone. Now, I like Nino, he could fight, but in May of 1955 he lost an eliminator over 15 rounds to Moore. It was the ninth loss of the Cuban’s career. How did Marciano avoid him? Marciano was world champion from 1952 until 1956 and in that time, Valdes lost ten times.
The Moore win over Valdes in Las Vegas was also recognised by Nevada as the heavyweight championship of the world, by the way. Liberace was ringside, introduced to the crowd at the dusty, outdoor venue; it was a hard 15-rounds, often in the sun and never easy. Valdes ended in tears, Moore, in his 175th fight, just moved on. He actually squeezed in a world light-heavyweight defence before his September fight with Marciano.
If Moore was ancient in the Marciano fight, he was also ancient when he beat Valdes, who was 30. Valdes then lost over 10 rounds to Bob Satterfield, a long, long-time contender. Satterfield had lost 19 of his 60 fights at that point. Satterfield was hard, tricky, for sure. And, Satterfield had been chinned in three by Rex Layne in 1951, but he had stopped Cleveland Big Cat Williams in 1954; Williams is another fighter Rocky is accused of avoiding. When Marciano retired, Williams was beating guys with poor, poor records; Patterson as champion ignored him; Liston, during Patterson’s reign, ruined Williams twice.
The only unbeaten, potentially dangerous man at the time of Marciano’s last fight was Eddie Machen, the kid in the heavyweight crew. He stood about six-feet tall and by the time Rocky officially quit in April of 1956, he had won 12, 10 quick. But, when Marciano last fought, Machen had only boxed eight times and five of those finished in the first round. Machen did beat Valdes twice in 1956, once by stoppage, and he stayed unbeaten until 1958 when he was knocked out by Ingemar Johansson in one round in Sweden. Machen also avoided the men that Marciano has been accused of avoiding. He took the Johansson job because he thought it would be an easy excursion and payday. I love Floyd Patterson, but Eddie deserved a crack at the heavyweight title by about 1957, he really did.
Sonny Liston had lost once in just nine fights by the time Marciano retired, but he was also 11 months into an exile of his own; Liston fought in March of 1955 and next fought in January, 1958; Liston was ignored by Floyd Patterson, who was the champion from 1956. Liston ruined Cleveland Williams, Roy Harris, Valdes, beat Machen over 12, did Zora Folley in fights in 1959 and 1960. I’m not sure any heavyweight has ever been overlooked so disgracefully as Liston at that time. That’s official, not open to debate in a barber shop. But Rocky never ignored him.
So, there is also Tommy Jackson, Jimmy Slade and Folley. Good fighters, troubled fighters, men with odd records, savage losses, but still a danger to Marciano.
In 1954, Jackson was knocked out in two rounds by Valdes, but he did beat Ezzard Charles twice in 1955 on points; Marciano had twice beaten Charles in 1954 in world title fights. Jackson also won and lost to Slade, and in June of 1956 lost a split over 12 rounds to Patterson in a world title eliminator. In 1957, Jackson lost a world title fight to Patterson.
Slade was a good fighter, a man who finished his career with 38 wins from 67 fights and a reputation as a danger when he fancied it. He won and lost against Jackson, was stopped by Patterson in late December 1955, a time when Rocky knew he would not fight again. Slade also beat Don Cockell and then lost to Moore. Slade, with Satterfield, is the type of danger man we miss now in our candy-store of a heavyweight division.
Folley had lost twice in 25 fights when Marciano officially retired. He had beaten some quality danger men and journeymen, but had not met at that point any of the real names, the contenders: Satterfield, Patterson, Jackson, Slade, Valdes, Machen or Liston. It’s harsh, but true – Marciano never avoided Folley.
So, that leaves Floyd Patterson and his management. Patterson was just 20 when Marciano had his last fight and had fought 24 times, losing just once; in 1954 he had been given a boxing lesson by light-heavyweight Joey Maxim over eight rounds, but he did have an odd win on points over Slade in 1954. He was just 21 when he beat Moore for the world heavyweight title in November, 1956. He was not ready for Marciano in 1955 or early 1956.
In fights, Marciano was cut, dropped, losing, but he could take a man out cleanly with just one punch. Bang, blood all over and fight done. He was crude, his management were rude. He was not cuddly, never. He was the betting underdog when he ruined Joe Louis and that is forgotten. He was the underdog against Rex Layne in 1951 and Layne, a Mormon farm boy, had good wins; Rocky removed Layne’s teeth in round six to finish the fight at the Garden in New York. In July of 1951, Walcott knocked out Ezzard Charles to win the heavyweight world title – Layne had beaten Walcott eight months earlier.
It’s too easy to dismiss Rocky; he was too short, he only met hand-picked opponents, he was mob-controlled, he only met old men, he was tight with a dollar and difficult to deal with. Sure, there is truth there. However, a closer look reveals that he took care of business like a beast in the ring. It might be time for a bit of Rocky love.