DON COCKELL may have failed to win the world’s heavyweight title but he won the respect of the 18,000 fans gathered in the Kezar Stadium (San Francisco) plus the American TV millions last Monday night (May 16, 1955), and the heartfelt admiration of the multitude of British fans who broke their sleep to listen in to the broadcast commentary.
The British champion was well licked in nine rounds, but he put up a game and courageous display that will go down in ring history.
There is no blinking the fact that Rocky Marciano is a great and worthy champion of the world. He beat our man by sheer weight of punching power and bull-dozing aggression. He accepted the best and hardest blows that Cockell could throw at him and never ceased to come forward and toss his mighty punches.
Those who imagined that the fight would be a fiasco; that Don would be bludgeoned into unconsciousness in a round or so, have had to eat there words.
As it happened Rocky did not even get the satisfaction of scoring a knockout. He had the challenger down at the end of the eighth and floored him twice early in the ninth. But Don was still on his feet when the referee called a halt.
True, he would not have lasted much longer. But he was prepared to fight on to the bitter end. Don gave a thrilling exhibition of true British pluck and although defeated, was certainly not disgraced.
Cockell won the first two rounds with his better boxing, but there was not sufficient weight behind his blows to check the iron-muscled Marciano.
Rocky came in, fists flying with follow-through smashes from wrists, forearms, elbows and shoulders. He crashed his way through the Britisher’s defence and although Don rode dozens of punches in every round, he could not avoid them all.
As expected our man made the champion miss badly at times, but failure to hit the target neither worries nor inconveniences Marciano.
As one mighty blow sweeps the empty air, he is sending one from the other arm on its way. They call it combination punching in America, but Cockell must have wondered if he was fighting a belligerent octopus.
It seemed that Don’s plan was to use a left jab and ride Rocky’s counters. He did this successfully in the first two rounds, but Marciano stepped up the pace to such an extent that Cockell was forced to stand toe-to-toe and swap punches.
This may have been mistaken tactics, but they were unavoidable. The world’s champion wasn’t prepared to make a boxing match of it. He was in there to knock his rival out of the fight in the shortest possible time.
Against this roughneck slugging, scientific boxing was swept aside. Don is not the type to do any back-pedalling. He gave ground when forced to do so, but preferred to stand firm and swap punches.
This was almost akin to fistic suicide, but Cockell is renowned for his dour British fighting spirit and, rather than run away, took a chance with his more powerful hitting opponent.
For a time he held his own, but no matter how or where he hit the champion he could not hurt him. On the other hand, Rocky’s sledgehammer blows began to take noticeable effect after four rounds, especially those to the body, some of which were doubtful.
At the first sign of weariness, Marciano became even more ferocious and Cockell must have been in superb shape to have kept his feet under such a murderous battering.
He endured severe punishment in the fifth but came back fighting in the next and caused a great roar to go up as he crossed the champion with a magnificent right to the chin.
For a second Rocky was pulled up in his stride, but only for a second. Then the avalanche swept forward again and Cockell had to fight back with all the force at his command to prevent himself form being submerged.
That was almost the finish of Don’s gallant resistance. In the seventh and eighth his defences were down and he was cruelly battered about the head and body.
By the end of the eighth Don was all-in and if he had not come up for the ninth no one would have blamed him. But Cockell is not the retiring sort.
He knew that thousands of his followers were eagerly following the battle; that they expect him to do or die. He had already forbidden his manager to throw in the towel and, as the bell sounded to start the ninth, strode forth to meet his down.
Marciano was on him in a flash and although Cockell tried pluckily to fight him off he had nothing left to offer. Down for “seven” he pulled himself off the canvas, only to go crashing down again as the champion tagged him hard to the chin.
This time Don was up too soon, but was obviously all at sea and after he had taken two further mighty blows, the referee mercifully put an end to what was becoming a slaughter .The round had only lasted 54 seconds.
Don was led to his corner amidst a terrific storm of cheering and Marciano had kept his title and remains unbeaten. Rocky has now successfully defended his crown on five occasions and looks like keeping it for a long while to come.
After the contest both men spoke into the microphone. Cockell was downcast at having been stopped inside the distance, while Marciano was very gracious and congratulated his opponent on the stiff fight he had put up.
Said Rocky: “England should be proud. He’s a great boy and very much under-rated. I hit him something awful”