THE RUTHLESS ROCK WAS SO GENTLE
The film was three-dimensional, which showed every detail in great clarity of the massacre that started after Jersey Joe Walcott had dropped his challenger for a count in round one and went on until the veteran was put down for the full count in round 13.
Don Cockell was sitting beside me and when the lights went up I asked him what he thought. At that time there wasn’t a thought in his mind that he might one day meet Marciano, but he confirmed the thoughts in my mind when he said:
“Blimey, he gets away with murder.”
Undoubtedly Rocky was one of the roughest, if not the toughest, heavyweight champion of all time. When he surged into action and closed up on an opponent, everything went in and a referee found it difficult to follow the rapid flow of punches that Marciano tossed from both fists and from all angles.
Not a precise hitter, Rocky beat his rivals down by sheer clubbing and persistent aggression. Of his 49 professional bouts only six went the scheduled course, full testimony to his relentless belligerency and the bludgeoning power behind his whirling fists.
He defended his title six times, but only one challenger, Ezzard Charles, stayed the full fifteen rounds and Rocky blasted him out in eight when they had a return fight three months later. His return title bout with Jersey Joe Walcott lasted only 2 min. 25 secs., including the count.
Yet despite being a terror in the ring, Rocky was the mildest man in the world in everyday life. When he visited London last year, he made friends wherever he went, being softly spoken, reserved, almost shy, yet carrying a sense of humour. At the National Sporting Club one Monday evening he received a standing ovation and when being called upon to make a speech, excused his lack of words and offered to give an exhibition with any member who cared to climb into the ring.
Real name Rocco Francis Marchegiano, he was born in Brockton in Massachusetts on September 1, 1923. Apart from bare-fist street scrapping and later as a member of a boys’ club, he did not consider the ring as a means of livelihood until he came to England with the American forces during the war.
Stationed in Cardiff, he got into an argument with an Australian soldier, considerably taller and heavier than him himself, who pushed a big fist into Rocky’s face and sent him staggering. Back came Marciano with such a torrent of blows that his opponent caved in and Rocky had started his fistic career.
His friends, marvelling at the way he had obliterated his opponent, insisted that he entered the Army championships and in due course he went through all the service opposition without defeat.
Back home in Brockton, a local admirer, Gene Caggiano, launched him on a professional career and after scoring 22 wins, nine in the first round, the majority at providence on Rhode Island, wanted desperately to get into the big time and wrote a letter to Al Weill, matchmaker at Madison Square Garden.
Weill was suspicious of anyone he hadn’t seen. He sent rocky a one-way ticket, looked him over, thought he was too small and too gentle, but sent him to Lou Stillman’s gym for a work-out.
He wasn’t impressed, Marciano took too much punishment. But his retaliation was swift and destructive and Weill put him in the hands of a veteran trainer, Charley Goodman, who did his utmost to round off Rocky’s rough edges and transform him into an accomplished fighter.
Goodman never wholly succeeded, but Rocky was both eager and ambitious and went on his winning way until he had moved in among the leading contenders.
Most were inside-the-distance wins, although Roland La Starza took him to a disputed ten rounds decision. In his 39th fight they put him in with Joe Louis, who was making a comeback, and he stopped the old Brown Bomber in eight rounds.
He was now defiantly on the road to a title fight and Weill retired from his matchmaking job and became Rocky’s full-time manager.
One by one the main contenders began to fall before his flying fists. Lee Savold, who had slaughtered Bruce Woodcock, lasted six rounds; Harry Matthews, upstanding box-fighter schooled by Jack Hurley, went out in two.
This had been regarded as a final eliminator and on September 23, 1952 Rocky Achieved his heart’s desire and became world champion. Eight months later there was the return one-round fight, then La Starza, who secured a title shot on the strength of his close bout with Marciano, was beaten into a hospital case in eleven rounds.
There was two title defences against Ezzard Charles, former heavyweight champ, in 1954, the first going the full distance [below] and the second ending in round eight. In this fight Rocky received a badly cut nose that took a long time to heal, but in May 1955 he was ready to face Don Cockell in San Francisco.
It was 2 ½ years since our champion had seen Rocky on Celluloid and he was to find that Marciano could still “get away with murder.” It says much for the stocky, plucky Don that he stood up to the best the champion could dish out for nine rounds before the referee called a halt.
There was only one more title defence to come, with Ancient Archie Moore, striving desperately to win after flooring the champion but taking the full count in round 9.
That cleared away all opposition and on April 27, 1956, Rocky astounded the fistic world by announcing his retirement. What’s more, he meant it.
There were many occasions since when his return to the ring was prophesied, but Marciano stuck to guns and despite being offered astronomical purses to meet those who succeeded him, he would not be tempted.
In this he set up a record in being the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated, not only as champion, but in the whole of his professional career. 49 bouts, 49 wins – a truly great performance.
Gene Tunney retired while still world heavyweight champion, but there was one points decision he lost to Harry Greb earlier in his career. Joe Louis and Jim Jeffries, both retired undefeated as titleholders but each made fatal comebacks. Only Rocky has an unblemished record.
His death, on the eve of his 46th birthday, comes as a great shock to everyone in the Fight Game who knew this pleasant, genial and accomplished man. Since retirement he has been engaged in big business, yet always found time to appear at charity shows and give his services in aid of youth clubs and the like.
It is the boxing tragedy of nearly a quarter of a century.
MARCIANO KILLED IN PLANE CRASH
Most Popular World Champ Since Dempsey by LARRY FRUHLING
ROCKY MARCIANO, former world heavyweight champion who retired from the ring undefeated, died instantly on Sunday night in a light plane crash in Central Iowa.
Marciano, who would have been 46 the following day, and two other men were killed when their single-engine Cessna 172 lost power, struck a tree and crashed into a pasture.
The other victims were identified as Frank Garrell, 28, and Glen Beltz, 37, both of Des Moines, Iowa. Beltz was the pilot.
Jasper county sheriff Darrell Hurley said Garrell and Beltz had flown to Chicago to pick up Marciano for a speaking engagement in Des Moines.
Marciano’s body was trapped in the wreckage of the plane. The bodies of the other two were thrown clear.
“The only thing we can find out so far was that the engine went out and they went down,” said Hurley. The Federal Aviation Administration started an inquiry.
The crash occurred about 1 ½ miles (2.4 kms) from the new Municipal airport in this community 25 miles (40 kms) east of Des Moines.
Part of the wreckage ended up about 200 feet (61 Meters) from a small farm pond. One wing was ripped loose and came to rest 200 feet from the wreckage fuselage. The engine was 20 feet (six Meters) from the main wreckage.
Marciano was a native of Brockton, Massachusetts, A Boston suburb.
One of the most popular boxers since Jack Dempsey ruled as heavyweight king, Marciano compiled a perfect record of 49 victories – 43 of them inside the distance – before retiring as undefeated heavyweight champ on April 27, 1956.
CASSIUS CLAY, deposed heavyweight champion, expressed admiration for rocky “as a nice, humble gentleman.”
“I got to know him while we were filming a computer fight not long ago,” Clay said. “He was so great and so popular, and yet he never showed conceit. He was always so down to earth.”
It’s a tragedy. He was a proper gentleman. Boxing can ill afford to lose men like him – HENRY COOPER, European and empire heavyweight champion.
Rocky’s death was the saddest news I’ve ever heard. Rocky just had a good heart. He put everything he had into his boxing. – JOE LOUIS, Former world heavyweight champion.