Thundering fists, bloodied gloves, sweltering heat and a chant that would build and erupt: rocky, Rocky, ROCKY!
Marciano was relentless, undisciplined and tougher than a coffin nail when he faced off and unloaded on fighters through the 1940s and 50s in smokey and tightly-packed arenas.
Joe Louis (who went 66-3) once wrote that Marciano was the fiercest puncher he ever faced. In light of Louis’s opponents, that would mean Rocky swung harder than Max Baer, Primo Carnera, Max Schmeling and Jimmy Braddock.
He’s considered one of the best boxers of all time, and he earned his 49-0 mark with raw intensity, rainmaker hooks and spring-loaded uppercuts.
Boxing experts say the right-handed heavyweight could punch as hard as Mike Tyson, and with 43 knockouts under his belt, it sounds about right. Here he is, laying out Louis:
“Suzie Q” gives Walcott the hard goodbye
Rocky won his first 16 bouts by knockout, all before the fifth round and nine before the first round was over. Don Mogard (17–9–1) became the first boxer to go the distance with the “The Rock from Brockton,” but Marciano won by unanimous decision.
Early in his career, he changed the spelling of his last name. The ring announcer in Providence, Rhode Island couldn’t pronounce Marchegiano, so Marciano’s handler, Al Weill, suggested they create a pseudonym. The first suggestion was Rocky Mack, which the champ rejected. He decided to go with the more Italian-sounding name that has since become legend.
Marciano, 29, faced the World Heavyweight Champion, Jersey Joe Walcott, in Philadelphia on Sept. 23, 1952. Walcott dropped Marciano in the first round and steadily built a lead. In the 13th, Walcott used his trademark feint to set up his right hand, but Marciano’s “Suzie Q” — a powerful right hook — landed first, causing Walcott to slump to his knees with his arm draped over the ropes. He lay motionless long after he had been counted out, and Marciano became the new World Heavyweight Champion. At the time of the stoppage, Walcott was leading on all scorecards.
His last title bout was against Archie Moore, on Sept. 21, 1955. Marciano was knocked down for a four-count in the second round, but recovered and retained his title with a knockout in round nine.
Marciano announced his retirement on April 27, 1956, at age 32.
Death and legacy
On August 31, 1969 (the day before his 46th birthday), Marciano and two others died tragically in a plane crash amid turbulent weather outside of Des Moines, Iowa.
Rocky Marciano was the inspiration for the name, iconography and fighting style of the title character Rocky Balboa from Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky movie series.
He is widely regarded as one of the best athletes of all time, and is one of the select few who reached sporting perfection.
Here’s to you, Rock.