Rocky Marciano Biography
The eye of the tiger burned brighter in the body of the 190lb heavyweight prizefighter from Brockton, Massachusetts than almost any other fighter in history. Born on September 1, 1923, Rocky Marciano was thought to be too short and too light to have a career in boxing. Defying expectations, he went on to hold the heavyweight boxing title for four years in the 1950s and remains the only professional fighter to ever retire undefeated.
Born to Pierino and Pasqualena Marciano, Rocco Francis Marchegiano was a textbook second-generation Italian-American of the early 20th century. His father, who worked at a shoe factory, naturally wanted more for his son than the hard-scrabble life he had been born into. Rocky wanted the same thing and envisioned becoming a major league baseball catcher as his ticket to success and happiness unlike any his parents had ever known.
Though he had been introduced to fighting by his uncle, the idea of boxing never really occurred to Marciano until he was drafted in 1943 and needed a way to avoid KP duty and other unattractive tasks superior officers were all too happy to assign. Demonstrating a natural talent, when Marciano left the army in 1946, he began to pick up bouts on the amateur circuit as Rocky Mack.
In 1947 the dream of playing professional baseball finally came Marciano’s way. Invited for a tryout with the Chicago Cubs, Marciano believed that his ship had come in and the life he’d been meant for had finally come. Unfortunately, the Cubs didn’t want him. Marciano, who’d been scouted as a catcher, was passed over because he couldn’t make an accurate throw from home plate to second. Dejected, he went back to the ring.
By the spring of 1949, Marciano was getting some attention for his developing skills as a fighter after knocking out his first 16 opponents. The caliber of his opponents steadily improved over the course of 1949-1950, but Marciano seemed unstoppable, knocking out the majority of them.
Many analysts and trainers were unimpressed with Marciano, despite his already remarkable record. The general consensus was that he was too old (almost 25), too short, and too light to have any sort of real career in boxing.
But Marciano kept going and everywhere he went he made believers. Traveling in groups to Marciano’s fights in Rhode Island, his cheering section would eagerly watch Rocky chop away at his opponent until he was ready to fall. Then, all together, they would yell, “Timmmmberrr!”
On October 26, 1951, with 37 wins and 32 knockouts to his name, Marciano squared off against his most threatening opponent to date in former heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Louis was past his prime and Marciano knocked him out in the eighth round. Overcome with mixed feelings at beating his idol, Marciano cried in Louis’ dressing room after the fight.
Mixed feelings aside, the fight established Marciano as one of the preeminent fighters in his division and set him on the path to a title shot.
The long odds on Marciano really winning the title weren’t good. He lacked a real technique– fighting more like a barroom brawler– and his reach was a distinct handicap at only 68 inches (no heavyweight champion had ever had such a short reach).
What set Marciano aside was the hidden strength that would, decades later, inspire Sylvester Stallone to write of a very similar underdog who just happened to have the same secret weapon. That secret weapon was heart. Marciano refused to stay down and he refused to lose. He might be bruised, battered, beat-up, and bloody, but he would not be beaten.
Earning the nickname “The Brockton Blockbuster,” Marciano possessed a phenomenal pain threshold and endurance level. Willing to absorb two or three punches for the chance to land just one, usually with Suzie Q (his pet name for his mighty right hand), Marciano was a challenger unlike any other.
Training was like a religious pursuit to Marciano who practiced a monkish existence in pursuit of the heavyweight title. Addicted to exercise, Marciano had more stamina than any opponent he faced, another hidden strength that would propel him to the top of the game.
On September 23, 1952, Marciano met Jersey Joe Walcott at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium for a shot at the title. Walcott promptly knocked Marciano to the canvas in the first round and would continue to frustrate him, cutting Marciano between the eyes and on the forehead. After 12 rounds, the champ looked to be on the verge of a successful title defense. With the score stacked against him, Marciano needed a solid knockout to take the title.
Battered and bleeding, Marciano refused to give in. Thirty seconds into the 13th round, Marciano delivered one of the most devastating hits in the history of the sport. Walcott sank to one knee, arm hooked around the middle rope, head on the canvas. Walcott was out and Marciano was heavyweight champ.
After six harrowing but successful title defenses, at the age of 32, Marciano announced his retirement.
On August 31, 1969, the day before Marciano’s 46th birthday, Rocky chose not to attend a joint birthday party for him and his wife and instead flew out towards Des Moines, Iowa to make a personal appearance. The plane crashed in a cornfield in Newton, Iowa, killing both of the passengers and the pilot.
At the funeral, Joe Louis kissed the casket.