By Jim Galiano.
Rocky Marciano reigned as Heavyweight Champion of the World from September 23, 1952 until his retirement on April 27th, 1956. He died on the eve of his 46th birthday on August 31, 1969. His place is boxing history is secure. At 49-0, he is the only man ever to retire as the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Since his death and the subsequent computerized boxing match ups between himself and Muhammad Ali, Marciano has been to the topic of endless debates – both pro and con over the last 40 years since his death.
Much has been said about Jersey Joe Walcott’s age, although at the time, he was favored to beat Marciano. Jersey Joe Walcott was truly a great technician. But in the end it was Marciano’s power, not Walcott’s age, that was responsible for the title changing hands. Walcott didn’t run out of gas, lose his coordination or suddenly age right before anyone’s eyes. He was hit with a punch still being discussed 57 years after it was thrown. A short right hand ended the night and launched the Marciano legend.
Shortly before his death, Marciano said that his size actually benefited his style because most of his opponents “wound up punching down at me.” Much of the power is lost in a punch that travels downward. Conversely, Marciano said that he was usually punching upward which increased his own power. The two fighters whose punches sent him to the canvas were Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore. Both fighters were named in the Ring Magazine’s top 100 punchers of All-Time. My grandfather worked in Walcott’s training camps throughout his career. He told me Walcott could punch holes through walls when he decided to set down on his punches.
Walcott and Moore were both the same size as Marciano. And according to Marciano, their smaller, physical stature negated the advantage he had over most of his opponents.
They didn’t have to punch “down” him, which was something he’d become used to during his career. He credited both men with giving him his toughest fights. Rocky Marciano only stood 5’ 10”.
A short, power-punching fighter can always generate additional power punching upward. Another example of this is. The original Joe Walcott (the Welterweight Champion). Walcott only stood 5’ 1” and frequently weighed under the 148 pound Welterweight limit, knocked out much bigger men throughout his career. Nat Fleischer, founder of the Ring Magazine in 1921, called Walcott an “abnormally powerful puncher.”
Likewise, Marciano was an “abnormally powerful puncher” in a smaller “Heavyweight” package.
Outwardly, Marciano had a host of physical deficiencies. His height, reach and according to you ask… even his weight!
Experts have rated Rocky Marciano just about everywhere on the spectrum from the best ever to barely cracking the top ten. It’s amazing how so many experts can vary on such a well documented career. With other fighters, it’s understandable. Sketchy reports, the lack of existing film of the fighter in action (or no film at all). All these things contribute to questioning a fighter’s overall place at the “All-Time Table.”
Jack Johnson is considered by many to be an all-time great Heavyweight champion. Upon closer examination, however, there is less visible evidence to substantiate his higher rating than there is visible evidence to substantiate a lower Marciano rating.
There are some who point to Marciano’s size which is a valid consideration. His reach of 67” makes it impossible to control a fight with his jab from the outside. Of course, Marciano was a pressure fighter, anyway. His success was based upon his ability to get inside and ravage his opponent with non-stop power punches.
Regardless of the opponent, the road to victory was the same. Marciano presenting an awkward target. Muhammad Ali was surprised how difficult Marciano was to hit with a jab during the filming of their 1970’s computerized fight which was aired on January 20, 1970. And after taking a few solid punches during the initial filming – asked for more money.
Marciano’s punch output averaged around 85 punches a round. He was known to throw over 100 punches a round as well. His otherworldly conditioning and heart allowed him to keep a torrid pace throughout a 15 round fight.
“He could hurt you, sure, but it was the quantity of his punches. He just had more stamina than anyone else in those days. He was like a bull with gloves.”
– Archie Moore
“I would throw a hard punch, then he would throw a hard punch. The difference was that Rocky would throw 10 more. He just never stopped throwing punches.”
“The Rock was the most underrated Heavyweight of all time. Because to me, the Rock was not given any credit for his effectiveness. In other words, he was very effective in getting away from punches and all they ever said was he took punches. His ability to absorb punishment, come back and hurt you. He was the only Heavyweight that I know that could punch out of a slip, and hit you with ten punches on the way up out of the slip. In other words, a very difficult maneuver. A lot of credit’s got to go to Charlie Goldman.”
– Angelo Dundee
“Rocky is the kind of a guy who never let up on his attack. He has one of the most sustained attacks of all heavyweights of all times.”
– Hank Kaplan
Rocky Marciano himself said shortly before his death, “I can only say is, I enjoyed it, I liked it. I never really knew fear. I never was really hurt. And I just think that… in my prime, I could have fought with anybody alive.”
“I became a dedicated fighter because I had single-mindedness, purpose of winning the title. I just overcame a lot of handicaps. A lot of people thought I had too short a reach to be a Heavyweight Champion. A lot of people thought I wasn’t big enough to be Heavyweight Champion. I had the big legs and was not too fast in the ring. The one thing I really had was strength. Body punching became a very important phase of my fighting. I hurt many opponents and was able to bring their guard down so I could eventually punch them to the chin and take them out.”
“I think that, because I trained as hard as I did, I became strong and rugged and was not afraid to take a punch. I realized I had to get in close to do the most damage, so I was prepared for it. I was geared for it.”
This isn’t to say that Marciano was invincible. Any fighter can lose, and if they fight long enough, will. And any fighter if they fight long enough, winds up getting stopped.
The fact that Rocky Marciano made it to 49-0 with his particular style of fighting is nothing short of amazing.