Boxing


Rocky Marciano - The Unstoppable Force

31.08.05 - By James Sadler: Rocky Marciano was undoubtedly one of the squared circle's greatest champions. He first came to my attention when I was sitting next to my grandfather watching the famous film "Rocky." I remember seeing the photo of Rocky Marciano on the character "Rocky Balboa's" wall, and so I naturally asked my grandfather about him. He told me the stories of how Marciano was undefeated, a human steamroller with a granite chin, who would never stop coming forward. He often told me how he won a fight with his nose split in two, and how no man was ever the same afterwards. Since then, I became vaguely intrigued, and when I reached the more 'mature' age of eleven, I recalled my grandfather's stories and started to delve deeply into the old books to find out more. I was not disappointed.

Rocky Marciano was an unstoppable force, a true ironman of the ring. An undefeated professional fighter, Rocky is one of the greatest champions of all time.

However, this is not just based on his impressive statistics - let's take it a step further and look at Marciano in more detail.

Perhaps the thing Marciano is most noted for was his ability to knock a man flat with one punch. Rocky Marciano was an extremely hard puncher, and some old timers cling onto the belief that he hit harder than huge men such as Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Earnie Shavers. This I can understand, seeing the way Rocky reduced a several 200lb, world class athletes to quivering wrecks with his crunching fists. Jersey Joe Walcott was the most famous victim of Marciano's dynamite punch, but there were others - Of his more famous victories, Joe Louis, Rex Layne and Harry Matthews were also dispatched by one or two savage punches. The right hand that knocked out Layne sheered his teeth off at the gums. Rocky even broke Roland LaStarza's arms! LaStarza needed surgery to repair the chips and cracks on his elbows, and to repair his smashed blood vessels.

Marciano used to train on a custom made 300lb heavy bag - about three times what most heavyweight's punchbags weigh. Rocky had to work harder to move the bag around - this is most probably how he developed so much punishing power.
However, Rocky had always showed a natural ability for punching. The first thing that caught trainer Charley Goldman's eye, after Rocky knocked out an audition sparring partner, was his tremendous leverage. Even from the start, he was an extremely hard hitter, and probably a harder hitter back then at the dawn of his career than after 1952.

It was once claimed during tests in the 1960s, that Rocky's right hand punch contained as much explosive energy as an armour piercing bullet.

Marciano was also terribly strong, especially for his size. Archie Moore claimed he "was far and away the strongest man I've encountered."
Joe Louis said "it hurt to even bump into him."
One of Marciano's amateur opponents said "he was the hardest, most solid man I've ever seen."
Rocky had all over body strength, and his muscles were compact and solid. His arms and legs were short and stocky, and he was very muscular. He was never wrestled about or put on the back foot by anybody, and always shoved people about in the clinches.

There's one thing about Rocky that is quite unquestionable - he had amazing stamina. He would run all year round, keeping himself in shape. He would even run six or seven miles on Christmas morning! Before fights, he'd often up that to fifteen miles - much more than any other heavyweight did or does. So, no wonder he could fight all night long.
Rocky had a great workrate, often throwing ninety punches per round. He'd have some rounds where he'd throw one hundred and twenty shots! Experienced craftsmen and good boxers such as LaStarza, Charles and Moore, simply could not cope with Rocky's onslaught. Archie Moore - "It was like fighting an airplane propeller."
Most experts agree that Marciano was the best conditioned heavyweight of all time.

Marciano had an amazing chin. He was only floored twice in his career, and was rarely hurt. The two times he was dropped, were for a three and a two count, by two great punchers. Ring Magazine's #4 All Time Great Puncher Archie Moore floored Rocky with a perfect right hand as Marciano came in, missing a punch, with one foot off the floor, and it landed right on the chin. But Rocky was up within two seconds and back fighting. Jersey Joe Walcott, also rated by the Ring as an all time great puncher, floored Rocky with one of his classic left hooks, but was surprised to see that when he turned around, Marciano was staring straight back at him, on his feet. Rocky roared; "I'll get you, you son of a bitch!"
The 6'4" 220lbs Carmine Vingo, a good prospect with a dynamite punch, staggered Rocky a couple of times, but never managed to put him down. It was a great slugfest, and Rocky fought back hard - in the sixth round Vingo was put into a coma, courtesy of a savage left hook to the jaw.

Rocky's awkwardness was actually one of Marciano's strengths. Many found his unorthodox way of fighting very difficult to cope with - even masters of the game like Louis, Walcott, Charles and Moore all found it hard to land a clean shot on Rocky. He was just so slippery. With underrated defensive abilities, Rocky would slip the jab and get inside, weaving and ducking, throwing hard punches from all sorts of inconceivable angles. He was a very hard man to fight.

Perhaps Rocky's greatest attribute was the mental side of it. He had an amazing heart, able to cope with any situation and turn it around, never discouraged. Floored, cut and beaten up by Walcott, with his eyes stinging, Rocky fought through round ten of their first clash like a true warrior and ended up winning the title. He was determined to kick your ass. Sometimes, one gets the impression he could never be beaten.

While perhaps not one of Rocky's strengths, his defence was certainly not 'bad', as some so-called historians would like to point out. No, Marciano's defence was not bad at all, and it often made for a very difficult fight. He'd come in inch-by-inch, leaning backwards and slightly to the right (away from right leads), gloves high and chin down. The whole point of this was to make himself a smaller target. Once inside, Rocky was a real terror. He would constantly be moving his head, up and down, rolling around, side to side, backwards and forwards, and he'd come in with hard punches from all kinds of inconceivable angles, possibly the most hazardous being the left uppercut which is somehow overlooked. Many men, including great craftsmen, commented on how hard Marciano was to nail with a clean shot. If accomplished masters of the game such as Charles, Walcott, Moore, Louis and LaStarza are saying this, I think we should take their word for it.

Rocky was a destroyer, he ruined people. None of his opponents, bar Moore, were ever the same again. He beat them up, rearranged their bone structure and knocked them out. He was perhaps the most devastating and destructive champion of all time.

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One thing a lot of so-called 'experts' like to use as ammunition to try and downplay Marciano and his achievements, is his competition. However, the fighters he fought are not to be messed with...

Rocky Marciano's competition:

Up and coming prospect Carmine Vingo (6ft 4, 220lbs), a heavy hitting slugger who was involved in a Dempsey-Firpo type match up with Rocky. Was knocked out in the sixth round and sent into a coma, which left him paralysed on one side of his body and unable to continue his boxing career.

Roland LaStarza, an acomplished mover-boxer that was beating anyone and everyone, Rocky beat him twice - the first a controversial decision, the second left LaStarza in hospital with a broken arm, several blood clots and requiring surgery.

Veteran contender Lee Savold, someone who had fought Joe Louis amongst other big name heavyweights of the time. Savold's management threw in the towel before round six ended, Savold having been bashed so badly he was unable to throw punches back.

Top contender Rex Layne. Layne was a favourite over Marciano, a heavy punching slugger who reminded people of the great Jack Dempsey, who had great success in the ring, including a victory over Jersey Joe Walcott. His record going into the Marciano fight was 34-1-2 with 24 knockouts. Marciano knocked him out in six rounds, breaking his jaw and knocking out a tooth.

Joe Louis, the great champion who had came out of retirement to help pay his bills. Although considered 'over the hill' by many, Louis was still a very dangerous fighter, beating all the other fighters around at the time, and was looking to have another crack at the heavyweight title after beating Marciano. Rocky knocked him out in eight rounds and ended Joe's career.

Harry Matthews was Rocky's last fight before facing Walcott, and he took him out in style. Another good fighter, Matthews was ranked #5 in the division, and had an impressive record of 96-3-6 before facing Marciano. In this fight, Rocky completely outgunned Matthews, knocking him out brutally in the second round with two vicious left hooks.

Jersey Joe Walcott was a 38 year old veteran who had knocked down Joe Louis three times, beaten the highly regarded Ezzard Charles and was, of course, the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Walcott was not over the hill - infact far from it, he was close to his peak. He had boxed for many years in obscurity, and after getting his shot at Louis, he finally came alive. He was a dangerous boxer who didn't learn new moves - he invented them. Rocky was being outpointed over thirteen rounds, although being blinded for three of those, only to score a devastating and brutal knockout to win the title.

Ezzard Charles, another dangerous contender, fought Rocky twice and even lasted the distance with him the first time around. Charles was a highly regarded heavyweight, an ex champion who had gotten the better of Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott, and was one of the only light heavyweights in history that made it big time in the top division. Although being outclassed by Charles's skills at first, Rocky swang the fight in his favour and turned the tide in order to win a unanimous decision over Charles in a brutal fifteen round fight. In the second fight, Rocky's nose was infamously split open down the middle, when Charles hit him with an elbow after missing an uppercut. Rocky fought on with the injury, seemingly not bothered about his nose, to knock Charles out with an unstoppable barrage of punches in the eighth.

Archie "The Ol' Mongoose" Moore was one of the best light heavyweights ever, and was beating all the heavyweights around - except Marciano. Moore was a veteran and a great all round fighter, a craftsman who knew all the tricks of the trade. Although old, like Walcott he was still very dangerous and considered near his best, some even think his defensive performance against Marciano was the best in history. Coming back from an early flash knockdown, Marciano came back to batter Moore throughout the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds, leaving the courageous "Ancient Archie" literally unable to stand after being counted out.

Don Cockell was the British Champion, and although thought to be fat and out of shape, he was in superb condition - he had a medical problem, which made him slightly chubby. He was thought not to be much of a problem for Marciano, although he was still a legit contender and the best in Britain. Marciano knocked him out in nine rounds, taking a while to wear off some ring rustiness suffered through inactivity. It was a brutal fight, and Cockell was being sick in his corner between rounds, as a result of the extreme punishment his body was absorbing. The referee halted the bout to prevent any serious injuries.

If you have read this, you have hopefully come to the conclusion that Rocky Marciano didn't have bad competition. Just because fighters were old it doesn't mean they don't count as great or dangerous fighters, and just because you've never heard of an opponent, it doesn't mean they should just be dismissed as bums or nobodies.

As a champion, Rocky deserves to be in the top five somewhere. He trained religiously, never gloated over beaten opponents, was never cocky and fought everyone around. Also, outside the ring he was like a champion should be, an icon of his age. He signed autographs, spent time with fans, loved his family and tried his best to be a decent man. 49-0 is his legacy, and I hope nobody ever breaks that record.

Article posted on 31.08.2005



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