Thirty Fifth Anniversary Of The Death Of Rocky Marciano

01.09.04 - By B. R. Bearden: Thirty-five years ago on August 31st, 1969, at 9 PM, a light plane tried to land in bad weather at a small airport outside Newton, Iowa. The pilot, Glenn Belz, had only 231 total hours of flying time, with only 35 hours at night. A weather briefing had warned of stormy skies over Iowa, with a low ceiling. Belz was not instrument rated. Inexperienced, probably confused and frightened by the bad visibility, he tried to drop below the low hanging clouds to find the runway. He came out of the clouds two miles short of the runway and much too close to the ground. A witness said it appeared the pilot tried to gain altitude at the last moment but it was too late. Belz was less than one hundred feet off the ground when his plane struck a lone oak tree in the center of a cornfield, hit the ground, and slid for 235 feet before coming to a stop as a tangled wreck near a drainage ditch.

The passenger in the rear seat was 22 year old Frankie Farrell, son of Italian mobster Louis Fratto. In the front passenger seat was the former heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Marciano, who would have been 46 years old the next day. All three were killed instantly.

The National Transportation Safety Board report said, "The pilot attempted operation exceeding his experience and ability level, continued visual flight rules under adverse weather conditions, and experienced spatial disorientation in the last moments of the flight."

Thirty-five years since his death, forty-eight years since he retired undefeated, Rocky Marciano remains the only champion to finish his career with a perfect record in over 100 years of gloved boxing. For those who donít know much of Marciano other than the opinions of debaters boxing forums, first know that he didnít "just" retire undefeated. There was more substance to him as a fighter than his perfect record.

For example, Marciano was named Ring magazine Fighter of the Year three times; in 1952, 1954, and 1955. Rocky also fought the Fight of the Year three times; in 1952 VS Walcott, in 1953 VS Roland LaStarza, and in 1954 VS Ezzard Charles. And he was honored with Round of the Year twice; in 1951 when he KOíd Louis in the 8th and in 1952 when he put away Walcott in the 13th round.

Such selections were not based on weight class but on performance, during a boxing era that was rich in talent; Sugar Ray Robinson was active, as were Sandy Saddler, Willie Pep, Archie Moore, Kid Gavilan, Carmen Basilio, Joey Maxim, Randy Turpin, and other great fighters. In such an era, and among such competition, Rocky had to win more impressively than other men also bound for the Hall of Fame. And it wasnít latter day boxing fans he had to impress; it was sports writers whose perspective was ringside.

He excelled in an era of high achievers.

One need only go through the writings of the time, the old newspapers and magazines, the words set to paper hours after the event to get a feel of his impact on the boxing world. It was not a time of bogus titles and "champions" standing in the ring with a half dozen belts draped over their shoulders like confetti, and worth about as much. The champions had to fight the contenders, and there werenít a bakerís dozen Top Ten lists from which to pick and chose the least dangerous opponent. It was a time of better math, when there could be only one number one contender, one number two, and so-forth and so-on in a logic so simple and pure it boggles the mind we donít accept it today.

Rocky Marciano wasnít "one" of the heavyweight champions of his time; he was THE heavyweight champion of his time. Undisputed, with no worthy challenger left unfought, he hung up his gloves and walked away from the crown with his perfect record intact at 49-0-0. It still stands unbroken to this day.

Rest in peace, Champ.

Article posted on 01.09.2004

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