Rocky Marciano: The Slippery Slugger

marcianoby Ted Spoon: Behind every fighter there is an ‘essence’, something that perfectly separates them from the ‘powerful’, ‘crafty’ and ‘slick’ traits of everyone else. This is not a simple label; as we may all equally appreciate both Jack Dempsey’s and George Foreman’s powerful intentions, but rather a kind of barcode, if you follow.

Mike Tyson once shed a bit of light on this distinction in reference to his latest DVD ‘Tyson: The Movie’. Referring to his popular style of combat he explained it was the “accuracy” not the “power” of his attacks which made them so devastating. Grappling with the sentiments that pervade most pen-pictures on him, the former two-time champion was compelled to re-establish the idea, that ‘essence’ behind his ring personality…

The unmistakable ‘Brockton Blockbuster’ Rocky Marciano has always proven a fun boxer to discern..

He seamlessly blended the ‘skill’ with the ‘fighting’; ideas which are at odds with each other. So seamless was the blend, that there are those who never did, never have, and never will credit him as a truly thoughtful fighter. The emblems of ‘strength’ and ‘grit’ are so apparent they inadvertently hide the bigger picture just as one may be hypnotized by that ferocity of Tyson’s famous attack.

The analogy can only go so far however, as Tyson, with his high hands and dynamic movement is able to catch the ‘boxing eye’ of even the casual fan. The plea to help fans appreciate the rugged Marciano a complex talent has never been easy and as such is never shy of another article…

What strikes this writer as ironic is the very reason Marciano was so efficient was because of his reckless, or one should say, willing attitude.

Boxing often runs on a mutual compliance of see-saw action; one man throws a combination, the other concerns himself with defence, and vice versa. If knocked-down he will be eager to get back, or if baring a large points deficit will up the ante, but out of the realms of special circumstances, fighters are generally filed into instances of commitment and detachment.
The beauty with Marciano was how he insisted on constantly engaging to goad the opponent into his fight.

At the meagre height of 5,10 with a bantamweights reach of 67”, Marciano wasn’t in the best position to box safe, so masterful trainer Charlie Goldman reversed this process. ‘Make yourself even smaller’ was the thesis, turning Rocky into an especially awkward brawler, rather than a sure-to-fail, anatomically challenged boxer.

Giving off the impression that it was potentially disastrous to hesitate for a moment, Marciano’s efforts carried an air of finality about them. “This guy has gotta go” he once remarked while watching himself hunt Ezzard Charles in their rematch. The punches he threw - long, short, looped and arched, were all spread out to a tremendous range of quality and quantity; designed to open his man up all the while not letting him rest.

They were the basics, but what really distinguished Rocky was that which all the great fighters find through invention. He may have copped a lot of leather, and there were plenty of misses along the way, but can you ever recall him looking out of sorts? And with the technician-studded quartet of ‘Jersey’ Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Roland LaStarza and Archie Moore trying their hardest to step around Marciano’s ‘terrible tango’ it really is something that he did away with each one of them.
It has always been easy, (indeed it provides the majority of ammo in anti-Rocky pitches), to say that these were elderly boxers, destroyed over time, but the combination of persistence and intuition needed to do so was something very few, if any, possessed. Those learned parries, slips, and changes of pace beautifully broke-up the predicted rhythm of Rocky’s attack, inverting that see-saw compliance.

These characteristic spells of still-thought could leave him with poor positioning, but Marciano was a master at getting the opponent to punch ‘with him’ and spontaneously made use of the unruly angles. No doubt about it, there was that element of audacity in Rocky as he started with lead rights and left uppercuts, yet he made these boxing no-no’s into his own, stepping deceptively closer and seeking shelter underneath his opponents chin.

Following their rematch, the clever Roland LaStraza implied that the champion had improved tenfold. Culminating in an 11th round stoppage, Marciano stalked the New Yorker with progressive venom, slowly working around the sprightly start of the challenger, absorbing the deficiencies to later expose them with a wicked vengeance.

You be forgiven for thinking Marciano simply hammered away until something broke upon viewing his 11th round handiwork, but the coup de’ grace was the amalgamation of several instances of a wily brain at work. The use of his slips was very effective, the shifty left uppercut could not miss and a looming right hand coupled up to make a highly unorthodox yet viscous ‘one-two’.

When Marciano needed to string ‘em together his punch selection was not wanting.

Archie Moore, his last victim, was forced to reach into the very depths of his defensive insight, a scenario which served him very well, for a time. When Marciano eventually caught a hold of the cross-armed wizard it was not through, as it may appear, mindless slugging, but revising his methods that kept him hitting the deck. Buried underneath the multitude of punching there is plenty of creativity, double-hooks, unsuspecting jabs, disjointed rolls and alternating body-to-head and head-to-body attacks.

You could never picture Marciano, as was Foreman against Ali, chained to a fatigued inability to find a way. Even Tyson fell into those slums of frustrated predictability, unable to stop ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith or Tony Tucker from surviving. Of course, it’s not as if Marciano did not have a few bogeymen of his own, but that constant rustle within the clinches, those nefarious advances; there was a kind of insurmountable motion about him that did not choke.
Newly ascertained doubts meet every career, like Tyson’s susceptibility to a clinch, or Foreman’s lack of versatility, but again, ironically, so many doubts were heaped upon Marciano that they missed all that ‘good’ behind his lethargic countenance and homerun swings.

That inexorable ability to impose his will is, quite rightly, the enduring essence of Marciano’s legacy. Courage and power have been the two most desired features for fighters since the days of the Coliseum and so it is natural to identify with those traits in Rocky, alas it should not disguise his considerable expertise.
The undefeated boxers biggest fight remains with the fans.

Article posted on 26.07.2010

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