Rocky Marciano: Was Rocky Overrated?

16.06.06 - By Karen Belford: Hello East Side People. On Saturday, ESPN is going to be having a six-hour telecast devoted to Rocky Marciano, who in case you didn’t know, is the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated. His record, an unbelievable 49-0, is hard for me to even imagine, seeing that it looks and sounds so good. That is, until I take a peek at who he actually fought during his career. Anyway, I thought I would chime in with some thoughts for this wonderful occasion, for it’s not every day that we get to see footage of a great hero like Marciano, at least not on free television.

Normally, I don't really enjoy reading about fighters from the distant past, probably because, I feel, that boxing was more unskilled back then, the fighters looked so weak, and the heavyweight division, in particular, so watered down due to many of the young American men being forced to serve in the Korean War. Marciano, though, seems to mean a lot to people, almost seeming like a symbol for some of them, and brings out some strong assumptions about his place in history. If you for one second question Marciano's record, it's as if you comitted some cardinal sin or something. Give me a break, will you? He was a good fighter, but not that good.

While I am fond of the heavyweight division, I don't really consider Marciano to be a true heavyweight given his short stature, which, at 5'11" 185 lb, he would even be considered small for Cruiserweight in this day and age. However, Marciano’s good luck of fighting during the war years, which had to have had a dramatic effect on the pool of quality opponents to compete with. I mean, it hardly seems sporting that there were so few quality fighters to gauge Marciano's talent.

What's even worse, Marciano's career heavyweight championship rein, a mere three years and 7 seven fights, came about, luckily for him, after Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott, had aged beyond their prime, leaving Marciano free beat up on the older warriors when they weren’t at their best. Even with most of the fighters either being in their upper 30's to early forties, Marciano had all he could handle with them considering their advanced age. Probably, for many people, what I'm saying about Marciano, is a bitter pill to swallow, but if you look into his ring history very far, I'm sure most of you would come to the same conclusion.

Of course, I still consider what Marciano accomplished in the ring to be extraordinary, yet I can keep it in proportion based on his level of competition. All the same, he succeeded very well at beating what was in front of him, and I commend him for that. I mean, who wouldn't want to retire young (age 33) and rich, with an undefeated record (49-0, 43 KO's) and get out while you were at your top? Without giving it much of a look, it appears to be an incredible accomplishment.

In October 1951, Rocky Marciano, with a 37-0 record, built largely on easy opposition, he met up with ex-heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, who by this time was 37-years-old, balding and fighting for the very last occasion. Sadly, Marciano beat the great champion, stopping Louis in the 8th round. However, despite losing, Louis had his moments in the fight, connecting frequently with his still powerful right hand to the head of Marciano, who looked dramatically smaller than the 6'2' 213 lb, Louis.

In watching the fight, the lasting impression in my mind was how good Louis looked, even in a losing effort, compared to the young, 28-year-old Marciano, who many people in the boxing world were raving about at the time. Based on what I saw, I think a younger Joe Louis would have very easily have knocked out Marciano, especially when you consider that Louis was both the bigger fighter, and more powerful puncher.

Following that fight, Marciano first fought for a heavyweight championship, defeating champion, Joe Walcott (51-16-2, 32 KO's), on September 1952. In case people don’t know this, Walcott was 38-years-old, and one fight away from retirement when he took this fight. However, despite Walcott's age and many ring wars, he completely dominated Marciano from the onset, knocking him down in the first round with a big left hand to head. Marciano made it up, but then took a one-sided beating all the way until the 13th round, when Marciano connected with a big right hand that dropped Walcott for the 10 count, completely out cold. To be sure, Marciano did what he had to do to win, but he looked less than impessive being bounced around the ring by a fighter close to 40-years-old. Not what you would expect for someone who is considered to be one of the best, if not the best heavyweight of all time.

Eight months later, in May 1953, Marciano met up with Walcott, once more, although this time, Walcott seemed a shell of himself, and seemed to freeze at the opening bell, as Marciano pounced on him, quickly knocking out a fearful looking Walcott, in the 1st round. I've seen this fight many times and always come to the same conclusion, that Walcott didn't seem mentally ready for the bout on this night and probably should have stayed home or maybe called in sick. Clearly, it wasn't the best way for Walcott to end his career, considering I think he had a little more left, at least enough to beat Marciano, if Walcott hadn't been so afraid.

Later that same year, in September 1953, Marciano would face an old nemesis of his, Roland Lastarza, who had previously fought Marciano in 1950, losing a very close decision. However, this time, instead of trying to fight aggressively, Lastarza fought more passively, allowing Marciano to stalk him and take the fight to him. It was a bad strategy, nevertheless, and it cost Lastarza, when Marciano caught up with him in the 11th round and knocked him out.

In June 1954, fought Ezzard Charles, then 33-years-old, another small heavyweight much like Marciano, although with smooth ring moves and much more skills than Marciano brings to the ring. However, by this point in Ezzard Charles' incredible career, he fought countless ring wars, having had fought over 90 times as a professional, with a ring record of 79-10. Clearly, from an outsider's perspective, Charles had fought one too many fights and was beyond his prime years. Still, though, Charles gave Marciano a boxing lesson over the first three quarters of the fight, before tiring in the later rounds and losing a close 15-round decision to Marciano. Frankly, I consider this fight to be no worse than a draw for Charles, if not an out right victory, because he won all the early rounds as far as the 9th, before Marciano started coming on. You have to remember, though, this was the 1950's, so it's no real surprise, that Marciano got the nod when it came to the score cards.

Unbelievably, after this incredible war, three months later, Marciano and Ezzard Charles, once again, got back in the ring together. To Marciano's credit, he showed integrity by fighting Charles a second time, although it was clearly an easy decision for him, one made for financial reasons, considering that that their first fight had been such a huge success with the public. This time, Charles's punches sliced and diced Marciano's face, splitting his nose wide open in a grotesque, disfiguring manner, and cutting him on his eyebrow, in the early going. Somehow, Marciano was able to gut it out, coming back to stop Charles in the 8th round. Charles was knocked down twice in the 8th, but fought heroically, despite losing the fight.

Sadly, this fight would signal the end for Charles as a contender, for he would fight on bravely for the next four years, losing 13 times and winning 10. His two fights with Marciano, among the many others in his career, would appear to have taken out the best of him. However, at the same time, Marciano, also appeared to be slowing down, and although he was only 31-years-old, he was starting to show signs of wear and tear.

In May 1955, Marciano had a relatively easy win over the British fighter, Don Cockell, beating him into a 9th round submission. Cockell, although up for the fight, he was steamrolled by Marciano’s big punches, to the point where Cockell could no longer raise his arms to properly defend himself, leaving open his chin for Marciano’s power shots.

Finally, perhaps sensing that his abilities were starting to diminish, Marciano fought for the final time on September 21, 1955, against 38-year-old ring veteran, Archie Moore (149-19-9, 107 KO’s). Despite his age, Moore was well preserved, and actually looked younger than Marciano, who was beginning to bald and show signs of putting on weight. To take this fight, Moore was moving up from the light heavyweight division, where he had dominated for the past three years, winning 24 consecutive fights before moving up to the heavyweight division to challenge Marciano for his title.

The fight got off to a vicious start with Moore taking the fight to Marciano and landing the harder, quicker shots. Moore, at 5”11 185, was roughly the same size as Marciano but much faster hands and the harder puncher. In 2nd round, Moore tagged Marciano with a tremendous shot, knocking him to the canvas, visibly hurt. Marciano made it back up, but took a lot of punishment from Moore for the next 5 rounds. However, by the 8th round, Marciano’s constant pressure began to wear down Moore, who wasn’t accustomed to being forced to fight at such a pace, considering that he had been a knockout artist for much of his career and usually ended his fights rather quickly with stunning knockouts.

Finally, the end came in the 9th round, when Marciano stopped a weary Moore, who could no longer take Marciano’s furious punishment and was beaten into submission.

Shortly after this fight, however, Marciano, at the age of 33, announced his retirement from boxing in April 1956. The announcement was a shock for many people, needless to say, for they figured that Marciano was going to hold onto the title for years to come, and had not seen a fighter quit while at the top. Perhaps this fight, including his two ring wars with Ezzard Charles, gave him a hint that he didn’t have much longer. Or possibly, Marciano might have been hearing the footsteps up the next heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson, who was a young up and coming contender, with a 30-1 record at the time of Marciano’s retirement. Patterson would later win the vacant heavyweight title, stopping Archie Moore in the 5th round in November 1956, the same year that Marciano retired.

Personally, as I’ve already stated, I feel that Marciano was tremendously overrated as a fighter. He was good, yes, but he fought his toughest fights against fighters that were, for the most part, beyond their best years. So, when looking at his accomplishments, one must keep that in mind, otherwise you’re seeing a warped image of how good Marciano really was. Moreover, his ring record of 49-0, was largely build on fighting 2nd and 3rd tier fighters, opponents that were essentially ring fodder and were easily knocked out by quality fighters.

Historically, this too, is something that escapes people when looking at Marciano’s record. Indeed, if you were to take a good look at Marciano’s ring record, the only real quality fighters that he beat during his career were Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Rex Layne, Roland Lastarza, Harry “Kid” Matthews, and Jersey Joe Walcott. Not too good, is it? Especially when you throw in the fact that best ones out of the list, that is, Charles, Louis, Walcott and Moore, were either in their late 30’s, early forties or worn out from too many ring wars.

And, finally, in regards to Marciano’s supposedly devastating power, it, too, was completely overrated. Marciano, although he had 43 record knockouts on his record, he wasn’t a one-punch knockout artist or even the hardest puncher in the division, for that matter. If you want to look at harder punchers, Walcott, Louis, and Moore, were much harder punchers than Marciano ever was. Contrary to what people think, Marciano’s knockout were the result of his tremendous stamina, for he could punch nonstop without resting, resulting in Marciano clubbing his opponents into submission rather than stopping them with a tremendous shot. Throw in the fact that the vast majority of his opponents were of marginal ability, along with the old age and ring wear of the ones that were good, and you get a beautiful record of 49-0. It looks good on paper, but it hardly means that you were the best.

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Article posted on 16.06.2006

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