Sporting a physique to rival that of Andy Ruiz, British warrior Don Cockell is best known for his brave but ultimately brutal and one-sided loss to heavyweight great Rocky Marciano. But Cockell was a much better fighter than the fight of 65 years ago today – May 16, 1955 – would have you believe. In fact, Cockell was a fine light-heavyweight, a fit, lean, and hard-working light-heavyweight.
Whereas modern-day heavy Ruiz’ fleshy body is largely down to the Mexican-American’s fondness for Snickers Bars and for partying too much, Cockell’s blubber and bounce was a result of the serious thyroid condition the 5’11” Londoner had to fight. As a light-heavyweight, Cockell, who went pro in the summer of 1946, a little over a year after WWII had ended, defeated good men like Lloyd Marshall (of “Murderer’s Row” infamy, Cockell beating him twice), Albert Yvel (to take the European title) and Albert Finch.
But the strain of making weight AND battling his thyroid problem proved too much and, after being dropped three times in being stopped by Sugar Ray Robinson conqueror Randolph Turpin, Cockell made a move up to heavyweight. Here too, Cockell showed skill, picking up good wins over the likes of Harry Matthews (twice), Tommy Farr, and Roland La Starza. But one of the big talking points, when Cockell arrived in America to challenge the mighty Marciano, was his rotund appearance, his flabby body.
The U.S critics never knew about Cockell’s thyroid problem, instead assuming instinctively that Cockell was simply a “fatty,” a man who didn’t work as hard as he could in either curtailing his eating habits or when in the gym. A big underdog against the unbeaten Rocky, Cockell was to take one of the most savage, and foul-ridden, hammerings in heavyweight history.
Indeed, it could be said that since the introduction of gloves, the Marciano-Cockell fight was the most crudely fought and dirty heavyweight boxing match ever. Marciano really did give Cockell a mauling, a complete working over. Shots fired and landed after the bell, low blows, elbows thrown and landed, kidney shots, headbutts – you name it, Rocky did it. And he got away with it. To his enormous credit, Cockell never uttered a word of complaint.
Instead, the first British fighter since Farr to challenge for the world heavyweight title took his beating like a man. A fat man, yes, but so what. Cockell had a chin, he had amazing toughness and desire, and he managed to extend Marciano into the ninth round; this after being left hanging on the ropes, battered and semi-conscious, in the eighth. Marciano was stunned himself, telling reporters how he had “hit him something awful.” There was genuine admiration combined with incredulity in Marciano’s voice as he praised Cockell.
Cockell fought on, but he never again had his hand raised in victory. Stopped by Nino Valdes and then by Kitione Lave, Cockell retired in the spring of 1956. Sadly, Don passed away from a heart attack at the young age of 54 in July of 1983.
Marciano often said Cockell was his toughest opponent. Donald John Cockell was certainly Marciano’s most put upon opponent. 66-14-1(38) at the end, Cockell more than deserves the respect of all fight fans.