70 years ago today, the heavyweight division saw a classic changing of the guard, of the torch being passed from the former champ to the new star of the division. An unbeaten, 27 year old Rocky Marciano, already an impressive 37-0 with 32 KO’s, met former long-reigning king Joe Louis at Madison Square Garden in New York. Louis – who had been forced to come out retirement the previous year in an effort to get out from under the clutches of the seemingly unconscionable IRS, who had apparently forgotten all about Joe’s enormous generosity during the war years – was 37 years of age and significantly faded.
The current heavyweight champion was Jersey Joe Walcott (who had twice lost to Louis as “The Brown Bomber” lodged up his final wins as champ) and Marciano had to get past Louis in an order to get his shot. Rocky admired Joe a lot and he didn’t want to fight him. There was, however, great interest in the fight. Louis had lodged up eight straight wins since losing a wide 15-round decision to Ezzard Charles (who would lose the title to Jersey Joe via stunning KO) and the fight with Marciano attracted a huge Madison Square Garden crowd.
As much as fans liked Marciano and his rough and tough, exciting style, most fans were hoping the great Louis could roll back the years and get the win. And for a few rounds, as faded as he was, as much as he was fighting purely for the money, Louis gave Marciano a good fight. But Rocky would not be denied, his sheer strength and desire, combined with his crippling punching power eventually catching up with Louis as the heavier, older man wore down. For a few sessions, Louis’ still-formidable jab scored points, but Marciano was coming on strong.
The ending came in stunning fashion, the images soon to be legendary. “The Rock” decked Louis with a left hook to the head in round-eight. Joe, never, ever a fighter who was short on courage, hauled himself upright but he was then finished off in brutal fashion. Rocky’s monstrous right hand slamming into Louis’ head, sending him down and out and clean through the ropes. For Louis worshippers it was agony to see. Even Marciano himself shed tears after doing what he quite simply had to do.
Marciano was made to wait some time before he got his shot at Jersey Joe (this in September of the following year), but Rocky made the most of his chance when he got it; scoring yet another unforgettable KO after a sensational battle, his “Suzy Q” again serving him well. Louis never fought again after losing to Marciano, this just the second KO defeat of his incredible career.
Today in Brockton, Massachusetts, the Marciano-Louis fight will be celebrated, with fans able to visit West Middle School in the city to watch the full fight. Mayor Robert F. Sullivan will pay tribute to Rocky and to members of the Marciano family; some of whom will attend the tribute and will host a discussion on the fight.
The event is free and open to the public.
Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis: two great, great fighting men.