1955 was also the year that bid a sad adieu to screen icon James Dean. The Rebel without a cause would meet his maker on Route 466 when, on September 30th, his Porsche 550 ‘Little Bastard’ car careered off the highway attempting to avoid Donald Turnopspeed’s Ford Tudor. The film world mourned and still does. Ray Kroc started the McDonalds fast food chain and Bill Haley’s ‘Rock around the Clock’ had music lovers dancing off the Big Mac’s and fries. But 1955 would also be a landmark year for the world of boxing when heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano went 49-0 to set, what would become, the longest standing championship record in the history of the sport.
Rather than charting the career of ‘The Brockton Blockbuster’, I’d like to focus on the final four years of his career. Although a legend of the game, time has diluted the impact of Marciano’s achievements and there is a misconception that he took easy fights in order to attain his place in boxing history. In those last four years Marciano fought and beat the great Joe Louis, knocking out the mighty Joe in 8 rounds on October 26th 1951. In September of 1952, Marciano was involved in a bruising encounter with Jersey Joe Walcott turning the fight on its head with a punch for the ages in the 13th round of their all out war.
There was no obligation on Rocky to face the powerful Walcott for a second time and many advised against it but, ever the tough guy, Marciano stepped through the ropes with Jersey Joe just six months later and put the questions to bed with a stunning 1st round KO over his fearsome opponent.
His next outing was against Roland LaStarza (53-3-0) and, again Marciano produced the goods with an 11th round stoppage in what was voted ‘Fight of the Year’. Two titanic battles with ring legend Ezzard Charles followed with Rocky winning by UD in the first encounter and putting it all on the line for a second time just three months later with an 8th round stoppage of the formidable Charles.
Marciano disposed of Ken Cockrell by TKO in May of 1955 and the stage was set for his showdown with the brilliant Archie Moore in Yankee Stadium four months later. Moore had 134 wins under his belt and was widely regarded as just about as dangerous a heavyweight as the sport could offer at that time. Marciano took Moore out in the 8th and the rest, as they say was history. Moore would go on to notch up a further 14 wins before he hung up his gloves and Marciano would retire in glory only to die tragically in a plane crash in 1969.
Over the years, many great fighters have attempted to equal the 49-0 record. Ali, Tyson, Hagler, Leonard, Holmes and the rest would all coin their own place in legend but none would achieve what Marciano did that night in ’55. Julio Cesar Chavez would notch up an incredible 89-0 having won multiple world titles but he would see fit to continue and no one can win forever. Losses would come with time and one has to wonder if Chavez would have pulled the plug in time if the mega bucks were there in his era.
On September 12th next, Floyd Mayweather Jr will face Andre Berto in a bid to equal Marciano’s record and few would bet against him. Most boxing fans will agree that Mayweather lost to Jose Luis Castillo in their first fight and most neutrals feel that he lost to Oscar De La Hoya but, to make a just comparison, I will take the last four years of Mayweather’s career to contrast that of Marciano’s.
In 2011, Mayweather stopped Victor Ortiz in what may be the most controversial moment of his career. The referee had called a halt to proceedings in the 4th round, resumed the action but Ortiz was in conversation with Joe Cortez when Mayweather landed the KO punch. It has been argued that all is fair in love and war but it was a most unsatisfactory end to the fight. A bloody decision over the seemingly spent Miguel Cotto followed and Mayweather outpointed Robert Guererro in a dour affair in May of 2013. Floyd had a notable points win over the inexperienced 21yrs old Saul Alvarez later the same year and then embarked on a double header with the crude but resilient Marcos Maidana in 2014.
The first outing was a bruiser and Maidana, true to form, swarmed the ill prepared Mayweather with clusters of awkward shots. Many felt the fight was a draw and that was reflected in the scorecard of judge Michael Pernick 114-114 but the fight went to Floyd. The rematch was an exercise in staying out of harms way and Mayweather did what was necessary. In May of this year the long awaited showdown between Mayweather and arch rival Manny Pacquiao took place in Las Vegas.
Several weeks before the fight, Pacquiao declared he had a shoulder injury and both the USADA and VADA supervised this treatment. On a night where Floyd Mayweather could have put Fred Astaire to shame, the self proclaimed ‘Best Ever’ refused to engage and danced away from his opponent for most of the night.
Pacquiao landed a troubling shot in round 4 but his shoulder failed and he returned to the corner to say he was operating one handed. Floyd got the decision even though Evander Holyfield, Shane Mosley and Vasyl Lomanchenko all declared Pacquiao the winner. More recently, both Marvin Hagler and Larry Holmes stated that they didn’t think Mayweather had done enough to win and Sugar Ray Leonard said that, in hindsight, he wouldn’t have argued with a draw. Now Mayweather will face Berto, previously beaten by both Ortiz and Guererro, to equal the record of the great Marciano.