Who gave Rocky Marciano his toughest fight? You might say Jersey Joe Walcott, from whom Rocky won the heavyweight title. You might care to say Archie Moore, who, like Walcott, decked “The Rock” early, only to be overcome later on in a great fight. But to many, in fact to most, Ezzard Charles – for too many the finest (and uncrowned) light-heavyweight in boxing history – was the man.
Twice, “The Cincinnati Cobra” went to war with Marciano. The first time, in June of 1954, at Yankee Stadium in the heart of New York City, the 32 year old Charles gave Rocky, aged 29, all he could handle for the full 15 rounds. It was for some one of the greatest, most intensely fought world heavyweight title fights of all time. Marciano hit Charles with everything he had, yet the older, lighter man took it. And, boy, did he give some back in return. Marciano bled in the fight, a two inch wound to his left eye being opened in the first quarter of the brutal fight. But Rocky just fought harder.
The close decision win awarded to Marciano angered Charles, and it didn’t satisfy Rocky. “He deserves a rematch and he can have one,” Marciano said.
More blood would be shed in fight-two.
Exactly three months later, at the same venue, the two met again. What followed became the stuff of legend.
Charles, older and heavier (the latter intentional, the former unavoidable), went right at the champ, his plan seeming to be to go for the surprise, quick KO. Rocky ate what came at him and he then delivered in kind; knocking his challenger down in round-two. Marciano had a quick stoppage on his mind himself, yet Ezz was too slippery, too cute, too hard to nail. The fight actually became somewhat dull (see technical – this not what paying fans wanted from a Marciano fight; although Rocky’s legendary ability to foul maintained interest). Then, in round-six, Marciano emerged from a clinch with a dark, deep, bloody injury to his nose.
Was it a punch that had cut Rocky? Was it a butt? An elbow?
Rocky was patched up ahead of the seventh; indeed a patch of some kind was placed on his nose. Charles, now targeting the beak of the champ, soon knocked the patch clean off as he attempted to do likewise to Rocky’s proboscis. The fight raged on, Marciano pouring blood. Today, the fight would absolutely have been stopped, yet this was the 1950s. And this was Rocky Marciano.
Round eight saw a great fighting man cement his place, his legend, his one-of-a-kindness in all the books that matter. No-one can ever know the pain Rocky was in, how the sickening taste of his own blood affected him – but “The Rock” ignored it all and poured it on. His corner had instructed Marciano to go after Charles’ body, yet Rocky blazed away upstairs. His left nostril split in horrific fashion, his title in a more perilous position than ever, Marciano smashed away with both hands. A clubbing right to the head decked Charles. Showing amazing guts and courage of his own in a fight that was laced with both, Charles got up. But Marciano, along with bleeding from the nose, had the taste of the red stuff in his mouth. The finishing follow-up put Charles down again, with the challenger, on his knees, having no option other than that of taking the count. It was over.
Twice in succession, Charles had come oh, so close to taking the title, and the unbeaten record, of the man who never lost either. Marciano was now 2-0 over Charles, yet both men had the ever lasting respect of one another. As well as the eternal respect and appreciation of all fight fans.