If you believe in fate, in the alignment of the stars, in destiny, etc, etc, then you will know how the date of September 21st, today’s date, is a very significant one in terms of world heavyweight boxing and the richest prize in sports. For September 21 is the date that saw, in 1955, the great Rocky Marciano reach his amazing 49-0 record; you know, the most famous pro record in boxing history.
September 21 is the date that also saw the great Larry Holmes get “robbed” in his attempt at equaling Marciano’s ledger.
Back in ’55, “The Rock,” ever so slightly past his peak and eyeing retirement but still an unstoppable force of nature, smashed a game Archie Moore to defeat in nine rounds to retain his crown. Getting up from an early knockdown and then proceeding to score multiple knockdowns of his own, Marciano was too much for the brave but outgunned “Ole’ Mongoose.”
With his aching back and his family urging him to retire, Rocky complied, announcing a few months after his win over the reigning light-heavyweight king how he was retired. His legend secure, fans wondered way back then if Marciano’s 49-0 numbers would ever be bettered.
No man came closer than Holmes, in 1985, some three decades (to the day) from Rocky’s swansong. Holmes had ruled since 1978 and he had, against another superb light-heavyweight champion (yet another coincidence in this tale) in Michael Spinks, seemed to have picked a relatively “safe” challenger for what was his 49th pro bout.
Instead, as we all know, Larry was to fall victim to “The Spinks Jinx.” The fight went the full 15-rounds and most felt Holmes had bossed more than enough rounds to have won the fight, retained his (IBF) belt, and, most importantly, tied Marciano’s record. Instead, the judges, all three of them, gave the fight to Spinks – by the narrowest of margins: 143-142 twice and a wider 145-142.
Almost instantly, two things happened: Holmes went crazy with rage, and many fans declared that yes, he had been robbed. With not too thinly veiled racial overtones included in his comments, Holmes vented his disgust along with his mistrust – of not only the judges but the sport of boxing itself – with his soon to be infamous “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap” foot in his mouth moment. It was a quite amazing post-fight presser, shown live on HBO; with Peter Marciano, Rocky’s brother, doing his best not to boil over as he had to listen to Holmes badmouth his elder brother.
It was far from Holmes’ finest moment, let’s put it that way.
But it could have been, and some say should have been. All these years later, and fight fans still debate whether or not Holmes should have been awarded the win over Spinks; with some saying he was indeed robbed of history, others saying a sluggish, past his best Holmes was fairly beaten. Only the decision in the Leonard-Hagler fight matches this one in the fierce argument stakes.
Maybe it was simply the fact that fate was against Holmes on this day in 1985. And perhaps Rocky Marciano was smiling down that day, and chuckling as the now ex-champ let loose with his diatribe.