“The Rock” At 100 – The Immortal Marciano

By James Slater - 08/31/2023 - Comments

Tragically, as surely all fight fans know, the great Rocky Marciano lost his life at the young age of just 45, this on this day back in 1969. Perishing in a plane crash, Rocky died the day before what would have been his 46th birthday. Indeed, it was 100 hundred years ago tomorrow, September 1st, when the man plenty of historians say deserves to be ranked as THE greatest heavyweight champion ever was born.

Perfect at 49-0 when walking away as unbeaten champion, Marciano’s reign as heavyweight king lasted four years, during which time “The Brockton Blockbuster,” to refer to Rocky by one of his two nicknames – “The Rock” being the other – made six title retentions.

Blessed with raw strength and brutal hitting power, Marciano’s equally brutal training regime added to his greatest strength in the ring, this being his seemingly unlimited stamina. Marciano, among other things, would pound away at a humongous heavy bag, the thing almost impossible to budge for anyone other than the hungry (see ravenous) Marciano.

It has been said that no fighter trained as hard as Rocky did, as it has been written how Marciano was almost impossible to hurt. Yes, Rocky went down a couple of times, both times very early in a fight, when caught somewhat cold, Rocky’s cylinders not yet blowing red-hot; Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore the two men who managed to knock Marciano down, only to be made to pay later in the fight.

But no man ever came close to stopping Marciano, not by knocking him out. No way. The closest anybody came to beating Marciano was the superb Ezzard Charles (for many experts and fighters, the finest light heavyweight of them all – James Toney is crazy about the guy). In their second fight, Charles, having pushed Marciano all the way to the 15th and final round, dropping a close decision, almost tore Rocky’s nose off his face. Given “one more round – one, because it’s for the title, two because it’s you,” by the referee, Al Berl, Marciano poured it on and showed the world his greatness under pressure by hammering Ezz to defeat in round eight.

Marciano’s legendary ring record is, well, legendary. And so were a number of his fights/wars: the first Walcott battle, where Marciano overcame a points deficit, his “Suzy Q” blasting defending champ Walcott into a terrifying state of unconsciousness, the two Charles encounters, and Marciano’s last fight, when he scored multiple knockdowns against Moore.

The critics do say that, if “old light heavies” Moore and Charles could give Marciano so much trouble, what would rival heavyweight greats like Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis (the prime version, Marciano having wiped out an ageing, in need of funds version of “The Brown Bomber” prior to becoming champion, the fight as graphic a changing of the guard match you could point at), Sonny Liston, and modern day, 250-plus pound heavyweight giants have done to Marciano?

We will never know. Rocky beat every man in front of him, taking care of all worthy contenders out there during his reign. Rocky ducked nobody and he never lost a single fight. Not ever. Yes, Marciano would be a “small heavyweight” today, but in terms of heart, sheer desire, crippling punching power, chin, work ethic, and a complete lack of fear, Marciano would have found a way to win. This is the opinion of Marciano’s many supporters and admirers, anyway.

We can argue back and forth for as long as we have air in our lungs: would fighter A have beaten fighter B? As Angelo Dundee once told the writer, “you could talk all day, everyone has an opinion and that’s great.”

It is indeed. And Rocky Marciano was truly great. Never try and take that away from him. Marciano deserves your respect as much as he deserves to have his great name defended when he is no longer here to do the job himself.

Marciano wouldn’t have made it to 100 (or maybe he would have!), his tragic early death one of the saddest events in all of boxing. Marciano should never have boarded that airplane back in August of 1969. But he did, thus allowing fate to take the reins.