Heaven knows, the great Rocky Marciano was fully deserving of a long life, of a long and happy retirement. It didn’t work out that way. Marciano, who holds a special place in the hearts of the world’s fight fans, gave his all in the ring, this in each and every fight he ever had. As relentless in the gym as he was in the ring, Rocky never dared set foot into combat without being in absolutely perfect physical condition, and we fans were treated to (and are still treated to) some great ring battles as a result.
For as powerful as Rocky was, his magnificent conditioning may have been his best asset; that and his splendid chin. Marciano’s raging wars with Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Roland LaStarza, and, in his final bout, Archie Moore, are the stuff of legend. And of course, Marciano never once lost a fight, going out a perfect 49-0. That aforementioned long life, and with it a long and happy retirement, should have followed.
But as we know, Rocky’s life was cruelly taken the day before his 46th birthday, this in August of 1969, via plane crash. Departing from Chicago on the evening of Sunday, August 30th that year, Marciano was bound for Des Moines, Iowa, this for a surprise birthday part in his honor as well as to support a friend who was to open an insurance business. The weather was bad that evening, with heavy rain falling and further stormy weather forecast. The three passengers chose to risk it.
Reports say the plane, a single engine aircraft, got into difficulties and hit an oak tree in the middle of a pasture in Newton, and then, with one of the plane’s wings torn off, it bounced across farmland before coming to rest in a creek. Two of the three passengers, the pilot included, had been thrown from the plane, while Rocky’s body was found underneath the wreckage. All three men are said to have died instantly. It was later concluded that pilot Glenn Belz had “neither the experience nor the qualifications needed to cope with the weather conditions he faced that night.”
In short, the plane should never have taken off. But it did, and the entire world was shocked and saddened at the loss of one of its greatest ever fighters. Who knows what Rocky may have done with the remainder of his life had he not perished. It would have been fascinating seeing Rocky, in his 70s, maybe beyond, living in the internet age, granting interviews with the various platforms that so dominate these days.
Marciano was loved by all and this would almost certainly never have changed. What would Rocky have made of the massive paydays fighters of the 1990s and beyond managed to earn? What would Rocky have made of the sheer size of the men who carry the crown he once held? Would Rocky have been appalled at the number of world titles available in modern times, of the end of the 15 round fights? Might Rocky have lost interest in the sport?
Sadly, we will never know. Yet at the same time, we will never forget Marciano. Some say he was the best heavyweight of them all. Maybe he was. For sure, nobody ever defeated Rocky, he was simply too tough, too determined and too special to allow that to happen.
Rocky Marciano – 1923 to 1969. Heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956. Pro record: 49-0(43).