Rocco Francis Marchegiano (September 1, 1923 – August 31, 1969), best known as Rocky Marciano, was an American professional boxer who competed from 1947 to 1955, and held the world heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956. He went undefeated in his career and defended the title six times, against Jersey Joe Walcott, Roland La Starza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell and Archie Moore.
Known for his relentless fighting style, formidable punching power, stamina and exceptionally durable chin, Marciano has been included by boxing historians in lists of the greatest boxers of all time. His knockout-to-win percentage of 87.75 remains one of the highest in heavyweight boxing history.
Marciano was born and raised on the south side of Brockton, Massachusetts, to Pierino Marchegiano and Pasqualina Picciuto. Both of his parents were emigrants from Italy. His father was from Ripa Teatina, Abruzzo, while his mother was from San Bartolomeo in Galdo, Campania. Rocky had two brothers, Louis (aka Sonny) and Peter, and three sisters, Alice, Concetta and Elizabeth. When he was about 18 months old, Marciano contracted pneumonia, from which he almost died.
In his youth, he played baseball with Sonny and David Rooslet (a neighborhood friend of Marciano's), worked out on homemade weightlifting equipment (later in his life, Marciano was also a client of Charles Atlas) and used a stuffed mailbag that hung from a tree in his back yard as a heavy bag. He attended Brockton High School, where he played both baseball and football. However, he was cut from the school baseball team because he had joined a church league, violating a school rule forbidding players from joining other teams. He dropped out of school after finishing tenth grade.
Marciano then worked as a chute man on delivery trucks for the Brockton Ice and Coal Company. He also worked as a ditchdigger, railroad layer and shoemaker. Rocky was also a resident of Hanson, Massachusetts; the house he lived in still stands on Main Street.
In March 1943, Marciano was drafted into the United States Army for a term of two years. Stationed in Swansea, Wales, he helped ferry supplies across the English Channel to Normandy. After the war ended, he completed his service in March 1946 at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Marciano's amateur record was 8–4. While awaiting discharge, Marciano represented the Army and won the 1946 Amateur Armed Forces boxing tournament. His amateur career was briefly interrupted on March 17, 1947, when Marciano stepped into the ring as a professional competitor. That night, he knocked out Lee Epperson in three rounds. In an unusual move Marciano returned to the amateur ranks and fought in the Golden Gloves All-East Championship Tournament in March 1948. He was controversially beaten by Coley Wallace. He continued to fight as an amateur throughout the spring and competed in the AAU Olympic tryouts in the Boston Garden. There, he knocked out George McInnis, but hurt his hands during the bout and was forced to withdraw from the tournament. That was his last amateur bout.
In late March 1947, Marciano and several friends would travel to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to try out for the Fayetteville Cubs, a farm team for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Marciano lasted three weeks before being cut. After failing to find a spot on another team, he returned to Brockton and began boxing training with longtime friend Allie Colombo. Al Weill and Chick Wergeles served as his managers and Charley Goldman as his trainer and teacher.
Although he had one professional fight (against Lee Epperson) on his record, Marciano began fighting permanently as a professional boxer on July 12, 1948. That night, he notched a win over Harry Bilizarian (3–6–0). He won his first 16 bouts by knockout, all before the fifth round and nine before the first round was over. Don Mogard (17–9–1) became the first boxer to last the distance (full 10 rounds scheduled) with "The Rock", but Marciano won by unanimous decision.
Early in his career, he changed the spelling of his last name Marchegiano (Italian pronunciation: [markeˈdʒaːno]). The ring announcer in Providence, Rhode Island, couldn't pronounce Marchegiano, so Marciano's handler, Al Weill, suggested they create a pseudonym. The first suggestion was Rocky Mack, which Marciano rejected. He decided to go with the more Italian-sounding "Marciano" (/mərˈsiɑːnoʊ/, Italian pronunciation: [marˈtʃaːno]).
Marciano won three more fights by knockout and then he met Ted Lowry (58–48–9). Marciano kept his winning streak alive, beating Lowry by unanimous decision. Four more knockout wins then followed, including a five-rounder on December 19, 1949, with Phil Muscato (56–20–0), an experienced heavyweight from Buffalo, New York, being the first "name fighter" Marciano faced. Three weeks after that fight, Marciano beat Carmine Vingo (16–1–0) by a sixth-round knockout in New York that almost killed Vingo.
Marciano vs. La Starza
On March 24, 1950, Marciano fought Roland La Starza, winning by split decision. La Starza may have come closer than any other boxer to defeating Marciano as a professional. The scoring for the bout was 5–4, 4–5, and 5–5. Marciano won on a supplemental point system used by New York and Massachusetts at that time. The scoring system did not award an extra point for a knockdown and Marciano scored a knockdown in the fight. Referee Watson decided the bout, scoring it for Marciano. Both boxers were undefeated before the fight, with La Starza's record at 37–0.
Marciano scored three more knockouts in a row before rematching Lowry (61–56–10), who Marciano again defeated by unanimous decision. After that, he scored four more knockouts and, after a decision over Red Applegate (11–14–2) in late April 1951, he was showcased on national television for the first time, knocking out Rex Layne (34–1–2) in six rounds on July 12, 1951.
On October 27, 1951, the 28-year-old Marciano took on the 37-year-old Joe Louis. Coming into the bout, Marciano was a 6½-to-5 underdog. Marciano upset Louis in what was the latter's last career bout.
After four more wins, including victories over 35-year-old Lee Savold (96–37–3) and Harry Matthews (81–3–5), Marciano then received an opportunity to win the world title.
Marciano, 29, faced the World Heavyweight Champion, 38-year-old Jersey Joe Walcott, in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952. Walcott dropped Marciano in the first round and steadily built a points lead. In the 13th, Walcott used his trademark feint to set up his right hand, but Marciano's "Suzie Q" landed first, a powerful right hook causing Walcott to slump to his knees with his arm draped over the ropes. He lay motionless long after he had been counted out and Marciano became the new World Heavyweight Champion. At the time of the stoppage, Walcott was leading on all scorecards 8–4, 7–5, and 7–4.
His first defense came a year later - a rematch against Walcott, 39, who this time was knocked out in the first round.
Next, it was Roland La Starza's turn to challenge Marciano. After building a small lead on the judges' scorecards all the way through the middle rounds, Marciano won the rematch by a technical knockout in the 11th round.
Then came two consecutive bouts against former World Heavyweight Champion and light heavyweight legend Ezzard Charles, 33, who became the only man to ever last 15 rounds against Marciano. Marciano won the first fight on points and the second by an eighth-round knockout. Then, Marciano met British and European Champion Don Cockell. Marciano knocked him out in the ninth round.
Marciano's last title bout was against 38-year-old Archie Moore, on September 21, 1955. The bout was originally scheduled for September 20, but because of hurricane warnings, it had to be delayed a day. Marciano was knocked down for a four-count in the second round, but recovered and retained his title with a knockout in round nine.
Marciano announced his retirement on April 27, 1956, aged 32. He finished his career at 49–0.
Life after boxing
Marciano considered a comeback in 1959 when Ingemar Johansson won the Heavyweight Championship from Floyd Patterson on June 26, 1959. After only a month of training in nearly four years, Marciano decided against it and never seriously considered a comeback again.
After his retirement, Marciano entered the world of television, first appearing in the Combat! episode "Masquerade" and then hosting a weekly boxing show on TV in 1961. For a brief period, he worked as a troubleshooting referee in wrestling (Marciano was a good wrestler in high school). He continued as a referee and boxing commentator in boxing matches for many years. He was also active in business as a partner and vice president of Papa Luigi Spaghetti Dens, a San Francisco-based franchise company formed by Joe Kearns and James Braly. He built a custom home at 641 NW 24 Street in Wilton Manors, Florida, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. The house still stands today.
In late July 1969, shortly before his death, Marciano participated in the filming of the fantasy The Superfight: Marciano vs. Ali. The two boxers were filmed sparring, then the film was edited to match a computer simulation of a hypothetical fight between them, each in their prime. It aired on January 20, 1970, with one version having Marciano winning and the second version having Ali winning.
On August 31, 1969 (the eve of his 46th birthday), Marciano was a passenger in a small private plane, a Cessna 172 heading to Des Moines, Iowa. It was nighttime and bad weather had set in. The pilot, Glenn Belz, had 231 total hours of flying time, 35 of them at night and was not certified to fly in inclement meteorological conditions. Belz tried to land the plane at a small airfield outside Newton, Iowa but the aircraft hit a tree two miles short of the runway. Flying with Marciano in the back seat was Frankie Farrell, 28, the oldest son of Lew Farrell, a former boxer who had known Marciano since childhood. Marciano, Belz and Farrell were killed on impact.
The National Transportation Safety Board report said, "The pilot attempted an operation exceeding his experience and ability level, continued visual flight rules under adverse weather conditions and experienced spatial disorientation in the last moments of the flight." Marciano was on his way to give a speech to support his friend's son and there was a surprise birthday celebration waiting for him. He had hoped to return in the early morning for his 46th birthday celebration with his wife. He was coming from a dinner in Chicago at STP CEO Andy Granatelli's home.
Marciano is interred in a crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His wife Barbara Marciano died five years later at the age of 46 due to lung cancer, and is entombed next to him.
Marciano is commonly remembered as a swarmer due to his use of constant pressure in the ring, but he has also been called a slugger and a brawler; he was essentially all three. A late starter in the sport with little training and a short amateur career, he lacked the skills and finesse of most heavyweight champions, but he made up for it in brute force and raw power. Early in his career, he was notorious for his punching power, holding 11 first-round knockouts to his name. As the opposition got better, Marciano relied on his incredible stamina, relentlessness, and ability to fight rough and swarm on the inside to get him through fights just as much as the power. He sometimes went entire fights being pummeled by opponents such as Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, and Archie Moore, but came on strong as his opponent faded. He was also noted for hitting his opposition on their arms while they were blocking. Although this did not score points, over the rounds, it made their arms numb and essentially useless. Rocky faced criticism over his career for poor foot movement and for taking too many shots: he used weaving, but was often caught coming in. This, however, did not matter because he was able to take the shots. He is now known for having one of the best chins in boxing history, being knocked down just twice in his entire career, both times more to do with poor balancing rather than being dazed.
Rocky Marciano was the inspiration for the name, iconography and fighting style of the title character Rocky Balboa from Sylvester Stallone's American classic Rocky movie series. The character Rocky dreams of becoming like his idol Rocky Marciano and later in the series even gives his son a valuable possession (a boxing glove necklace made from a cuff link) given to him by his trainer Mickey, who had received it from Marciano.
In 1971, Nat Fleischer, perhaps boxing's most famous historian and also editor and founder of The Ring, named Marciano as the 10th all-time greatest heavyweight champion. Fleischer wrote that Marciano was "crude, wild swinging, awkward and missed heavily. In his bout with light heavyweight champion Archie Moore, for example, he missed almost two-thirds of the 50-odd punches he threw when he had Archie against the ropes, a perfect target for the kill."
John Durant, author of The Heavyweight Champions, wrote in 1971 (pg. 123) "Critics do not rate Rocky with the great ones, like Jeffries, Johnson, Dempsey, Tunney and Louis. He never faced top fighters like they did. It was not Rocky's fault, of course, that there was a lack of talent when he was boxing. He fought them all and that is what a champion is supposed to do."
In December 1962, a The Ring poll of 40 boxing experts had Jack Dempsey rated the number-one heavyweight of all time, with Joe Louis second, Jack Johnson third and Marciano seventh. Two boxing historians, Herb Goldman and Charley Rose, and John McCallum's Survey of Old Timers (survey of a group of historians and writers), rated Marciano at number seven, number eight and number nine of best heavyweights of all time, respectively.
In 1998, The Ring named Marciano as the sixth greatest heavyweight champion ever. In 2002, The Ring placed Marciano at number 12 on the list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years. In 2003, The Ring rated Marciano number 14 on the list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. In 2005, Marciano was named the fifth-greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization. A 1977 ranking by The Ring listed Marciano as the greatest Italian American fighter. In 2007, on ESPN.com's list of the 50 Greatest Boxers of All Time, Marciano was ranked number 14.
Marciano holds the record with heavyweight Brian Nielsen for the longest undefeated streak by a heavyweight.. He also holds the record for being the only world heavyweight champion to go undefeated throughout his career. Willie Pep, a featherweight, had a perfect 62–0 record before he was defeated once, followed by a 72–0–1 undefeated streak. Packey McFarland was a lightweight (fighting between 1904 and 1915) who lost his first fight and then won his next 98, though he never won the lightweight title. Heavyweight champion Gene Tunney never suffered a defeat at heavyweight and retired as champion, only losing one career fight at light heavyweight.
Apart from Marciano, only a few boxers have retired as undefeated world champions throughout history. As of 2017, only Michael Loewe, Pichit Sitbangprachan, Harry Simon, Sven Ottke, Joe Calzaghe, Edwin Valero and Floyd Mayweather Jr. retired with perfect records, neither defeats nor draws. Yet, most of those fighters had asterisks next to their unbeaten records. Simon ended his career due to a prison sentence. Valero committed suicide while still an active champion. Ottke won countless dubious decisions and Loewe's career ended due to injury. Only the records of Calzaghe and Mayweather have been able to escape much controversy, with the latter retiring at 50–0 and as the only boxer to surpass Marciano's 49–0 record.
Marciano has the highest knockout percentage of any heavyweight champion in history (over the period of a career) with 87.76%. In his professional career, he was only knocked down twice. The first occurred in his first championship against Jersey Joe Walcott, 38, and the second occurred against 38 year-old Archie Moore.
On the bootleg tapes of the Beatles in session in 1965 recording "Think For Yourself", John Lennon can be heard reflecting and joking about a meeting he had with Marciano, in which Marciano talked about Joe Louis.
Marciano's punch was tested and it was featured in the December 1963 issue of Boxing Illustrated: "Marciano's knockout blow packs more explosive energy than an armor-piercing bullet and represents as much energy as would be required to spot lift 1000 pounds one foot off the ground. "
Marciano was named fighter of the year by The Ring three times. His three championship fights between 1952 and 1954 were named fights of the year by the magazine. Marciano won the Sugar Ray Robinson Award in 1952. In 2006, an ESPN poll voted Marciano's 1952 championship bout against Walcott as the greatest knockout ever. Marciano also received the Hickok Belt for top professional athlete of the year in 1952. In 1955, he was voted the second-most important American athlete of the year.
Marciano is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Marciano had two children, a daughter Mary Anne (born 1952) who died on June 3, 2011, of complications from a respiratory illness and a son Rocco Kevin (born 1968). Mary Anne had several run ins with the law in Florida in the 1980s and 1990s, getting arrested and charged with assault and armed robbery after previously serving jail time for cocaine possession.
A bronze statue of Marciano was planned for a 2009 completion date in his hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts, as a gift to the city by the World Boxing Council. The artist, Mario Rendon, head of the Instituto Universitario de las Bellas Artes in Colima, Mexico, was selected to sculpt the statue. After years of delays in the planning stages, the groundbreaking for the statue was held on April 1, 2012, on the grounds of Brockton High School. The statue was officially unveiled on September 23, 2012, which was the 60th anniversary of Marciano winning the world heavyweight title. A bronze statue of Marciano was also erected in Ripa Teatina, Italy, to celebrate the birthplace of Marciano's father.
Professional boxing record
|Professional record summary|
|49 fights||49 wins||0 losses|
|49||Win||49–0||Archie Moore||KO||9 (15), 1:19||Sep 21, 1955||Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.||Retained The Ring and world heavyweight titles|
|48||Win||48–0||Don Cockell||TKO||9 (15), 0:54||May 16, 1955||Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, California, U.S.||Retained The Ring and world heavyweight titles|
|47||Win||47–0||Ezzard Charles||KO||8 (15), 2:36||Sep 17, 1954||Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.||Retained The Ring and world heavyweight titles|
|46||Win||46–0||Ezzard Charles||UD||15||Jun 17, 1954||Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.||Retained The Ring and world heavyweight titles|
|45||Win||45–0||Roland La Starza||TKO||11 (15)||Sep 24, 1953||Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S.||Retained The Ring and world heavyweight titles|
|44||Win||44–0||Jersey Joe Walcott||KO||1 (15), 2:25||May 15, 1953||Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.||Retained The Ring and world heavyweight titles|
|43||Win||43–0||Jersey Joe Walcott||KO||13 (15), 0:43||Sep 23, 1952||Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.||Won The Ring and world heavyweight titles|
|42||Win||42–0||Harry Matthews||KO||2 (10), 2:04||Jul 28, 1952||Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|41||Win||41–0||Bernie Reynolds||KO||3 (10), 2:21||May 12, 1952||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|40||Win||40–0||Gino Buonvino||KO||2 (10), 1:35||Apr 21, 1952||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|39||Win||39–0||Lee Savold||RTD||6 (10), 3:00||Feb 13, 1952||Convention Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|38||Win||38–0||Joe Louis||TKO||8 (10)||Oct 26, 1951||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|37||Win||37–0||Freddie Beshore||KO||4 (10), 0:50||Aug 27, 1951||Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|36||Win||36–0||Rex Layne||KO||6 (10), 0:35||Jul 12, 1951||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|35||Win||35–0||Willis Applegate||UD||10||Apr 30, 1951||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|34||Win||34–0||Art Henri||TKO||9 (10), 2:51||Mar 26, 1951||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|33||Win||33–0||Harold Mitchell||TKO||2 (10), 2:45||Mar 20, 1951||Auditorium, Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.|
|32||Win||32–0||Keene Simmons||TKO||8 (10), 2:54||Jan 29, 1951||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|31||Win||31–0||Bill Wilson||TKO||1 (10), 1:50||Dec 18, 1950||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|30||Win||30–0||Ted Lowry||UD||10||Nov 13, 1950||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|29||Win||29–0||Johnny Shkor||TKO||6 (10), 1:28||Sep 18, 1950||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|28||Win||28–0||Gino Buonvino||TKO||10 (10), 0:25||Jul 10, 1950||Braves Field, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|27||Win||27–0||Eldridge Eatman||TKO||3 (10)||Jun 5, 1950||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|26||Win||26–0||Roland La Starza||SD||10||Mar 24, 1950||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|25||Win||25–0||Carmine Vingo||KO||6 (10), 1:46||Dec 30, 1949||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|24||Win||24–0||Phil Muscato||TKO||5 (10), 1:15||Dec 19, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|23||Win||23–0||Pat Richards||TKO||2 (8), 0:39||Dec 2, 1949||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|22||Win||22–0||Joe Dominic||KO||2 (10), 2:26||Nov 7, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|21||Win||21–0||Ted Lowry||UD||10||Oct 10, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|20||Win||20–0||Tommy DiGiorgio||KO||4 (10), 2:04||Sep 26, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|19||Win||19–0||Pete Louthis||KO||3 (10)||Aug 16, 1949||New Page Arena, New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|18||Win||18–0||Harry Haft||KO||3 (10), 2:21||Jul 18, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|17||Win||17–0||Don Mogard||UD||10||May 23, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|16||Win||16–0||Jimmy Evans||TKO||3 (10)||May 2, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|15||Win||15–0||Jimmy Walls||KO||3 (10), 2:44||Apr 11, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|14||Win||14–0||Artie Donato||KO||1 (10), 0:33||Mar 28, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|13||Win||13–0||Johnny Pretzie||TKO||5 (10), 1:46||Mar 21, 1949||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|12||Win||12–0||Gilley Ferron||TKO||2 (6), 2:21||Dec 14, 1948||Convention Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|11||Win||11–0||James Patrick Connolly||TKO||1 (8), 1:57||Nov 29, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|10||Win||10–0||Bob Jefferson||TKO||2 (6), 2:30||Oct 4, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|9||Win||9–0||Gilbert Cardone||KO||1 (4), 0:36||Sep 30, 1948||Uline Arena, Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|8||Win||8–0||Bill Hardeman||KO||1 (6)||Sep 20, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|7||Win||7–0||Humphrey Jackson||KO||1 (6), 1:08||Sep 13, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|6||Win||6–0||Jimmy Weeks||TKO||1 (6), 2:50||Aug 30, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|5||Win||5–0||Eddie Ross||KO||1 (6), 1:03||Aug 23, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|4||Win||4–0||Bobby Quinn||KO||3 (4), 0:22||Aug 9, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|3||Win||3–0||John Edwards||KO||1 (4), 1:19||Jul 19, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|2||Win||2–0||Harry Bilzerian||TKO||1 (4)||Jul 12, 1948||Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|1||Win||1–0||Lee Epperson||KO||3 (4), 0:42||Mar 17, 1947||Valley Arena, Holyoke, Massachusetts, U.S.||Professional debut|
- List of heavyweight boxing champions
- List of undisputed boxing champions
- List of lineal boxing world champions
- List of The Ring world champions
- When rescuers reached the crashed aircraft, they saw Marciano's body still strapped in a seat. Upon hearing what had happened, people in boxing remembered what was said about Stanley Ketchel after Ketchel had been shot dead: "Start counting ten over him. He'll get up."