By The Old Sachem, Bill Stewart
This is not about Rocky Balboa, it’s about the real Rocky, Rocco Francis Marchegiano, or better known as Rocky Marciano. I guess his last name was too hard to pronounce so he changed it for his career. He was born September 1, 1923, in Brockton, Mass., and died one day before his birthday on August 31, 1969, in a plane crash near Newton, Iowa.
The topic came up when I recently went to Mike’s Barber Shop in the center and we were discussing topics for a column. Mike, as most people know, is a dedicated sports fan, and he really focuses on boxing. I told him I wrote about Joe Louis years ago and I needed a new topic. Mike suggested Rocky Marciano.
Marciano was born and raised on the south side of Brockton, Mass., to Pierino and Pasqualina Marchegiano. Both his parents were immigrants from Italy, his father from Ripa Teatina, Abruzzo, and his mother from San Bartolomeo, Galdo, Campania. His father was a shoe factory worker. Rocky had two brothers, Louis and Peter, and three sisters: Alice, Concetta and Elizabeth. Rocky nearly died at 18 months old when he contracted pneumonia, but he pulled through. The family was often short on finances so Rocky worked many jobs as a youngster: as a dishwasher or gardener or in a candy or shoe factory. He was determined throughout his life that his mother would never experience poverty; that was his dedication. Marciano was a pretty good baseball player as a youngster, along with high school football. He dreamed of a career as a professional athlete. During these years he also worked out, boxing in his backyard.
In 1943 he was drafted into the Army, and stationed in Swansea, Wales, ferrying materials over to troops in Normandy, France. He finished his service in March 1946 at Fort Louis, Washington. He took up boxing in the service because it kept him out of KP and guard duty. Rocky tried out his prowess in the amateur ring in 1946. He won 27 of his 30 fights as an amateur. In 1947 he got a chance to try out for the Chicago Cubs as a catcher in spring training, but because of an arm injury in the Army he could not throw accurately to second base.
By the spring of 1948, Rocky was drawing attention in boxing circles, and by 1949, after he knocked out his first 16 opponents he was slated for stardom. He was only 190 pounds and many thought he was too small for the big time. His early fans in Brockton often travelled to his matches in Providence, R.I., and would yell “Timmmmmmberrr” when Rocky floored his opponent. He boxed in a knee squat, lowering his body to give opponents less of a target. He learned a lethal punch coming up from below with amazing power.
October 28, 1951, was a night to remember for Rocky when he faced former heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Before this bout, Rocky had 37 wins and 32 KOs so he was ready for the big time. Louis was past his prime (Joe was a past champion), and Marciano knocked him out in the eighth round, defeating his early hero.
He won the next five fights and his ability earned him the right to battle for the championship against the champ, Jersey Joe Walcott, in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952. Jersey Joe dominated the fight most of the way, but in the 13th round Rocky caught Joe with an overhand right to the jaw, and the champion fell – knocked out – and a new champion was established.
Rocky defended his title only six times, knocking out Jersey Joe in the first round of their rematch in 1953, then he KO’d Roland La Starza later that year. In 1954 he won a decision against Ezzard Charles and almost lost his title to Charles later that year. Charles sent a savage blow to Rocky’s nose, and his corner crew had a hard time stopping the blood flow. The ring doctor inspected the damage, considered stopping the fight, but allowed it to continue. Rocky knocked out Charles in the eighth round. His next bout was Don Cockell, the European Champion, in 1955, and once again Marciano scored a KO. His last fight was September 21, 1955, the third time he defended his title in Yankee Stadium. He knocked out Archie Moore in the ninth round to retain his title. The fight was a popular attraction to fight fans. Over 400,000 North American viewers watched the fight on closed-circuit television.
He retired from boxing on April 27, 1956, at the age of 31. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family, but those in the know said that he was upset because he had to pay half his earnings to his manager. After boxing he earned a considerable amount by personal appearances. He was very frugal and often requested rides from friends or promoters, including flying on private airplanes. He died in a plane crash in 1969 and was survived by his wife, Barbara (married 19 years), and his two children: Rocco Kevin and Mary Anne.
Although starting late in his professional career and not considered a stylish fighter, his determination, brute force and raw power carried him to great heights; he was knocked down but twice in his entire career. In July of 1969 he starred in a fantasy movie “The SuperFight: Marciano vs. Ali.” Both boxers were filmed sparring, and the film was edited to match a computer simulation of a hypothetical match between them, each in his prime. It aired January 20, 1970, with one version Marciano with winning and a second version where Ali won.
Rocky will long be remembered in Brockton and throughout Massachusetts because of his ability to win against the odds.