Born Rocco Francis Marchegiano on September 1st, 1923, Marciano is remembered today for his amazing feat of being the only boxer in history to have won every fight that he fought, during his time as a professional.
Marciano was born and raised in Brockton, Massachusetts. His first battle came at the age of one when he contracted childhood pneumonia, which nearly took his life. Perhaps his strength in pulling through was a sign of the future fighter to come.
Sports were always a strong point for the future heavyweight champion, and at high school he became a regular member of both the baseball and the football teams. His talent was clear, and later in his life in 1947, he would have a tryout with the Chicago Cubs who, however, would decide that he could not throw with accuracy. But his academic abilities were no match for his sporting skills, and he ended up dropping out of school after he had completed 10th grade.
The fighter emerges
After dropping out of school he worked in a variety of settings, including a spell as a ditch digger and then as a shoemaker.
It wasn’t until he was 20 years old that he discovered boxing during his time in the army. He signed up in March 1943, and was stationed in Wales for two years during World War Two, where he was responsible for getting supplies to Normandy.
He took up boxing quite regularly as a way to avoid helping out in the kitchen and proved to be a natural, winning the 1946 amateur armed forces tournament.
After a brief stint as a professional, when he beat Lee Epperson by a knockout in the third round, he went back to amateur fighting and, in March 1948, he went on to fight in the Golden Gloves All-East Championship Tournament. Success eluded him, however, as he was beaten by Coley Wallace.
He then went on to have a go at qualifying for the Olympics in Boston Garden, but in a blow to his ambitions he hurt his hand whilst knocking out George McGuinnis and he was forced to pull out.
His amateur record read 11 wins against 3 losses. The last of these losses would not only be his last as an amateur fighter, but it would be the last loss of his entire career.
On 12th July, 1948, Marciano went professional in a fight against Harry Bilazarian.
He was a phenomenal success. His first 16 fights all ended in knockouts, and all of these before the fourth round.
His first tough challenge came in the shape of Don Mogard, who put up the strongest fight that Marciano had ever experienced. Although he failed to knock his challenger out, he won the fight by decision at the end.
It was during this early stage in his career that he changed his name to Marciano, to avoid problems with the pronunciation of his real name.
Another serious challenger came around in Ted Lowry. He was one of the first fighters to win a few rounds off Marciano, but at the end of the race he lost on decision. A rematch was held, but once again Marciano proved the better fighter, and won on decision after 10 rounds.
On the up
After a series of knockouts and tough fights, including one battle with Roland La Starza in 1950, and a fight against Rex Layne in 1951 that was broadcast on national TV, Marciano was really starting to make a name for himself.
His rise through the rankings was so great, that following the Layne fight, he was put up against his childhood idol, Joe Lewis. He won convincingly, but after the fight he cried in Lewis’s dressing room, so mixed were his emotions at beating his hero.
His long string of successes in the ring led to his first real shot at the big time on 23rd September, 1952, when he took on Jersey Joe Walcott in Philadelphia for the heavyweight championship.
It was a tough fight. Marciano was punished early on when he went down in the 1st round, but he would not be beaten so easily. He put up an amazing fight and, in the 13th round, came back with a killer right hand that took Walcott down. He would not get up again, and Marciano became the heavyweight champion of the world.
He held the title unchallenged for a year, before Walcott demanded revenge. However, this time it was far more one sided as Walcott went down in the first round and didn’t get up.
The next fighters to make challenges for the title were Roland La Starza, who went down in the 11th round, followed by Ezzard Charles, the former heavyweight champion. This would prove the toughest fight of Marciano’s career, as Charles became the only player ever to take him to 15 rounds. Marciano won on points, but the second time they fought it was a far more brutal affair.
In the 6th round, Marciano got a bad cut to his nose and the cornerman had trouble stopping the bleeding. The ring doctor was considering calling a stop to the fight, and Marciano knew that he would have to end it decisively. In the 8th round he stepped up and gave it all he had, knocking out Charles and winning the fight.
The last fight
Marciano’s last defence of his title came on 21st September, 1955. He took some early punishment in the second round, going down for a count of two. But if he was known for anything it was not giving up easily. He came back in style, taking Moore down in the 6th and 8th rounds, which Moore only survived by the bell, before winning the fight in the 9th round by knockout.
On 27th April, 1956, he announced his retirement from the ring.
Considering a comeback
In 1959 Marciano considered making a comeback. He was sure that he was still not finished as a boxer, and he missed the thrill of the fight. He trained for a month to get back into shape, but soon thought better of it. That was the last time he would ever consider going back into the ring.
He enjoyed his retirement by getting involved in various restaurant ventures, none of which were particularly successful. He finally found greater success as a referee and then a boxing commentator for many years, which kept him in touch with the sport that had made his name.
On 31st August, 1969, on the eve of his 46th birthday, Marciano was killed in a plane crash along with the pilot and another passenger. It was a tragic end to a heroic life, made even more tragic by the fact that there was a surprise birthday party waiting for him at his destination.
He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, and was joined five years later by his wife. He is survived by his two children, Rocco Kevin and Mary Anne.
The general consensus is that although not the greatest fighter ever, he was certainly one of the toughest, using his grit and determination to achieve phenomenal success.
As he said himself, "In the ring, I never really knew fear".
Records at a glance
- Longest undefeated heavyweight fighter ever.
- Only knocked down to the canvas twice in his career.
- Voted ‘Fighter of the Year’ by Ring Magazine three times.
- Won 49 straight fights in his career, 43 of which were knockouts.
- Member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.