Rocky Marciano is one of the only undefeated boxers in the history of fighting having collected almost 50 victories over his brief eight year career and the only heavyweight champion that can make that claim. He is known for his hammer of punch rather than a smooth, strategic style and his wins came at the end of a punishing jab. He boasted immense power in the ring, standing at almost six feet tall with a reach of over 5 feet.
Born in 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts, on the south side to an Italian immigrant family, he was one of six siblings. After a childhood bout with pneumonia which almost took his life, Marciano grew to show amazing athletic prowess, playing baseball, football, wrestling and training with weights throughout his youth. He dropped out of high school in his third year there and began to work in a number of blue collar jobs, digging ditches, shoveling coal and making shoes, before he was drafted in 1943 to fight in the army during the 2nd World War. It was through his armed service that Marciano began his amateur boxing career in 1947 at the age of 25, fighting as an amateur and earning the Golden Gloves title before moving on to his professional career.
Marciano never had the same kind of celebrity profile that some other fighters enjoyed but his record speaks for itself. Many of the boxing analysts will dispute that he was one of the sport’s greatest contenders due the fact that he is said to have faced mediocre competition. He was matched against little known names when he started out in the ring, never drawing much attention to the battles until the time he finally crossed over to meet up with some big hitters like Ezzard Charles, Joe Louis and Joe Walcott at the time that he finally clinched his championship title.
His short career also lends itself to the question of where he stands in the grand scheme of things. While other heavyweights can’t boast a career undefeated record, there are some that went a far greater distance without a loss than Marciano. Sugar Ray Leonard held a winning streak of 85 as an amateur and Willie Pep once went 61 fights without a defeat, both greater than Marciano’s 49-0 record. It is argued that most of the matches Marciano fought were with opponents that were past their prime and not noteworthy. Of course, this was of no fault of his own and he met with each fighter that did cross his path through that period of boxing without suffering at their hand and that is an achievement in itself. He was a hero in his time and left a legacy that inspired the naming of the fighter in the movie, Rocky.
Marciano retired from the sport at age 32 and although he considered a comeback a few years later, he did not return to the ring. Instead, he took on some television roles and went on to host a boxing show in the early sixties. He also worked as a referee and commentator for boxing for many years before he died at the young age of 45 in a plane crash, outlived by his wife and both his parents. Overall, Marciano brought a lot of class to the boxing world and even undefeated was not a boastful fighter.
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