What If: Rocky Marciano vs. Larry Holmes

Who takes it?

Rocky Marciano is the only undefeated Heavyweight World Champion in boxing history. He held the title from September 1952 to April 1956, when he retired at the age of 32 with a record of 49-0, 43 KOs. During the course of his title run, Rocky defeated the likes of Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore among others. So how good was Marciano really? If you asked this question 35-40 years ago, Rocky probably would rank as a consensus top 3-5 all-time Heavyweight. Bert Sugar ranked him #14 all-time pound for pound of all-time. Contemporary opinions of Marciano seem to be a little more tempered with Rocky still highly respected but not generally included among the likes of Ali, Louis, and Dempsey, and Johnson at the very top of the all-time Heavyweight list. To help shed light on the question of Rocky’s greatness or lack thereof, we’re going to put in him with a man who came within one fight of tying his historic 49-0 record, in Larry Holmes.

Larry Holmes was one of the greatest and most underappreciated Heavyweight champions in boxing history. Sandwiched between the eras of Ali and Tyson, he never quite “got over” in the popularity department. However, true boxing fans appreciate his brilliance. Holmes possessed outstanding boxing skills along with perhaps the best left jab in Heavyweight history. He held the WBC/IBF Heavyweight championship for more than 7 years, defended the title 20 times and won his first 48 professional fights. Larry once proclaimed that Marciano: “couldn’t carry his jock strap” and now gets the opportunity to back that statement up in the ring.

So, here we go, who will prevail? Marciano or Holmes? Let’s find out!


More than 50,000 fans have gathered at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana to witness this epic showdown between two of the great legends of the Heavyweight division. Rocky enters the ring weighing 194 ½ lbs., wearing his trademark white trunks with black trim. Holmes, who is coming off perhaps the finest performance of his career, a 13th round stoppage over Gerry Cooney in June 1982, wears white trunks with red trim. Larry weighs 213 ½ lbs. As the fighters come to the center of the ring, the height differential between the two men is readily apparent. At 6’3’’, Holmes towers over the 5’10’’ Marciano. Referee Mills Lane issues the final instructions, culminating with the command to “get it on”.

Holmes uses the ring cleverly and effectively in round one, working behind his jab to keep Marciano off balance. Marciano pursues but is ineffective, landing only 3 of 23 punches for the round. Larry finds Rocky time after time with his jab it over the course of round two. To this point, Marciano has still only landed 9 punches for the fight.

By the third round, Rocky is completely flummoxed, simply unable to cope with Holmes’ superior speed and skill. Larry is making one of the greatest Heavyweights in history look like a club fighter. A hard right cross by Holmes stuns Rocky and draws blood from his nose. Rounds four and five are simply more of the same. Holmes is brilliantly using the ring and working his left jab. Rocky’s attempts to pressure are futile as he just swings and misses wildly.  By the end of the fifth, Holmes has easily won every round and Marciano is seriously swollen under his left eye.

Marciano finally works his way inside midway through round 6 and bangs away to Holmes’ body. Larry backs him off with a sharp right which snaps Marciano’s head back. However, Rocky lands a hard left hook which stuns Holmes towards the end of the round. Holmes seems a bit winded at the start of round 7 as Marciano is finally getting into the fight. Larry spends most of the round along the ropes as Rocky pummels him to the body. A wicked right by Marciano hurts Holmes late.

Rocky pounds Holmes on the inside for the first two minutes of round 8. However, Larry catches him flush with a tremendous counter right. Marciano is hurt as Holmes rakes him with sharp combinations for the remainder of the round. Larry is in full command again as round 9 begins, peppering Marciano on the outside with the jab. Holmes is putting on an absolute boxing clinic. By the end of round 10, Rocky’s left eye is nearly swollen shut.

By the 11th, Rocky is absorbing a serious beat down. From ringside, announcer Howard Cosell is screaming for the referee to stop the fight: “this is the most ignominious scene ever observed in a boxing ring………I’m not going to say another word”. Twenty seconds later he adds: “did I mention this is the most ignominious scene ever observed in a boxing ring”. Howard is lucky he held on to his toupee based on what came next.

Marciano lands a crushing overhand right which sends Holmes to the canvas. Larry is up at the count of 8 but doesn’t know where he is. Marciano pursues, landing a left hook which nearly sends Larry through the ropes. Only the bell saves Holmes from a certain knockout. From ringside, Cosell opines: “This is why you can’t count the great Marciano out of any fight, great job by Mills Lane in not stopping this fight too soon.”

Holmes gets on his bicycle at the start of Round 12 but is still on rubbery legs. Marciano stalks like a hungry lion. With 1:00 remaining, he backs Holmes to the ropes and lands a vicious left hook to the body followed by a right to the jaw which staggers Holmes once again. Larry fires back gamely and courageously but he’s on his last legs. As the 13th round begins, Holmes no longer has the energy to move away from the powerful Marciano. He’s hurt again midway through the round by a Marciano right. At this point, no one knows what is keeping Larry up. However, the gritty Holmes lands a hard right which backs Rocky off towards the end of the round.

Rocky is having a hard time seeing and is now tiring himself. However, he still has the better of the action in the first half of round 14. Once again, he rocks Holmes with a left hook. However, as he tries to follow up, Holmes lands a perfect right flush which sends Marciano to the canvas. Marciano is more off balance than hurt and is up at the count of 3. However, this gives Larry the jolt of energy he needs. An inspired Holmes lands a four punch combination that forces Marciano to cover up. Larry punishes Rocky with clean punches for the remainder of the round.

Holmes believing he is ahead on points is now energized, having withstood Marciano’s furious assault. Larry dances and moves over the first two minutes of round 15. However, with 45 seconds remaining, Rocky lands a wicked right which rocks Holmes. Larry holds on and is forced to the ropes. However, Holmes lands a left, right combination which stops Marciano in his tracks. Larry goes back on his bicycle as Rocky desperately chases. Holmes manages to avoid trouble for the remainder of the round. The bell rings and we await the decision.

We go to ring announcer Johnny Addie:

Judge Jerry Roth scores: 143-141 Holmes

Judge Duane Ford scores: 142-140 Holmes

Judge Chuck Giampa scores 143-141 Holmes

Larry Holmes wins by unanimous decision!

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