A lot has been said on social media the past few years that Rocky Marciano was an overrated fighter who beat nobody but old guys, and when you quickly glance at his record that might seem true. But, of course, to find the real truth you sometimes have to, as they say, dig a little deeper.
So today let’s dig at that mythical 49-0 record of Rocky Marciano.
His best wins were over past their prime fighters
Rocky’s first big test was a 22-year-old Roland LaStarza. LaStarza was the favorite and was 37-0 at the time. Marciano was given little chance to win by the so-called experts. The decision has been debated for years and the complete fight doesn’t exist that I have seen, so let’s see what the Associated Press reported:
“Rocky, a short-armed, slope-shouldered battler won the fight with a sensational punching display in the fourth round when he floored LaStarza. A low blow in the eighth round cost the free-swinging Rocky a clear-cut triumph. He belted handsome Rollie all over the lot in the frame and hurt him with another one of his vicious rights to the jaw.”
LaStarza was a very good fighter and was ranked number ten by the Ring Magazine at the time. I would say this was a very solid when for Marciano.
Rex Layne was certainly not old (23, to be exact) when he met Rocky in 1951. Once again Marciano was an underdog, and a solid one at 11-5. Layne was the 6th-ranked contender by the Ring Magazine. Marciano dominated Layne and clipped him on the chin early in the sixth round. After a delayed reaction, Layne fell to the canvas face forward in a hunched position. He then rolled over to his left side and was counted out.
Joe Louis was apparently washed up, at least that’s what you often hear, but a look at the period in time will show you that Louis was ranked number one at the time he met Marciano and in the previous year had beaten multiple contenders: Cesar Brion, Lee Savold and the very capable Jimmy Bivins. While it’s true Louis was old, he was still considered the top contender and Louis was a slight 6-5 favorite going in. Louis fought well until Rocky eventually wore him down and stopped him, too.
You throw in a tough Lee Savold, who just a year earlier was the number two ranked contender, and Harry Matthews, who was 84-3 and hadn’t lost in almost a decade and you can see that Marciano’s road to the title was not an easy one.
At the time of Marciano’s title-winning efforts it is also easy to say Walcott was done, but the truth was his past two wins against the legendary Ezzard Charles were quite possibly the best two performances of his career. Walcott dropped Marciano in the first round and was seemingly in control of the fight until that fateful 13th round when Marciano threw what just might be the most iconic punch in heavyweight championship history, stopping Walcott and becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World. It is really easy to point at Walcott’s age but Walcott was a solid champion and was at the height of his skills when Marciano dramatically stopped him.
His first defense was against a Walcott who seemed interested in only his own safety and looked for a soft space to lay down. Next up was a rematch with Roland LaStarza who some had thought beat Marciano in there first fight. This fight was much the same as the first contest for the first six rounds, as Marciano lunged around the ring chasing LaStarza, until the seventh round when Marciano started going to LaStarza’s body and slowly broke him down and stopped him in later in the eleventh. LaStarza was ranked number four at the time of his challenge.
Ezzard Charles was next and he was ranked number three at the time of his first fight with Marciano. Charles dominated the first four rounds but in typical Rocky fashion Marciano eventually got going and dominated most of the rest of the brutal battle. Marciano fought over half the fight with a huge gash over his eye that would require ten stitches. The fans demanded a rematch of this epic encounter and they got it three short months later.
The rematch was a slaughter administered by Marciano and except for a scary cut from a head butt over his eye and a nasty cut on his nose, Marciano methodically picked Charles apart and stopped him in the eighth round.
Archie Moore,Marciano’s last knockout victim, beat top-ranked Nino Valdes to get his title shot and was impressive in beating heavyweights like Valdes and Bon Baker. To say Moore was over the hill is just flat out not true. Forget his age, he went on to become the world’s second best heavyweight and competed for the vacant crown in 1956 against Floyd Patterson. That’s on top of him being the light heavyweight champion until 1962.
He ducked fighters, including Patterson, Liston etc.
This is simply not true. Many people will tell you he ducked black fighters of that era and when you look at his title defenses 4 of the 6 were against African-American fighters and they were all highly rated fighters. The names I hear most are Nino Valdes and Floyd Patterson. While Valdes was for a time a top-rated contender, he lost to Archie Moore in May of 1955 and a few months later Moore challenged Marciano. So in fact Valdes had a shot to possibly fight Marciano and he lost to Moore, who Rocky then knocked out.
As for Floyd Patterson, when Marciano retired he wasn’t even ranked as a heavyweight. For the people that mention Liston, don’t, because he was still three or four years away from even being a contender.
Rocky retired because he avoided guys
Unlike so many other fighters in history, he resisted the temptation to step back in the ring. Considering the toll boxing takes on the body, retirement would seem like the most appealing option. It is not. For one, there are obvious fiscal considerations. Few fighters have ever donned gloves to climb out of the suburbs, including Marciano, whose devotion to the dollar bespoke of his impoverished childhood in the shadow of the Brockton shoe factories. Now I don’t think at the time Marciano retired to save his legacy; I do not think he was built that way. I think in the end he retired because he knew he was slowing down and he wouldn’t have ended his career on a single loss because he had so much pride that he would have to fight again to avenge that loss, and things could really spiral down from there. Just ask Ali, Tyson etc.
Marciano’s lasting legacy
Rocky’s legacy is not that he was just undefeated, but how he was undefeated. He overcame cuts, knockdowns, trailing late in fights, and more. His will is unquestioned. When you look at the greatest heavyweights to ever reign over the most prestigious title in all of sports, the greats are near-mythical figures that would give everything to win, men that had an indomitable spirit to go along with skill. When you think of guys like that, you think of Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Holmes, Holyfield and yes, Rocky Marciano, who undoubtedly etched his name among them. So let the revisionist run their mouths about how he was too short, how he was just a brawler, how his competition was weak etc. In the end, no other heavyweight champion has ever retired undefeated and I doubt anyone else ever will.
The one man that did it is always standing and his name is Rocky Marciano!