Born Rocco Francis Marchegiano, the man known as Rocky Marciano is best remembered for finishing his career with a record of 49-0, becoming of the more famous boxers in the history of the sport, a distinction he earned in the ring.
Marciano worked his way up the heavyweight ranks, compiling 42 unblemished victories before getting his first title shot in 1952 against legend Jersey Joe Walcott.
Upon capturing the world heavyweight championship, Marciano would defend six times before calling it quits.
An oncoming fighter with remarkable stamina and formidable power, Marciano did what many fighters couldn’t. He could go the distance or stop a fight all while going 100 percent all-out.
His record-holding knockout percentage in title fights and durable chin complemented each other in allowing him to go for knockout shots while not fearing opposing counters.
Yet, Marciano receives flack from boxing supporters who viewed his style as having holes. Add that to his 5’10” frame, his 67-inch reach that measured less than his height and shortest among all champions in heavyweight history, and an average fight night weight measuring less than 190 lbs, and Marciano receives skepticism.
But is it merited? Let’s examine four of his most telling fights and see how exceptional he really was.
Hit or Whiff
Marciano could be compared to a home run hitter who was not shy in taking risky swings to notch another bomb, regardless of how out of the square the pitch was.
When watching his fights, they all had one thing in common — Marciano would stalk and throw incredibly ferocious hooks. Impressively, he landed quite often. However, he’d also catch air with regularity.
Against Ezzard Charles, Rocky threw many feints in the early and middle rounds, and favored his left hook, which is not usually commonplace for an orthodox fighter.
Even though he vigorously attacked and was fearless in pursuit of inflicting damage, he was not a bull in a China shop, as he was able to utilize other components in his repertoire to give opponents varied looks.
Nonetheless, Marciano would feed off landing power punches and could get zealous at times, also seen in his fight against an aged Joe Louis.
Simply put, Marciano showed true grit in the ring. He was able to absorb contact, which made it all the more easier for him to let off his own sequences of punches, though he rarely threw an exorbitant amount at once.
Also in the Charles fight, Marciano did not protect his head well enough, as Charles was able to connect upstairs frequently, especially in round 10, where he landed a great 1-2-3 combination to Rocky’s head.
In close, Marciano was a great toe-to-toe fighter for many of the aforementioned reasons. He also had an effective uppercut that he continually put on display. In round four against Jersey Joe Walcott the first go round, Marciano excelled when toe-to-toe.
Also against Walcott, Marciano did what he usually does in leaning to the right in his stance. Walcott was able to knock Marciano down in the first round and later score to the head with left hands, but Marciano weathered the storm en route to victory.
This is where I’ve seen Marciano get castigated most. He had versatility to his style. A fighter doesn’t become a champion and knock off many greats while being a one-trick-pony.
In his first fight against Walcott, Marciano was able to utilize ring space and stick-and-move, matching Walcott, though the latter was more effective while on the move.
In a couple of his fights and notably against Charles, Marciano was good at side-to-side body movement, as well as consistently changing his glove placement – sometimes around his midsection and other times alternating with one hand up at the opposite side of the jaw and the other protecting the body.
With the aforementioned frequent leaning to his right, he frustrated orthodox fighters. Round one of his fight against Harry Matthews was impressive, as Matthews couldn’t land a clean jab. Marciano also showed the ability to throw the same punch multiple times and land, securing the KO against Matthews at the end of round two.
Marciano did not rely on his jab. He could throw it, and did, but not as a primary means of controlling fights, establishing distance and preventing onslaughts.
It was rather remarkable how Marciano could throw such aggressive punches, miss, and yet not be countered. In the fights under scope, it was a rarity for a fighter to time Marciano’s errant punches and retort with a straight right, counter shot to the body or any other retaliatory punch for that matter in bunches.
Marciano’s timing may not have been as snappy as some heavyweight greats that came before him, but he had moments where it was impeccable. He was able to stop Walcott with a pinpoint right hook in round 13 as Jersey Joe was moving left.
What you wouldn’t see was Rocky pinned against the ropes, using a multitude of head movements to frustrate opponents.
Against Rex Layne, Marciano was facing an uphill battle with a seven lb and eight-inch reach disadvantage, coupled with superior hand speed from Layne at the onset, but Marciano was able to close distance as per usual and land successful hooks.
Marciano’s ability to keep fighters moving backward was consistent throughout his career. Other relentless fighters like Jack Dempsey and Mike Tyson found themselves in clinches when pursuing. For one reason or the other, Marciano rarely fell victim to opponents tying him up.
His success at heavyweight despite many odds being against him forged his legacy as a Hall of Famer.
Would certain bigger and faster fighters have advantages over him in fantasy scenarios? Maybe. But a fighter that could do the things that Marciano excelled at in the ring would be a hard out.
Marciano was only knocked down twice in his career. He never lost.
Pointedly, supreme counter punchers the likes of Ken Norton and Tyson Fury, who had tremendous physical advantages over Marciano would be prototypical fighters that could use all of Rocky’s strengths against him.
Regardless, all is speculation and Marciano gave the boxing world many great fights.