Boxing's Greatest Fighters: Rocky Marciano

Noah Webster defines the word determination as "a strong resolve; the quality of being resolute or firm in purpose." But then again, Mr. Webster never saw Rocky Marciano fight. It would have lent an entirely new dimension to the word.

Christened Rocco Francis Marchegiano, the man known as "The Rock" hardly had an auspicious ring beginning, fighting, and knocking out, one Lee Epperson in three rounds in March, 1947. Little could anyone then appreciate that Epperson would be the beginning of one of the most memorable streaks in the annals of sports, the first of 49 straight victims Rocky Marciano would notch on his belt before he hung up his gloves.

But before Marciano would face his second opponent, some 16 months later, he would take his somewhat more than limited skills to New York to sculpt them into those of a fighter. In New York he found Charlie Goldman, a miracle worker who performed the alchemy of turning the piece of rock into Marciano. As Goldman told it, "Marciano was so awkward we just stood there and laughed. He didn't stand right, he didn't throw a punch right. He didn't do anything right."

But under Goldman's ever-watchful eye, and with his own sense of destiny, Marciano dedicated himself to becoming a fighter. And more, a champion. Fed a steady diet of stiffs with somewhat more than a pulse beat, he stepped over their prone bodies on his way up the boxing ladder of success, always learning and continually honing his skills.

Determined to become "Great," with a cap "G," Marciano worked diligently with Goldman on the barebones fundamentals of jabbing, hooking, footwork, and other such basic boxing mechanics, spending untold hours training in isolation. But one thing Goldman didn't touch was Marciano's power punch, his right hand, called by Goldman his "Suzie-Q." It was one of the most devastating weapons ever brought into a ring and Goldman wanted to preserve it in all its unadulterated purity.

The combined work of boxing's version of Pygmalion and Galatea wrought one of the most brilliant success stories in fistic history. Once nothing more than a semblance of a fighter, by the sheer force of his will and the skills of his trainer, Marciano now stood astride the heavyweight division, ready to battle for the championship.

As indestructible as any fighter in history, Marciano walked into, and through, thousands of hard, clean, jolting shots in the manner of a human steamroller, wrecking his opponents with baseball-bat swings to the arms, the midsection, the head, and just about anything else within reach. Always ready to take two or three punches to land one, the determined Marciano melted down the guards of his opponents, and with the shortest arms of any heavyweight champion in history hewed them down to size -- and beyond, making them one with the floor.

When he left Jersey Joe Walcott for dead with one deep-dish beauty of a right that hadn't traveled more than 12 inches, he became the first heavyweight champ with an absolutely perfect record since John L. Sullivan some 70 years before. It was to be the beginning of the Marciano legend.

He was to build on that legend with each and every fight, finally retiring with a perfect 49-and-0 record and 43 knockouts, the only champion in the history of boxing to retire with an all-winning record. His determination, his will, and his attainments had created a depth of affection and a hold on his fans that not only outlasted his career but his life as well, making the name Marciano a synonym for excellence.

From "Boxing's Greatest Fighters," by Bert Randolph Sugar.
copyright 2006, Lyons Press