Equally unique, Marciano never came out of retirement to challenge subsequent champions, a temptation very few ex-champions have overcome, much less succeeded at.
Outwardly Marciano’s life after boxing was quite successful – unlike many fighters, he kept his money and his wits. Augustine before defending his title, and said: “The biggest thrill I could think of would be an audience with the pope?”
“In this age of the anti-hero and the non-hero, Rocky Marciano was the hero with whom the mass of Americans could readily identify, the hero who surmounted all difficulties by dint of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Marciano spent hours at his opponent’s hospital bed, and in church praying for the man’s life. Rocky slowly became a better boxer, but it was his punching power that kept him undefeated. He even had a role in a movie. Walcott collapsed to the canvas and was counted out. His friends said the only thing Rocky was afraid of was being poor. Before the fight Marciano met with a priest, who after their meeting said: “That boy is no ordinary prizefighter, he is one of the most dignified, straightforward people I have ever met in my life. He retained his public life, crisscrossing across the country to give speeches, participate in benefits, and conduct business. Marciano stepped inside and beat Walcott to the punch with a short right hand that traveled maybe eight inches. Once, as a joke, the reigning sex symbol, Jayne Mansfield, was smuggled into a room where Marciano sat, alone. Ali was in retirement too, after having his title stripped for refusing the draft. He backed Walcott into the ropes. The pilot landed the plane in a field in Newton, Iowa, and rammed into a lone tree in the middle of the field. He was undersized for a heavyweight. Then Rocky and Ali sparred 70 rounds for the camera, simulating different endings to the fight. Rocky seemed too busy to be home.
Russell Sullivan, Rocky Marciano, The Rock of His Times, 2002, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago.
Everett M. Rocky was a brawler. They had one daughter, but Barbara miscarried when Rocky was away, and wasn’t able to have any more children, although the two did adopt a boy (Rocky Jr.). Walcott’s experience kept Marciano off-balance and sometimes made him look ridiculous. Although he left thousands (some claim hundred of thousands) of dollars stashed away or buried underground, none of it was found to aid Barbara and the children, who were impoverished after Rocky’s death.
While sportswriters criticized Marciano’s boxing shortcomings, no one criticized his character, as the following quotes show:
Five months after Marciano’s death “The Superfight” debuted in theaters. They all lived in a two bedroom apartment. His marriage was strained. Yet he used a wire to try to get coins back he used to make telephone calls. The pilot and his two passengers were instantly killed. He was invited to the White House to meet the President. Then he was cut from the Chicago Cubs farm system. The Marchegiano’s had five more children after Rocco: Alice, Connie, Elizabeth, Louis, and Peter. Stallone credited Chuck Wepner’s losing effort in a fight with Muhammed Ali as the inspiration for the film, yet the similarities of Rocky Balboa to Rocky Marciano are numerous and obvious.
Rocky was generous with people who were down and out, often giving them unsecured loans that were rarely paid back. Anthony before his first title fight, read The Confessions of St. Sometimes he would cover his chin and hands with St. There would be good food, a nice check for a few words, and still enough time to fly back for his birthday. Rocky always apologized, but the fouling continued.
On August 31, 1969, Marciano planned to interrupt his business circuit and fly back to Florida to celebrate his forty-sixth birthday with his family. And he could be incredibly tight with a buck. He knocked out nine of his early opponents in the first round. He had no boxing skills. He hit his opponents on the break, after the bell, and below the belt. Marciano went back into training and bought a toupee. It is difficult to win a fight when you can’t reach your opponent. Lena’s doctor said she could have no more children; this put a fine edge on her concern for Rocco’s health.
He was born Rocco Francis Marchegiano (Mark a-jahn-o) on September 1, 1923, the second son (the first died shortly after childbirth) of Pierino and Lena Marchegiano, first generation Italian immigrants who came to America after the first World War. He golfed with priests, helped promote parish functions, even lunched with Cardinal Spellman. Life magazine called him “pure of speech” and “a clean living boy.” He was elsewhere described as “astonishingly innocent,” and “totally without deception, totally without guile.” He didn’t drink or smoke; in fact, when a host at a party for Marciano in Brockton offered the champ a drink, Rocky replied, “If you don’t mind, I’ll take an apple.”
Marchegiano went to New York and met Al Weill, a boxing manager who tried to Americanize his name. When he wasn’t playing sports he was running and exercising.
Marciano’s determination in the Walcott fight showed the world the new champion’s character and personality. The 1963 issue of Boxing Illustrated claimed: “Marciano’s knockout blow packs more explosive energy than an armour-piercing bullet and represents as much energy as would be required to spot lift 1000 pounds one foot off the ground.” Although this sort of ‘science’ was probably conducted by zealous Marciano fans, it is undeniably true that Rocky hit really hard.)
Rocky ran from an early age. At the last minute Rocky decided to squeeze in an appearance at a steak house in Des Moines, Iowa. Skehan, Rocky Marciano, Biography of a First Son, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1977.
His upbringing was steeped in Italian customs and traditions. Asked about his reaction when flying shrapnel hit his jaw and snapped off some teeth, Pierino replied, “I just spit them out and kept coming.”
The answer: Rocky Marciano, heavyweight boxing champion from 1952 to 1956, when at age thirty-three he retired with a perfect record (49-0, with 43 knockouts). The pilot had not flown at night before, became confused by the bad weather, and attempted to land in a field rather than the Newton airport.
He and Lena settled in Brockton, a small city twenty miles south of Boston. It was an incredible run. After the Rock retired he kept running.
In 1976 Sylvester Stallone began his “Rocky” franchise. There was bad weather and the plane ran low on gas. The famous sportswriter Jimmy Cannon observed that Marciano trained “like a man practicing a holy ritual.” Before fights he would slip away to a church or chapel to pray. The sparring film would be spliced together to match the computer outcome of the fight – a closely guarded secret that would not be revealed until “The Superfight” aired in theaters.
Far behind on points late in the fight, Rocky needed a knockout to win. He usually didn’t pay anything for his cross-country trips: no plane fare, hotel fare, or meals. Once he hit a man so hard he almost killed him. Walcott bounced off and threw a hard left hand. Marciano’s body was found pinned beneath the wreckage. She and her friends prayed the Rosary at the child’s bedside and waited. Several opponents quit boxing after being knocked out by Marciano. Rocco’s biggest limitation was arms so short they were almost stubby. Even as champion he came to the ring in a robe bearing the colors of BrocktonHigh School (even though he dropped out in the tenth grade). Anthony for her son’s recovery, promising to give up her diamond engagement ring if Rocco recovered. His wife, Barbara, was unable to have the large family Rocky wanted. Ali complained about his ‘loss’, alleging the computer was made in Alabama.
An investigation into the crash of the Cessna in NewtonIowa cited pilot inexperience as the cause of the crash. He didn’t trust lawyers or accountants, and preferred to deal in cash. An obituary in his home state of Massachusetts read:
After knocking out an old Joe Louis, Rocky got a title shot. Rocco refused but eventually he tired of having his name misspelled and mispronounced, and allowed his name to be shortened to Rocky Marciano. It hit Walcott’s jaw with the sound of a baseball bat. Yet his retirement years revealed a man who seemed simple, but often was not.
Maybe Rocky ran to avoid an estranged relationship with Barbara. He was awkward in the ring. Rocco slept in the living room with the windows open, even in the winter, as if in defiance of his bout with pneumonia.. Although he enjoyed being champion, Marciano remained unchanged. At the time many children died of pneumonia, but Rocco eventually recovered, and Lena kept her promise.
He rarely saw his wife and children; or his parents, brothers, and sisters. Pierino’s exposure to mustard gas during combat changed his life, but not his toughness. The people of the world should be informed of this boy’s character and personality.”
Perhaps it was his simplicity that allowed him to retire after beating everyone worth fighting. Rocky never wrote anything down, he tried to keep track of his loans in his head, and sometimes forgot who owed him, and how much. On those occasions Rocco reached opponents with his right hand, however, they fell down and didn’t get up.
Rocky’s last big payday was a computerized fight with Muhammed Ali in 1969. He would interrupt his training schedule to attend Mass. And Brockton loved him right back, at least in part because many of them became rich betting on Rocky’s fights.
The doctor was wrong. Rocky didn’t trust banks, either, so he hid his cash: in the ground, inside toilet tanks, in light fixtures. She smoked too, and developed a glandular problem. Jude’s oil while in his corner waiting for the start of that fight.
Marciano was “a kind and decent man.”, He was “inherently a decent, righteous and truly wonderful guy…His innate decency and wholesomeness shine through in a dedicated glow.” Or: “We never cease to be amazed at the humility of Rocky Marciano…he treats everyone if they were the celebrity and he the awed little guy.” Another writer called him “probably the humblest of heavyweight champions.” Said another: “He reminds you of a great, friendly collie …with the grin of a shy fellow happy to be recognized, at last, as a member of the gang in good standing.” He was “the gentlest athlete I have ever known,” and again: “a man of simplicity and sincerity.”
Marciano’s character was on display in his first fight with Walcott, which was a classic.
Marciano died without a will. Barbara missed Rocky, and drank too much. Ali later said that Marciano punched so hard he was sore for days after. The computer’s result: Marciano knocked out Ali in the thirteenth round. Rocco was in his twenties, when most fighters hit their peak. The man recovered, but never fought again.
(An experiment was performed on Rocky’s punching power. His fanaticism about physical conditioning, along with his determination and punching power, led to an unequalled record for a heavyweight champion: forty-nine professional wins, no defeats, forty-three victories by knockout. He would never be a classic boxer, but he worked unceasingly at improving his craft, and trained relentlessly. He even used a coat hanger to stuff money inside curtain rods.
Which heavyweight boxing champion in the last century knelt on his knees to pray to St. He boarded a small, single engine Cessna. Or the estrangement may have developed over Rocky’s running, which may have sprung from a preoccupation with money. A few minutes later she came out complaining: “What is he, crazy? He didn’t want anything to do with me.” Marciano seemed more comfortable in the company of clergy than actresses. Until Rocco put Brockton on the national map, his hometown was best known for its shoe factories. The champion was Jersey Joe Walcott, a ring veteran most experts picked to beat Marciano easily. Rocky hadn’t fought or trained for fourteen years. As a boy Rocco was preoccupied with his physical condition. Rocco inherited his father’s toughness, for he survived a deadly bout of pneumonia when he was two. His parents loved opera, ate Italian food, and had wine with dinner. Yet even after he had enough money Rocky went after more. He was famous, successful, and well thought of.
Lena prayed to St. He made sure the people who invited him paid for everything.
* * *
After serving as a GI in World War II, Rocco played minor league baseball. Rocky kept coming, even after Walcott knocked him down, closed his left eye, and opened cuts on his face that required fourteen stitches to close.
Rocky was an old school Catholic. He was a near-classic example of the triumph of classic virtues (Boston Herald Traveler, September, 1969).”
As he continued to successfully defend his title, Marciano gradually drew respect from critics. At the time boxing was a diversion, a way to make a few bucks to help out his family. The nicest thing about being champ, he said, “is that people like you.” Everyone but boxing experts, who found Rocky’s style too crude to suffer. Rocky Marciano was champion.
Not that there is anything particularly Catholic about being a teetotaler. It’s just that Marciano, though intelligent, was a very simple man who never forgot where he came from. One sportswriter said Marciano brought the “austere, sackcloth-and -ashes approach of a monk” to his training. He said if the man died he would quit fighting
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