Fifty-seven years ago today — September 21, 1955 — Heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano successfully defended his title for the sixth and final time by stopping Archie Moore in the ninth round.
The only heavyweight champ to retire undefeated (49-0), the Brockton Blockbuster gained the coveted title at age 29 by defeating Jersey Joe Walcott on September 23, 1952, which coincidentally, occurred 60 years ago this coming Sunday.
Marciano took the crown in the 13th round by delivering an up close and personal right (deemed one of the hardest hits in the history of the sport) to the hapless Walcott. In the immortal words of boxing writer A.J. Liebling, Walcott “flowed down like flour out of a chute.”
The new champ first defended his title in 1953 by knocking out Jersey Joe in the first round of a rematch. A few months later, Marciano defeated Roland LaStarza by technical knockout in the 11th. The bones of LaStarza’s arms were chipped as a result of the Blockbuster’s remarkable hitting power.
As Joe Louis once said of Marciano, who trained on a 300-pound heavy bag, “It hurt to even bump into him.” And the Brown Bomber did more than bump into him — he suffered a shellacking at Rocky’s hands in 1951 in what proved to be his last fight, following his unwise return to the ring.
Legend has it that the Rock, who idolized the Bomber, cried like a baby following the bout. In 1954, Marciano twice beat former champ Ezzard Charles. In the second fight, Marciano KO’d Charles in the eighth round. The first, however, was a win for the champ by unanimous decision — Charles was the only man to go the distance, 15 rounds in those days, with the Rock. In May 1955, Marciano defeated, by a TKO in the ninth, British Empire Champion Don Cockell.
[Also See: Fantasy Fight – Ali vs. Marciano]
Then, last but not least, came Marciano vs. Moore. Light Heavyweight Champion of the World at the time, Moore succeeded in knocking Marciano down in the second round, but was himself knocked down five times by the relentlessly swarming heavyweight.
Though an outstanding boxer, Moore simply couldn’t match the champ’s youthful vigor, let alone his amazing strength. “I haven’t an excuse in the world,” said Moore. “Marciano is far and away the strongest man I’ve encountered. You can avoid him some of the time, but not all of the time.”
And Rocky was indeed of seemingly superhero strength. In addition to his literally chipping away at LaStarza’s skeletal structure, he sheared off at the gumline one or more of Rex Layne’s teeth in 1951 and almost killed Carmine Vingo in 1949. Carmine wound up in a coma, and Rocky prayed that he would not only recover, but live. Marciano’s prayers were answered, and they became good friends, but Vingo never fought again. It was, said Marciano, the “toughest fight of my career.”
Boxing historian Bert Sugar calls Marciano the “hardest puncher in the history of the sport,” and ranks him sixth on his list of all-time best heavyweights (I have him fourth-ranked).
A statue in honor of Rocky will be unveiled on the 23rd in his hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. Former champs Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield, among other boxing celebrities, will be on hand to pay homage to one of the greatest champions, heavyweights, and pound-for-pound boxers of all time.