Rocky Marciano retired 49-0 in April 1956, the only heavyweight champion to hang up the gloves with both the title around his waist and a perfect record. In the decades that followed, many revisionist critics would deride Marciano as a crude slugger who fought only old guys and little guys. The latter point ignores the undeniable fact that Marciano himself never tipped the scales above 190 lbs, and in general it can be said that the Rock fought the best guys who were available at the time.
One way Marciano could have headed off the critique that he fought only those who were past their best (Louis, Charles, Walcott, Moore) was to have stayed in the game just one year longer, and taken on the rising young lion who would stand center stage in the heavyweight division from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s: Floyd Patterson.
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Instead of retiring, Rocky Marciano chooses to bide his time and wait for the rising Olympic gold medalist, Floyd Patterson, to mature and challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship. After knocking out Archie Moore in nine rounds in September 1955, Marciano fought a ranked fringe contender in April 1956.
In June, Patterson met Archie Moore in a box-off for the right to challenge Marciano, and improved on Marciano’s performance by knocking Moore out in five. The stage was set for Marciano vs. Patterson in November 1956.
The opening bell rings and Marciano went out doing what endeared him to legions of Italian-American fight fans: looking to knock the other guy’s block off. He moved forward in a crouch, feet spread wide, applying relentless aggression and with every punch carrying nasty intentions. Patterson moved side-to-side, deftly avoiding the worst of Marciano’s blunt hammering, or blocking it from behind his peek-a-boo guard.
From behind his mobility and guard, Patterson stuck the jab to keep Marciano from swarming him, and picks off skillful counters on the go. After a couple of rounds, Patterson feels out Marciano’s powerful and wild, but ultimately one-dimensional aggression and starts coming forward off the angles, sticking short, stinging combos.
Marciano walks back to his corner after the fourth bell, knowing he has dropped all four of the previous rounds. His face was already puffy from eating jab after jab, and at 33 years old, his back was starting to act up from swinging from crouched position.
Once on the stool, his trainer Charley Goldman tells him “Rock, you’ve gotta change up what you are doing in there. This kid is 21. He can keep it up all night. He has faster hands than anyone I’ve ever seen, and feet as good as the best of them. You aren’t going to catch him by going forward and banging away!”
“Then what should I do?” asks Marciano, incredulously. After all, banging away was what he did best. It was practically all he ever needed to do.
“Play possum. Make him come to you. Get him cocky, make him let those hands go some more.”
Marciano ignored this advice for the fifth round, and got cut above the eyebrow for it. In the sixth, he started doing what the Rock had never done before. When Patterson landed a sharp right to the Rock’s temple, he stumbled backwards, bringing the crowd to their feet. The Rock was stunned for real, but it was what happened next that changed everything. Patterson jumped on him, leaping forward with his left hook. That hook glanced off the Rock’s gloves, but he saw right there what he was going to do.
When Patterson went back to his corner, Cus D’Amato pleaded with him to not take such chances by jumping in with his left hook again. Patterson nodded, but ignored him. Marciano was tired and bleeding, he was easy to hit, he was there to be taken.
Patterson came on more aggressively, and Marciano got tattooed. For the most part, he stood still and traded with Patterson in the middle ring, but sometimes Patterson would land a hard left hook or overhand right, and Marciano would back off.
Patterson jumped forward with his left hook again in the seventh, this time connecting and driving Marciano back on the ropes. The Rock looked hurt, but he was playing possum this time. When Patterson jumped forward with that hook again, what looked like a juicy target landed a short, crushing right on him as he came forward. Patterson collapsed like a marionette with its strings cut, and with his back flat on the canvas, began jerking out what looking like punches.
Marciano KO7 Patterson