Rocco Francis Marchegiano (September 1, 1923 – August 31, 1969), best known as Rocky Marciano, was an American professional boxer who competed from 1947 to 1955, and held the world heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956. He went undefeated in his career and defended the title six times, against Jersey Jow Ealcott, Roland La Starza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell and Archie Moore.
Although he had one professional fight (against Lee Epperson) on his record, Marciano began fighting permanently as a professional boxer on July 12, 1948. That night, he notched a win over Harry Bilizarian (3-6-0). He won his first 16 bouts by knockout, all before the fifth round, and nine before the first round was over. Don Mogard (17-9-1) became the first boxer to last the distance (full 10 rounds scheduled) with “The Rock”, but Marciano won by unanimous decision.
Early in his career, he changed the spelling of his last name Marchegiano. The ring announcer in Providence, Rhode Island, could not pronounce Marchegiano, so Marciano’s handler, Al Weill, suggested they create a pseudonym. The first suggestion was Rocky Mack, which Marciano rejected. He decided to go with the more Italian sounding “Marciano”.
Marciano won three more fights by knockout and then he met Ted Lowry (58-48-9). Marciano kept his winning streak alive by beating Lowry by unanimous decision. Four more knockout wins followed, including a five rounder on December 19, 1949, with Phil Muscato (56-20-0), an experienced heavyweight from Buffalo, New York, and the first “name fighter” Marciano faced. Three weeks after that fight, Marciano beat Carmine Vingo (16-1-0) by a fifth round knockout in New York that almost killed Vingo.
Marciano vs Las Starza
On March 24, 1950, Marciano fought Roland La Starza, winning by split decision. La Starza may have come closer than any other boxer to defeating Marciano as a professional. The scoring for the bout was 5-4, 4-5, 5-5. Marciano won on a supplemental point system used by New York and Massachusetts at that time. The scoring system did not award an extra point for a knockdown and Marciano scored a knockdown in the fight. Referee Watson decided the bout, scoring it for Marciano. Both boxers were undefeated before the fight, with La Starz’s record at 37-0.
Marciano won three more knockouts in a row before a rematch with Lowry (61-56-10), which Marciano again won by unanimous decision. After that, he won four more by knockout, and, after a decision over Red Applegate (11-14-2) in late April 1951 he was showcased on national television for the first time, when he knocked out Rex Layne (34-1-2) in six rounds on July 12, 1951.
On October 27, 1951, the 28 year old Marciano took on the 37 year old Joe Louis. Coming into the bout, Marciano was a 61/2 to 5 underdog. Marciano upset Louis in what was the latter’s last career bout.
After four more wins, including victories over 35 year old Lee Savold (96-27-3) and Harry Matthews (81-3-5), Marciano received an opportunity to win the title.
Marciano, 29, faced the World Heavyweight Champion, 38 year old Jersey Joe Walcott, in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952. Walcott dropped Marciano in the first round and steadily built a points lead. In the 13th, Walcott used his trademark feint to set up his right hand, but Marciano’s “Suzie Q” landed first. Marciano landed a glancing right hook as Walcott slumped to his knees with his arm draped over the ropes. He lay motionless long after he had been counted out and Marciano became the new World Heavyweight Champion. At the time of the stoppage, Walcott was leading on all scorecards 8-4, 7-5, and 7-4.