Died on this day: Rocky Marciano
One of the hardest-punching heavyweights of all time. A man whose very name has become synonymous with boxing and punching power.
Rocky Marciano died tragically on a day like today 53 years ago.
Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born on September 1, 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts, to a couple of Italian immigrants. As a kid growing up in a blue-collar family as one of six siblings, Marciano found sports in his local high school, where he excelled in both baseball and football. But soon enough, he found himself more entertained while punching a homemade heavy bag in his backyard.
During a two-year stint in the Army during World War II, Marciano became involved in amateur boxing within the armed forces, compiling a record of 8–4. He had his first professional bout in 1947, with his name being introduced as “Rocky Mackianno,” in a misspelling likely due to the difficulty for English speakers to pronounce his surname correctly, generating what would later become his new name.
After stopping Lee Epperson in three rounds, Marciano famously returned to the amateur ranks, where he had a few more fights, losing at least two bouts during that period. After a short tryout as a baseball player, Marciano found his way back home and started training to be a professional boxer.
His first pro bout after his win against Epperson took place in July 1928 with a win over Harry Bilazarian, and from then on he would never lose a boxing match again. After stopping his next 15 foes, he scored a decision win over Don Mogard in 10 rounds to start making a name for himself in the big leagues.
He finally exploded onto the scene with a closely disputed win over fellow then-unbeaten contender Roland LaStarza (37-0) in what was Marciano’s 26th pro bout, ending in his only split decision win ever. After that, he began his inevitable march towards the title, with wins over the likes of Ted Lowry, Rex Layne, Lee Savold, and a memorable and emotional win over his idol Joe Louis at the fabled Madison Square Garden, in what proved to be Louis’ last bout.
Less than one year after defeating Louis, Marciano stopped Jersey Joe Walcott in 13 rounds to win the Ring heavyweight belt, also stopping Walcott in a rematch. He gave LaStarza a shot at the title next, stopping him in 11 rounds, and won the only points win of his championship rule in 1954 against Ezzard Charles next, stopping Charles in the rematch a few months later.
He went on to stop Don Cockell in his next bout, and finished his career in 1955 with a win over light heavyweight legend Archie Moore, winning by stoppage in nine rounds after visiting the canvas earlier. He would then retire undefeated as a champion, having stopped every man he faced during his title reign at least once.
Marciano flirted with un-retirement during the short reign of Sweden’s Ingemar Johanson a few years later, but made good on his promise to stay away from the ring, becoming a public speaker and traveling all over the country to fulfill his engagements.
Tragedy, however, caught up to him on August 31, 1969 (the day before his 46th birthday). On that day, Marciano boarded a small private plane on his way to a speaking engagement in Des Moines, Iowa. Attempting a risky landing in bad weather, pilot Glenn Belz missed the runway by two miles and hit a tree in the process, killing all three passengers aboard the aircraft, including Marciano.
Marciano was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.