Rocco Francis Marchegiano (September 1, 1923 – August 31, 1969, better 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 is the only heavyweight champion to have finished his career undefeated. Often thought of as a bruiser, Marciano is actually not a simple boxer to analyze. Like his contemporaries, Rocky Marciano used a leaning stance. This involved keeping his body leaning to the right in order to keep his head of the center line and avoid straight punches. Rocky Marciano was also capable of switching from orthodox to southpaw and back. Not only did this tactic confuse opponents, but it allowed Marciano to cover ground faster in spite of being only 5’10 and 187 lbs at best. With a speed advantage, Marciano would clobber home right uppercuts to off balance opponents, intercept right hands with left hooks, and finish the show with Susie Q, a hellacious bomb of a right. Those skills…those punches worked in the 1940’s and 50’s, but what would happen if Rocky Marciano were to bring these weapons forward into the 1970’s era of of heavyweight boxing and fight the champions of the Golden Era? Let’s find out.
Vs. Joe Frazier
This is a battle of absolutely undersized kings. Joe Frazier stood 5’11 and weighed 205 lbs. Joe Frazier was a.notoriously slow starter. Ricky Marciano won his first 16 bouts by knockout in 5 rounds or less. Rocky Marciano also utilized a weapon that proved absolutely fatal to Joe Frazier, the uppercut. Joe Frazier had a rhythmic bob and weave to his stance. Defensively, Frazier would bend over to slip under punches. Ducking into an uppercut would be likely as Marciano loved to throw uppercuts against opponents who swayed. Archie Moore ‘s failed heavyweight title conquest began to be undone by an uppercut. Jersey Joe Walcott tried to punch and sway and was ultimately caught with by Susie Q. The awkward lowered stance also wouldn’t be new to Marciano. Archie Moore presented a similar problem and fell in nine. Offensively, Joe Frazier and Rocky Marciano were quite similar. Both could punch with either hand, threw mean left hooks, and applied unrelenting pressure to break opponents down. Power is different. Marciano won all of his fight so I must do a knockout to fight ratio for this scenario. Marciano won 43 of his 49 bouts by knockout for an 88% rate. Joe Frazier won 27 of his 37 bouts by knockout for a 73% clip. With just 12 more fights, Marciano had 16 more finishes. Both men were floored, but Marciano was never put away or beat. 3 out 4 of Joe Frazier’s losses were by knockout.
Result: Rocky Marciano wins by knockout in rounds 8-10.
Vs. George Foreman
One attributes, I left off from Rocky Marciano before was stamina. Rocky Marciano did not get tired. He was also ignited by pain. In his heavyweight title challenge to Jersey Joe Walcott, Marciano was dropped in round 1. He fought the remainder of the bout half blind. He won the bout an title with a brutal 11th round right hand. George Foreman was terrifyingly strong in his youth. He bounced Joe Frazier around the ring. He slapped Jose Roman to sleep. Those were easy because George didn’t get tired. Both of those fights were done in rounds 2 and 1 respectively. George Foreman is famous for tiring against Muhammad Ali and surrendering the heavyweight crown in eight rounds. On that night, Ali didn’t dance. He took Foreman’s punches and when George couldn’t punch anymore, Ali took the fight away. Jimmy Young made Foreman tired just by boxing. Rocky Marciano was only down twice in his career, Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore. He took damage from bigger men just to exhaust them. Rocky Marciano was the definition of a phone booth fighter; He was virtually attached to his opponents and never stopped throwing sledgehammers. This is a battle of unrelenting pace against finite stamina.
Result: Rocky Marciano wins via knockout in rounds 6 to 9.
Vs. Muhammad Ali
The speed demon with rhymes galore or the rope a dope master? Rocky Marciano overcame slick wizards like Roland La Starza and Ezzard Charles. The long range jabs kept Marciano at bay until Susie Q connected and saved Marciano who was trailing in fights. The Ali who moved could replicate what la Starza had done. He could dance and sting Marciano with jabs and crosses. Ali’s chin saw that he was never laid out unconscious. But, by the time Ali regained his title in the Golden Era, the slickster was gone. The new Ali was a flat footed pot shorter with a granite chin, marvelous timing to sway punches, and an insistence to fight on the backfoot. This would lead to him being pressured against the ropes. Ali allowed George Foreman to tee off in order to tire him out. Ali thought Leon Spinks would falter with the same strategy, but was wrong and with such, lost his title. Marciano didn’t tire. He was a relentless pursuer, and ferocious puncher. While he may not put Ali to sleep, activity and crowding proved to defeat Ali in bouts with Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks, and Ken Norton. Ali won 37 of his 61 fights by knockout for a 61% rate. That falls far below Marciano’s 88%. In the seventies, all of Ali’s losses were decision losses, as he possessed an otherworldly ability to take damage. Marciano was only knocked down twice in 49 fights, ( all in his last seven fights).
Result: Rocky Marciano wins via unanimous decision.
Vs. Leon Spinks
Leon Spinks was an all action fighter who moved forward. The problem here is in the knockouts. Leon Spinks won 14 of his 46 fights by knockout for a dismal 30% rate. Leon Spinks lost 9 times out 17 losses by knockout. He was not a big punchers and he could not take a big punch. Leon Spinks’ aggressive brawling style was born out of confidence from his win over Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title. He beat Ali in his eight pro fight. He lost the crown to Ali in his ninth fight. Jose Ribalta won 27 of his 56 fights by knockout for a slightly sub 50% rate., (48.2%). One of his victims was Leon Spinks. Marciano had an 88% kill rate and a 0% defeat rate. Not only would activity be bad because both Rocky Marciano and Leon Spinks were pressure fighters, Leon didn’t have the punch to deter or the resistance to take a pounding.
Result: Rocky Marciano wins via knockout in rounds 1-3.
Vs. Ken Norton
Rocky Marciano could be outboxes. Roland La Starza and Ezzard Charles had great leads on Marciano by the judges scorecards. Then they were knocked out. 4 of Norton’s 7 losses were by knockout. Norton was a sly forward-pressing fighter who was infamous for his unusual crab-like cross-armed defense. In this stance his left arm was hoisted low across the torso with his right hand up by the right or left ear. When attacked both arms were brought up high guard, while leaning forward, covering his head and leaving no room for his opponent to extend his arms. This is the same guard used by Archie Moore. Moore fell in nine. In 220 fights, Archie Moore was only stopped 7 times. Norton fell in 4 of 50. Kenny Norton’s crab style left him open to short kooks and uppercuts, which were Marciano’s preferred weapons for frequency. Leaning forward during a barrage invites uppercuts. Marciano had the shortest reach of any heavyweight champion at 68 inches. He didn’t need a lot of room to generate power because his range was always short.
Result: Rocky Marciano wins via knockout rounds 4-7.
Vs. Larry Holmes
As a boxer, “the Easton Assassin”, Larry Holmes was a warrior. A tall 6’3 workhorse with a python for a jab, Larry Holmes proved his mettle in exchanges with Ken Norton and Earnie Shavers. Though hurt, Larry Holmes did not tire. He did not falter. Eventually, Larry Holmes would begin to chase Marciano’s record of 49-0 and fall so tragically short in his 49th bout against Michael Spinks. But the man of the seventies was undefeated. Rocky Marciano like to pressure. His pressure often came at the cost of getting hit and outmaneuvered for long stretches. Even 38 year old Joe Louis was able to land clean jabs and straights on the oft broken Marciano nose. La Starza and Charles landed combinations and left Marciano to swing at ghosts until his determination paid off. In Holmes 75 fights, he was knocked out once at age 38 by Mike Tyson. Holmes was coming out of retirement in 1988. Holmes was able to tank Earnie Shavers’ best punches and still win. Yes, tank. Earnie Shavers was regarded as the greatest puncher of all time, having knocked out 70 men in 91 fights. Larry Holmes did not tire and focused on being elusive to create opportunities to land counters against incoming opponents.
Result: Larry Holmes wins a unanimous decision.
Rocky Marciano could absolutely be a champion of any era. A dedicated pugilist with the training method of a demon, Rocky Marciano is often lambasted as having only been champion because he beat old men. The average age of his opponents during his championship reign was 38. That is no mark against Marciano. He fought and defeated the best his time had to offer. He did so in an era that could also be a golden age of boxing as a whole. Jumping into the seventies wouldn’t see much of a difference for Marciano. Everybody would still be bigger than him. But I here are people in this era that don’t get knocked out. The George Chuvalo’s and Oscar Bonavena’s would be here. So, Marciano could not fall behind and depend on Susie Q to paralyze his foe. It is quite a task to gleam at what could beat the man that never got beat. There are no corrections to be made for the winner. And at 49-0, that’s what Rocky Marciano was. He conquered his Golden Era and could be a true force in another heavyweight era down the line in time.