Rocco Francis Marchegiano (September 1, 1924 - August 31, 1969), better known as Rocky Marciano, was a boxer who holds the distinction of being the only Heavyweight Champion of the World to retire undefeated.
Marciano was a chubby kid with strong arms as a pre-teen, but he benefitted from living next to a park. He used to go to the James Edgar Playground to play baseball every day, and he would hit ball-after-ball and then go pick the balls up. After that, he'd go home to lift some homemade weightlifting equipment.
Rocky at the time used a stuffed mail bag that hung from a tree in his backyard as a punching bag. He and his friends would use it, and if it was hot, they'd race for a drink of water at a local soda fountain afterward.
Because it was widely known that Rocky had an interest in boxing, he would get involved in street fights as a teenager more than the average kid. But Rocky wanted to be a baseball player, not a boxer. So he also became famous for his potential as a possible major league star.
When Rocky was fifteen, he entered Brockton High School and made the football team. Legend has it that center Rocky once intercepted a pass and ran 60 yards with the ball to score a touchdown.
He also made the school's baseball team as a catcher, but was told he was slow and moved to right field. Shortly after, Rocky joined a church league, violating a school rule that players could not join other teams. Cut from his school's team, Rocky felt frustrated and started cutting class and later on, dropped out completely.
Rocky had been urged by a teacher to attend a vocational center in Brockton, and realized he had few working skills. Rocky found work as a chute man on delivery trucks for the Brockton Ice and Coal Company. Later Rocky's father was able to get him a shoe salesman job. When Rocky was 20, he was called up by the US Army to serve in England. However, the war was drawing to an end, and Rocky was flown back to the States.
While awaiting discharge from the army, Rocky decided to take in an amateur boxing competition, where he represented the Army and won. Upon being given a month's furlough from the Army, Rocky went back home and bragged about his newly found talent to his family and friends. It was his uncle who told him about a boxer who was looking for an opponent, and that maybe Rocky fitted the bill. The boxer was Henry Lester, a Golden Gloves champion. Rocky did not seem to care that his opponent was an award-winning amateur and took on Lester. Rocky was lucky it wasn't an official bout because, according to people present, he was on his way to defeat when he hit Lester in the groin and was disqualified. Rocky was so embarrassed by this fight and the newspapers' accounts of it, that when he went back to the military facilities, he started concentrating solely on his boxing training.
His next big opportunity was the national AAU championships. Rocky won his first two bouts there by knockouts in the first round, but by the third bout, his knuckles were damaged, and he lost by decision for the championship. His hand later required surgery because of the injuries, and the doctor who performed the surgery, a Japanese friend of his, told him he would "never make it as a Heavyweight".
Rocky by then was playing semi-pro baseball, and he was signed by the Chicago Cubs to a minor league contract. But, while playing in a minor league team, he heard his coach say that none of the players on his team would ever make it to the big leagues. Rocky took this personally and soon returned to Brockton, where he felt dejected by the whole baseball system and started training with his sights set on becoming a professional boxer. There, he met Allie Colombo, a man who put Rocky on a very strong training regime.
On March 17, 1947, Rocky finally stepped into the ring as a professonal competitor for the first time. That night, he beat Lee Epperson by a knockout in three rounds. He won all his first sixteen bouts by knockout, all but one before the fourth round, and nine before the first round was over. On May 23, 1949, Don Mogard became the first boxer to last the distance with The Rock, but Rocky won by decision.
He won three more by knockout, and then he met Ted Lowry who, according to many scribes and witnesses, probably managed to take three or four of the ten rounds away from Rocky. Nevertheless, Rocky kept his winning streak alive by beating Lowry by decision. Four more knockout wins followed, and then another hard-fought ten-round decision victory, over his future world title challenger Roland LaStarza. He won three more knockouts in a row, before a rematch with Lowry. Marciano again won, by a unanimous decision. After that, he won four more by knockout and, after a win in six over Red Applegate, he was showcased on national TV for the first time, when he knocked out Rex Layne in six rounds on July 12, 1951. One more win, and he was again on national TV, this time against Joe Louis. In Louis' last career bout, Marciano won by a knockout in the eighth round. After that series of wins, Marciano was a ranked Heavyweight. After four more wins, including victories over Lee Savold and Harry Matthews, Marciano faced world Heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952. After being dropped in round one, Marciano got up and knocked Walcott out in the thirteenth round, becoming the world's Heavyweight champion. A rematch was fought one year later and, in Marciano's first title defense, he retained the title with a first-round knockout of Walcott. Next, it was LaStarza's turn to challenge Marciano, and after building a small lead on the judges' scorecards all the way to the middle rounds, LaStarza was knocked out in eleven by the champion. Then came former world Heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, who Marciano beat by a decision in their first bout. After having his nose broken in round five of the rematch, Marciano retained the title with an eighth-round knockout win. Then Marciano met British and European champion Don Cocknell, beaten in nine, and in his last bout, Marciano got up off the canvas in round two to retain his title by a knockout in nine against the equally-legendary former Light-Heavyweight champion of the world, Archie Moore.
Marciano managed his money well after his retirement, and he lived a comfortable life the rest of his days. He hosted a weekly boxing show on TV, and lived in a mansion. Rumors that one of his trainers, Al Weill, had connections to the mafia surfaced later and, according to the rumors, Rocky hated the fact Weill 'was connected'.
Rocky got his pilot's license, and in 1969, while flying home from a business meeting, his plane developed engine trouble and crashed, killing him. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Rocky had a record of 49-0 with 43 knockout wins. While his record as the Heavyweight champion to go the longest undefeated and his position as the only world Heavyweight champion to go undefeated through his whole career were challenged by Larry Holmes in 1985 (when Holmes went 48-0 before losing to Michael Spinks), Marciano's records still stand. After Holmes lost to Spinks, he caused some controversy by making some unfortunate comments about Marciano, but he later apologized.
Marciano was the subject of a biographical movie, and in the movie Rocky, the Rocky Balboa character told his trainer Mickey that Marciano was his favorite boxer. Marciano has been also the subject of several paintings, and he is on a US postage stamp commemorating his life.
Marciano, like rivals Louis, Walcott, and Moore, is a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.
Numerous books have been written about Marciano including the 1977 book by Everett M. Skehan titled Rocky Marciano, Biography of a First Son, whose cover is shown at the top of this page.