Nicknamed the “Brockton Blockbuster,” Rocky Marciano remains the only heavyweight boxing champion to retire undefeated (49–0). Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born to Italian immigrant parents in Brockton, Massachusetts, on September 1, 1923. In a bit of foreshadowing, his mother received a card from a friend that pictured little boxing gloves and read, “Welcome to another […]
By Joe Bills
Feb 25 2015
Rocky MarcianoPhoto Credit : Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Nicknamed the “Brockton Blockbuster,” Rocky Marciano remains the only heavyweight boxing champion to retire undefeated (49–0).
Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born to Italian immigrant parents in Brockton, Massachusetts, on September 1, 1923. In a bit of foreshadowing, his mother received a card from a friend that pictured little boxing gloves and read, “Welcome to another champion.”
Rocky’s mother didn’t approve of boxing, so during his early training runs, he’d carry a football and pretend he was training to be a running back.
A 10th-grade dropout, Rocky worked blue-collar jobs, including floor sweeper at the same shoe factory where his father worked. He also worked as a chute man on delivery trucks for the Brockton Ice & Coal Company (for which he earned $10 per week) and as a ditch digger.
On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1947, Marciano fought his first professional fight, using the Irish-sounding pseudonym Rocky Mack. He won by knockout in the third round.
Rocky became “Marciano” because New England ring announcers couldn’t pronounce Marchegiano.
Marciano became heavyweight champion on September 23, 1952, when, behind on points, he knocked out 38-year-old Jersey Joe Walcott in the 13th round. In 2006, an ESPN poll voted it the greatest knockout ever.
In the early 1950s, Sunnyhurst Dairy in Stoneham, Massachusetts, featured an image of Marciano on its milk bottles, with the slogan, “For Radiant Health, Rocky Marciano says ‘You Never Outgrow Your Need for Milk.’”
In 1954, Timex ran a series of ads featuring sports stars testing the durability of its watches. Marciano was featured in several, wearing a Timex while working out: “The Watch ‘The Rock’ Couldn’t Stop!”
Marciano’s last fight was on September 21, 1955, at Yankee Stadium. A closed-circuit television audience of more than 400,000 watched him knock out Archie Moore in the ninth round, and Marciano earned the largest payday of his career, $470,997. Seven months later, the 32-year-old boxer announced his retirement.
On August 31, 1969, the eve of his 46th birthday, Marciano was a passenger in a small private plane, headed from Chicago to Des Moines. In bad visibility conditions, the pilot clipped a tree two miles from the runway. Marciano, pilot Glenn Belz, and fellow passenger Frankie Farrell (son of mobster Louis Fratto) were killed.
Marciano was known to have distrusted banks and was rumored to have kept his money stashed in light fixtures and curtain rods and other locations in his homes. Despite extensive searching after his death, the fortune that many people presumed he’d stashed was never discovered.
A bronze statue of Marciano, sculpted by artist Mario Rendon, was unveiled on the grounds of Brockton High School on September 23, 2012, the 60th anniversary of Marciano’s first championship victory. There’s also a bronze statue of Marciano in Ripa Teatina, Italy, birthplace of Marciano’s father.