Rocky Marciano, Undefeated Heavyweight Boxing Champion

Boxer Rocky Marciano is legendary for being the only heavyweight champion in history to win every single one of his 49 professional fights, with 43 knockouts. He is remembered for his ferocity as a boxer, and conversely, for his mild manner and congeniality outside the ring.

Rocky Marciano’s Early Days

Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born on September 1, 1923, in Brockton, Massachusetts, to a working-class Italian-American family. Described as a “typical American kid,” Marciano loved to play baseball and football, and had dreamt of a career playing sports professionally.

During Marciano’s teenage years, he dedicated a large portion of his time to physical conditioning. He spent long hours competing in sports such as baseball, and would then come home to a workout of chin-ups, weightlifting and punching a stuffed mail sack in his backyard. His ferocity as an athlete surfaced in several neighborhood scuffles, and he developed a neighborhood reputation for toughness.

The reputation that Rocky developed served him well during his army stint in World War II. While stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington State, Rocky began amateur fighting and immediately saw his potential.

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Marciano’s Notable Accomplishments

After failing a tryout for the Chicago Cubs, Marciano dedicated himself to a career in boxing. In 1947, he entered the ring professionally and eventually achieved 49 straight victories—earning most of these wins by knocking out his opponent in the ring.

In September 1952, the “Rock” squared off against Jersey Joe Walcott, the heavyweight champion of the world. In an interview before the fight, Walcott said: “This kid can’t fight. If I don’t whip him, take my name out of the record books.” After a grueling 13 rounds, Marciano delivered a powerful right punch that knocked Jersey Joe out cold. East Side Boxing has a video recap of the fight.

Rocky defended his title as heavyweight champion of the world six times before his retirement in 1956.

The Rest of the Story

Marciano retired from boxing at the age of 31, while he was still in his prime. He believed it was a mistake when other popular boxers tried to make comebacks and failed. He wanted to put the ring behind him and more spend time with his family. Some believe money was also a factor in his decision: his manager took at least half of his winnings.

After Marciano retired, he made money from speaking engagements and other public relations opportunities. He remembered his father’s shoemaker business, and the difficult life he had growing up in Brockton without much money, which inspired Marciano to work as hard as he could, and live as frugally as possible.

It was this drive that led him to board a plane on August 31, 1969, to attend a speaking engagement in Des Moines, Iowa. Returning home to Florida on his friend’s private jet, bad weather forced the inexperienced pilot to make a premature landing; the resulting crash killed Marciano and everyone else on board.

Marciano died just hours before his 46th birthday. He is remembered as one of the world’s best boxers; no other heavyweight champion has ever retired undefeated.

In 2012, his hometown of Brockton unveiled a 20-foot statue that “depicts Marciano landing the knockout punch against Walcott in the epic 1952 match,” according to the town of Brockton.