Rocky Marciano, one of boxing’s immortals and the only world heavyweight champion to retire undefeated, with 49 wins including six title defences and 43 knock-outs, a man apart whose name will forever be enshrined in the history of the sport.
Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of his death — killed with two others, including the pilot, when hitching a lift in a private Cessna plane which hit a tree and crashed in adverse weather en route to Des Moines, Iowa.
He had perished on the eve of his 46th birthday.
Born in Brockton, Massachusetts, Marciano, son of Italian immigrants who left school in the tenth grade, then worked as a truck driver, ditch digger, shoemaker before serving with the US Army in Wales preparing supplies for the Normandy landings.
He was labelled by American boxing writers as “vicious, brutally efficient, a dirty fighter not bothered about the niceties of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.”
Standing 5ft 8ins, tipping the scales at 13st2lbs Marciano earned a reputation as being hard and malevolent yet he only had a reach of 68 inches.
The story is told how his mother Pasqualina, a religious woman, went to church every day her son fought praying to the Lord his opponent wouldn’t be killed.
That almost happened when he knocked out Carmine Vingo in the sixth round at Madison Square Garden in 1949, and then nearly decapitated Jersey Joe Walcott in a title contest with a vicious right in the 13th round after trailing on points, while he hammered British champion Don Cockell into submission after nine ferocious rounds.
His brother Peter smiles at the obituary tributes paid by the US scribes like that by Arthur Daley of the New York Times who described him “as man of gentleness, kindness, compassion and affability bringing dignity to the championship which he held with modest graciousness.”
Peter explained: “ All the stories about Rocky protected an image that made him look like an all-American boy who never swore, never got angry, never was cross to anyone. If Rocky had been like that he wouldn’t have won the world title, nor hit anybody in anger!”
Nobody trained more conscientiously than Marciano, spending three months in a farmhouse at Grossingers before every fight. Quickly he made an impact with victories over Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Lee Savold, Harry Matthews, Roland La Starza, Walcott and Joe Louis, a result which left him with mixed emotions for the Brown Bomber had been his boyhood idol.
Marciano had sustained so many cuts around his eyes throughout an eight year career he worried about going blind, his back ached and, anxious to avoid the fatal move of accepting one fight too many, he retired never to return to the ring although a $2m contract was offered by one matchmaker.
They called him the Brockton Blockbuster and a £200,000 bronze statue is to be erected in the centre of the Massachusetts city but work has been stopped because of fund raising difficulties.
Rocco Francis Marchegiano, to give him his full title, one of the greatest fighters of all time, who almost died of pneumonia when 18 months old, deserves better than that.