AT first glance there’s nothing immediately conspicuous about the date April 27, 1956. President Dwight Eisenhower sat in the White House. A 400-foot rampaging reptile monster called Godzilla was unleashed and played to packed movie theatres. Elvis Presley topped the music charts with Heartbreak Hotel, his first million-selling record as the Rock and Roll dance craze swept the nation. Sex symbol Brigitte Bardot took centre stage at the Cannes film festival as the paparazzi shot pictures of her frolicking on a beach with a parrot. Meanwhile, at a press conference held at the Hotel Shelton in New York City, Rocky Marciano, world heavyweight boxing champion, announced that at 32 he was hanging up his gloves to spend more time with his family. It would become one of the most famous, and perfectly timed, retirements in boxing history. In 1969, Rocky died in a plane crash but his legend remains. Some historians have questioned his status as one of the best, and picked holes in his 49-0 record that included wins over Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore. Sixty years on from his retirement, Peter Marciano spoke to Boxing News from his home in Plymouth, Massachusetts and reflected upon the life and times of his brother, addresses those criticisms, and reveals the driving force behind the “Brockton Blockbuster”.
How would you describe Rocky Marciano’s legacy?
Since he [Rocky] retired in 1956 there isn’t a month that goes by when I don’t get letters from someone somewhere in the world; from Ireland, Australia and other countries referring to their uncle or grandfather who used to talk about Rocky.
Rocky’s story has inspired
a lot of people. He is still a hero to millions of people. In 2012 they put up
a beautiful bronze statue of Rocky in Brockton. It was commissioned by the
World Boxing Council and cost $250,000. They’ve written books, made
documentaries and movies about him.
I can tell you that alongside Rocky Jnr [Rocky’s adopted son] we’ve been working with film director Dustin Marcellino on a new Marciano movie called 49-0 The Brockton Blockbuster, which focuses on Rocky’s childhood right through to the tragic plane crash in 1969.
What was your reaction when Floyd Mayweather equalled Marciano’s 49-0 unbeaten record?
I did several interviews about it. Mayweather is a welterweight. It’s different. When you’re a heavyweight and you go undefeated 49 times, it’s different.
Let me explain, Buster Douglas fought Mike Tyson. Douglas was a nobody, a run of the mill fighter, and he still knocked out Tyson. Every time a heavyweight throws a punch you face the prospect of being knocked out. You could be stopped at any moment. It’s a misnomer really.
I have all the respect in the world for him [Mayweather] as a boxer. As a boxer he fought 49 times but people don’t get their money’s worth with Mayweather. Unlike Rocky, Mayweather sidestepped many boxers. 49-0 compares to Marciano, but it should be illegal to talk about him [Mayweather] in the same sentence as Rocky. I just want to be honest about it.
In your view, how good was Rocky?
He was the greatest boxer that ever lived, and that includes Muhammad Ali. Ali was a wonderful guy a very respectful man who was at my brother’s wake. He was there with Joe Louis. “I’m here to pay my respects to a great, great man,” Ali said.
My brother never ever side-stepped anyone. He retired undefeated prematurely and the major reason for this is that he didn’t have anybody that could challenge him. He had nobody to push him. The only guy was Floyd Patterson and he was kind of young at the time. Rocky’s greatness made great fighters look ordinary. There were great, great fighters but they didn’t look as great after they fought Rocky. Rocky had strength, punching power, a great chin and incredible condition. Muhammad Ali told everyone that he was the greatest but Rocky knew in his mind that nobody could ever beat him.
Uncle Mike [Piccento] was involved in boxing. He promoted fights and ran a fight club. Marciano would pick up 25 to 30 bucks. One time he got in the ring and was not in shape and in the second round of a fight he got disqualified. He was 16 years old. He never got in the ring out of shape again. The greatest lesson he learnt was to be in the best of shape. He was always in incredible condition. He was devoted to training, and he trained like a dog.
What is your abiding memory of Rocky as a fighter and as a brother?
Rocky was the oldest in the family and as the eldest he took over as a father figure. There was one time when I signed for the Milwaukee Braves in minor league baseball. Baseball was my love. The first person I called was Rocky. At the time he was in New York. Rocky told me to meet him there. I spent four beautiful days with him. We had long talks, he guided me. As a brother, all I can say is that if every kid had a big brother like I did, the world would be a much better place. When he stepped into the ring his personality changed, he became a killer, but out of the ring he was a good man. On the day Rocky stopped Joe Louis he went to the factory where our father worked and he made him retire. From then on my father would be in his [Rocky’s] training camp and spend most of the time in the locker room. I attended a dozen of his fights.
What do you think about the criticism Rocky received during his career about the level of his opposition?
You can’t do any better than 49-0 and 43 knockouts. Rocky was not a braggadocio type person. His favourite saying was, “Why waltz for 10 rounds when I can knock them out in one round?” He told that to his inner circle one or two years before he became world champion. There is so much stupidity from people who are supposed to be knowledgeable about the sport. Marciano was his own man, a quiet man who enjoyed having a meal with his family. He was very intelligent, a self-taught guy and a wonderful speaker. I’m sure he read all of these things. But how can you do better than fight every No.1, No.2 and No.3 ranked guys in the division? He fought everybody. Joe Louis fought all the guys and knocked them out. To fight Jersey Joe Walcott [for the title] he [Louis] had to fight Rocky Marciano, who was the No.1 contender. He fought great fighters: Ezzard Charles could punch and he could box; Louis was past his prime but he still had a great jab. I think it’s ridiculous. I’ve played sports all my life, and everybody has an opinion about sport – that’s what makes sports great. If you go to bat 49 times and you get a run every time, how do you beat something like that? What does he have to do to improve on that? You take the criticism with a grain of salt.
What was the driving force behind Rocky Marciano?
Rocky grew up in a family where things were tough. Everyday my dad walked half a mile up the road to the factory. Everybody was in the same position. The biggest motivation for Rocky was to improve his lot for himself and for his family, and he worked hard. He would regularly do a 20-mile jog with neighbourhood friend and trainer Allie Colombo. Marciano was loyal to a fault, at times loaning money to his friends. He vowed at a young age that he would never go broke. He remembers what had happened to Beau Jack, a great fighter, a lightweight champion. He made a lot of money but ended up being a shoeshine guy in Florida. Rocky was there once and went over to greet him. Beau went to shine Rocky’s shoes but Rocky stopped him. ”You’ll never shine my shoes, you were a great fighter.” He didn’t make a big deal out of it.
What is your favourite Marciano fight?
It’s the night he won the heavyweight championship of the world. It was also considered one of the greatest knockouts in the history of the game. Rocky went down for the first time in his career and came back to knock out Jersey Joe Walcott in the 13th round. They could have counted to 100 that night, he would not have got up.
I was 11 years old, sitting between a priest from Rhode Island who was a friend of Rocky’s and a cousin of mine on the other side. We were in the press section. Rocky was getting pushed around pretty good. To me he was untouchable, the strongest guy, and I found it unacceptable seeing him getting pushed around. The priest turned around to me and said, “Have faith, my son.” Then came the knockout.
The fight holds a special place in my heart. It was Rocky’s dream to win the world heavyweight title.