On this date in 1956, the only man to ever retire as undefeated heavyweight champion of the world retired, as Rocky Marciano announced that he was walking away from the sport at age 32. He hung up his gloves with a record of 49-0, with 43 KOs.
Like most iconic fighters, Marciano tends to be both over- and under-rated. Many will point to his perfect record as evidence that he deserves to rate at, or near, the top of the list for all-time great heavyweights. Others dismiss him as a hype job who never beat a single great fighter in their prime.
In my own opinion, Marciano was a fighter of limited technical skill, but with unlimited heart and grit. He was definitely among the best natural punchers in boxing history and his stamina was endless, but his relatively small frame would have left him badly over-matched against many of the other all-time heavyweights. His 68″ reach was below average for even a middleweight.
Like many legendary fighters, Marciano was a product of his times. He emerged at a moment when boxing fans were hungry for an heir to Joe Louis. Marciano’s October 1951 Round 8 KO of Louis was in fact the fight that established him as an unquestionable contender.
Louis was 37 at the time. In today’s game, that’s not necessarily an ancient fighter. But Louis at 37 was far, far past his prime. He’d been fighting and training in earnest, in the sport’s most dangerous division, for very close to 20 years.
Rocky Marciano captured the title with one of the greatest KOs in the history of the sport. After being soundly whooped for 12 rounds by Joe Walcott, he caught the champion with an absolutely perfect, compact straight right in Round 13, to end the fight.
Aside from Louis and Walcott, two past-their-prime fighters, Marciano’s best wins were against Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore. Charles and Moore are arguably the two best light heavyweight of all time, and Marciano himself only weight between 185 and 190 pounds. Walcott only tipped in at about 195. It was an era of smaller heavyweights and Marciano benefited from it.
Marciano retired before what could have been an amazing fight for him, against Floyd Patterson. After Marciano retired, Patterson would defeat Moore for the vacant title.
Patterson was another smaller heavyweight and he would have been a very intriguing matchup with Marciano. On the one hand, Patterson would have unquestionably out-boxed Marciano. But Rocky Marciano had a chin of granite and the punching power to turn things around in a hurry.