Marciano Wins His First Heavyweight Boxing Championship Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Trailing the bout badly and bleeding profusely, Rocky Marciano landed a crushing punch to the jaw of champion Jersey Joe Walcott in the thirteenth round of a remarkable fight, thus winning the heavyweight boxing championship. Marciano held the title until his 1956 retirement and left boxing with a perfect 49-0 record, the only heavyweight champion to remain undefeated in his career.

Summary of Event

The incredible career of Rocky Marciano was as inspiring as it was unprecedented. He was short and slow of foot, had a short reach, and often appeared clumsy. After getting a late start as a professional boxer, he was victimized often by unscrupulous promoters. Marciano also possessed incredible punching power in both hands and seemed both indestructible and absolutely determined to win. Despite his exciting style and unbeaten record, his career was slow to gain momentum, a fact partly explained by the New England venue of most of his early fights. After nearly killing an opponent in a 1949 fight, he went on to win a controversial decision in 1950 over another undefeated fighter, Roland La Starza, and then knocked out legendary former champion Joe Louis in 1951. To get a shot at the title in 1952, he had to agree to a markedly low percentage of gate receipts, thus providing even more incentive to win the fight. [kw]Marciano Wins His First Heavyweight Boxing Championship (Sept. 23, 1952) [kw]Heavyweight Boxing Championship, Marciano Wins His First (Sept. 23, 1952) [kw]Boxing Championship, Marciano Wins His First Heavyweight (Sept. 23, 1952) [kw]Championship, Marciano Wins His First Heavyweight Boxing (Sept. 23, 1952) Heavyweight boxing championship, world Boxing Athletes;Rocky Marciano[Marciano] Heavyweight boxing championship, world Boxing Athletes;Rocky Marciano[Marciano] [g]North America;Sept. 23, 1952: Marciano Wins His First Heavyweight Boxing Championship[03890] [g]United States;Sept. 23, 1952: Marciano Wins His First Heavyweight Boxing Championship[03890] [c]Sports;Sept. 23, 1952: Marciano Wins His First Heavyweight Boxing Championship[03890] Marciano, Rocky Walcott, Jersey Joe Columbo, Allie

Marciano’s opponent on the evening of September 23, 1952, was the cunning veteran Jersey Joe Walcott. Walcott’s hometown was Camden, New Jersey, so the Philadelphia location of the fight made it appear the champion was fighting in his own backyard. Walcott, too, was a sentimental favorite. He was thirty-seven years old, an extremely advanced age for a boxer, when he won the title in 1951 with an upset knockout victory over then-champion Ezzard Charles. His professional career had begun in 1930, and he had fought an amazing seventy fights by the time he stepped into the ring with Marciano. For all his experience, though, Walcott waited years for a shot at the title.

In 1947, in the eyes of most observers, Walcott had thoroughly defeated champion Louis, only to watch in bewilderment as the judges inexplicably gave the decision to Louis. Charles had given Walcott another chance to win the championship in 1951, largely because there was a dearth of other viable challengers and the superannuated New Jersey native appeared to be a safe and manageable opponent. Walcott’s victory over Charles was inspiring to millions because of Walcott’s age and because of the hard times he had endured to support his family. Both Marciano and Walcott had experienced poverty and lack of opportunity and both had dealt with the unscrupulous backroom users who seemed to control boxing. Now Walcott had the title and was completely devoted to keeping it, whereas Marciano was perhaps even more determined to take it. It promised to be a fight for the ages, and it was.

Challenger Marciano was in superb condition. He had trained all summer and had isolated himself from all conceivable distractions. Walcott was aware of Marciano’s style of fighting, which was to move forward continually and throw a barrage of punches. Also, Marciano did not fear being hit repeatedly if it meant a knockout win for him. This was the only way Marciano could fight. Walcott, though, remained confident of his ability to block the challenger’s rushes and to counterpunch effectively. Walcott was much taller and heavier than Marciano, and he had a much longer reach. Clearly, this would be a monumental struggle for each fighter.

At the starting bell, Marciano, as expected, quickly moved to the center of the ring, but Walcott met the rush with a series of his own punches, including a tremendous left hook that dumped Marciano on his rear. The stadium erupted; Marciano was knocked to the floor for the first time in his career. He seemed more surprised than hurt, however, and despite his coaches urging him to stay on the floor for a few more seconds to clear his head, he hopped up at the referee’s count of three and continued the round.

For the next several rounds, Walcott hit Marciano at will and either avoided or absorbed Marciano’s punches. An unintentional head-butting by Marciano opened a small cut over Walcott’s eye and caused a deep wound to Marciano’s scalp. The blood from this wound would make it progressively more difficult for the challenger to see Walcott in the ring. Marciano’s obstructed vision worsened in the middle rounds. A stinging contaminant found its way into his eyes, making him an even easier target. Walcott appeared tireless and continued to land a variety of punches, helping him to win round after round. By the ninth round, Marciano’s eyes were beginning to clear up, but he still could not avoid Walcott’s punches. In the eleventh round, Walcott struck Marciano with a hard right to the chest, momentarily stopping the challenger’s advance, and then opened a nasty cut over Marciano’s right eye. By the end of the twelfth round, Marciano was bleeding from his scalp, nose, mouth, and eyes and seemed all but incapable of fighting.

Marciano’s friend and assistant trainer Allie Columbo reminded the fighter that Walcott’s lead on points meant that only a knockout could save Marciano’s unbeaten streak. Walcott was now thinking knockout as well, even though he had only to avoid Marciano’s punches to win the bout. As the thirteenth round started, the champion rushed out to continue his pummeling of the badly bleeding Marciano. Suddenly, Marciano hit Walcott with a left hook to his body, causing him to fall into the ropes. Marciano then landed the punch that brought him the title: a short and quick right to the head that left Walcott’s face in a distorted grimace of pain. Marciano landed another punch as Walcott slowly sank to the floor, but that last punch was not needed. Walcott could hardly move as he lay slumped on the canvas while the referee counted away the last seconds of his reign. Marciano, despite the horrendous beating he had absorbed, was the new heavyweight champion of the world.

Significance

The championship fight between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott was an emotional roller coaster, thrilling from start to finish and ending with a stunning abruptness. It was also a contest that left boxing fans feeling good about both fighters, perhaps for the last time at the heavyweight level. Marciano’s victory was inspiring not only to Italian Americans but to many millions who also faced and then overcame great adversity. He sustained his perfect record until his retirement four years later, an achievement that may be equaled but likely never surpassed.

Marciano became a beloved cultural icon, considered more a natural phenomenon than a prize fighter, and is as closely identified with the decade of the 1950’s. Fans mourned his death in 1969, caused by a plane crash. After his bout with Marciano, Walcott would fight once more: a rematch against Marciano in 1953. This time, however, Walcott was knocked out in the first round. Walcott then devoted the rest of his life to working with troubled youth and became a social activist, remaining a positive force in his native New Jersey until his death in 1994. Heavyweight boxing championship, world Boxing Athletes;Rocky Marciano[Marciano]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hauser, Thomas. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. The evolving and surprisingly friendly relationship between the two great champions, Ali and Marciano, is covered here, along with their staged 1969 fight, filmed to reenact a computer-simulated fight between the two men.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sammons, Jeffrey T. Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. This work reveals the rampant corruption in boxing during Marciano’s era, which involved gangster Frankie Carbo, who admired the fighter, and Marciano’s own manager and promoter Al Weill.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Skehan, Everett M. Rocky Marciano: Biography of a First Born Son. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. A “cradle-to-grave” biography and still an excellent source. It is well researched and covers the largely unknown years before and after Marciano’s boxing career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sullivan, Russell. Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Part of the Sport and Society series. A biography of Marciano that includes an entire chapter on the Marciano-Walcott connection.

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