- Jose Torres
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Rocky Marciano is not an easy boxer to analyze. The former world heavyweight boxing champion of 1952-55 punched hard with both fists, and yes, he knew how to throw every existing blow in his profession. But that's always the easiest part to figure out in every champ.
What complicates analysis of this champion is that his boxing style then was neither "good-looking," nor "cute," but "unorthodox" and "peculiar." Many of his rivals were bigger or faster than the Brockton Blockbuster, but he used his brains not only to take better care of himself, but to be a better defensive fighter. He was great at anticipating every single move, fake and thought his rivals had.
Marciano had another thing working for him: great handlers. Manager Al Weill and trainer Charley Goldman were the rare handlers who understood to perfection how to protect the best interest of their fighters. Basically, Weill and Goldman never engaged Rocky against fighters they thought could beat him. That's an important feature of every good and responsible manager in this business.
"That was how our confidence in Rocky, and his trust in us functioned," Weill said.
But more significant was the fact that Weill had a thorough understanding of Rocky's knowledge, which was second to none in the boxing spectrum at the time.
To a common fan, Marciano didn't seem like a Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Muhammad Ali or Jack Johnson, even though their results were similar.
What the aforementioned champions did with their dramatic moves and fancy punches, Marciano did with his mind in combination with his rough and ready style. He equaled or even exceeded his outstanding colleagues. And that is not to slight those hallowed heavyweights. Those who really understand boxing would never dismiss the brain power instilled somewhere in the dazzling techniques and skills of those champions.
If you watch Marciano's boxing films, don't do what the common fan usually does -- smile and say that what made him invincible was his punching power. The truth is that what kept "The Rock" undefeated was his ability to anticipate. His attitude and record demonstrated that he entered the ring to win, not to impress anyone with fancy dances and extravagant moves and punches.
A 5-foot-10 man carrying 185 pounds, Rocky was not a truly full-size heavyweight. In order for him to reach the top, he had to overcome myths and beliefs accepted by many respected people in the boxing world who upheld decision-making positions. Most of them had never taken or provided any kind of punch anywhere, and appeared to have no true respect for any prizefighter's intellectual capacity.
Consider that the Golden Rock could knock out Joe Louis once and Jersey Joe Walcott twice in less than a two-year span. Those performances were not so simple to execute.
And to describe his style is as difficult as it is to explain his extraordinary boxing record. He simply knocked out 43 of the 49 opponents he faced and finished undefeated.
When he died on Aug. 31, 1969, in an airplane accident in Newton, Iowa, he left behind a boxing record very hard to conceive or duplicate.
Some of my personal conversations with him come to mind. He told me that knowing his ways to connect accurately in order to produce knockouts made him aware of those who lost their heart and/or interest while in action, and the ones who walked into a ring already defeated.
He thought it was a discovery without which he would never have won and defended his heavyweight crown successfully six times in less than three years.
Too bad I couldn't have had more conversations with him to learn more about the qualities that separated a champ from all the others. For I'm certain he had the correct explanation, most probably in careful details, about what it takes for a young man like him to become the top heavyweight prizefighter on the planet.
José "Chegüí" Torres won the Olympic silver medal in 1956 for the United States and was the light heavyweight champion of the world in the mid '60s, retiring with a record of 41-3-1, 29 KOs. The author of several books, Chegüí is ESPNdeportes.com boxing columnist as well as color commentator for ESPN Deportes and ESPN International.
What the recognized great heavyweights did with their dramatic moves and fancy punches, Rocky Marciano did with his mind working in sync with his rough and ready style.