Great Feuds: Robinson’s Revenge (diary entry)

robinson v turpin 2Tonight’s “Learn from the Fight” brought us back to the heavyweight division to see what was lying in the wings for our current 1952 champion, Jersey Joe Walcott and just about any other fighter hungry for the top prize. Back in 1951 Rocky Marciano, was like a latter day Jack Dempsey, in both his swarming style and the devastating way he was stopping opponents in the early rounds. After him it was back to the middleweights and another all-time legend, Sugar Ray Robinson keen to avenge the loss of his title just 65 days later and retake his belt.

Rocco Francis Marchegiano, the man who would be known as “The Brocton Blockbuster”, Rocky Marciano, was born 1 September 1923 the Southside of Brockton, Massachusetts . He had two brothers and three sisters. He was the eldest son. His parents were immigrant Italians. His father was a non-union shoemaker who worked in a factory and the family were on the edge of poverty. At age 18 months, Marciano contracted pneumonia and almost died. He did well at sports in school becoming a part of both the baseball and football teams. However, he was cut from the former when it was discovered he also played for the local church. He dropped out of school at the tenth grade and founder work as a chute man for Brockton Ice’s delivery firm, a ditch-digger, a railroad layer and also in the same shoe factory as his father. His younger brother, Louis, recalled his father urging Rocky to “Get out of this factory and be somebody important”.

Rocky had a long love for boxing. At home he used improvised weights and used to punch a filled mail bag he hung from a tree. He began fighting as an amateur. Marciano’s victories at amateur level included winning 1946 Amateur Armed Forces boxing tournament. He had joined the Army in 1943 where he was stationed in Swansea, Wales, where he helped ferry supplies to Normandy.  The boxing tournament occurred during his final year of service, where he was stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington. After winning the tournament he fought a professional bout against Lee Epperson who he knocked out in three rounds before making the highly unusual move of returning to amateur fighting. However, before he did this he tried out for the Fayetteville Cubs, a farm team for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. After three weeks he was cut from the team and made a decision to return to boxing.

Apparently his official amateur record was 8-4, although his only recorded loss appears to have been a controversial points decision to Coley Wallace in 1948 in the finals of the New York Golden Gloves. The audience appeared to believe it was a draw and the decision was a close split. Wallace would go on fight as a professional earning a record of 20-7-0 but was very much mob-controlled by Blinky Palermo. He also later found work as an actor, portraying Joe Louis twice. Marciano then fought in the AAU Olympic try outs. He did well but injured his hands after knocking out George McInnis prompting him to withdraw. He officially turned professional that year, coming under the management of Al Weill and Chick Wergeles, and under the training mentorship of Charley Goldman.

Marciano’s most famous punch was an overhand right he called Suzie Q he took from his street fighting days. Apparently Goldman tried to change it at first, but later decided against the move given its efficiency. He just added to Rocky’s arsenal. These additions included a constant rear hand parry in front of his face, a left hook set up with his right and a shifting style of foot work that saw him switch stances whilst punching.

By the time he faced Rex Lane, Marciano had won 35 bouts. Only five of these went the distance and only Roland La Stanza lost on a split decision. They would fight again in the future.

Although his dominant style was undeniably that of a swarmer, much like Jack Dempsey and later Mike Tyson, he had an extremely high knockout ratio comparable to any of the great sluggers.  Marciano did not have the greatest of defences; unlike Dempsey and Tyson he didn’t use a tremendous amount of head movement. He was also short at 5’10½” with a 68 inch reach. Marciano compensated for this by having a relentless style of coming forward and attacking everything in his way. Charley Goodman taught him to lean into his supposed disadvantages by squatting into a low stance, making himself as smaller target and driving up from it as one unit to deliver tremendous power.

Born in 7 June 1928 in Lewiston, Utah, Rex “The Lewiston Larruper” Layne started boxing when he joined the army. He became a staff sergeant in the airborne division in World War II for 19 months. He won the heavyweight division when the troops were stationed in Nippon, Japan. By 1949 he had become a sugar beet farmer when he won the National Amateur Boxing Association Heavyweight Championship. After turning professional that same year he won his first 17 bouts, mainly on stoppages, the majority of which would be straight knockouts. He lost his first fight on a unanimous decision in a rematch with David Whitlock in 1950. He would win nine more bouts that year, including outpointing Whitlock in their match, before drawing with Dale Hall and Andy Walker. That year would then close out with Layne winning a unanimous decision over the great and future heavyweight champion, Jersey Joe Walcott. His third winning streak would continue for eight more bouts in 1951. As with the previous two winning streaks, the wins would mainly come via a stoppage and usually a straight KO. One of these KOs was in his fourth fight with Whitlock, fairly exorcising that demon in the eyes of most.

Rocky Marciano versus Rex Layne 12.07.1951

Marciano went into the fight as the 11 to 5 underdog. He was 183lbs whereas Lane was 193lbs. 6’1” Layne was considered the almost unanimous favourite by the boxing experts of the time due to his performances against Jersey Joe Walcott and Bob Satterfield. Marciano had not faced any opposition close to this level at this time. This was far from the first time that Marciano, due to his relatively small stature, was under-estimated in his division. Layne was a natural slugger known for his heart and Marciano was a swarmer. In the rock, paper, scissors game of boxing, a good slugger should beat a good swarmer especially when the slugger has a strong range advantage. Layne was not only a natural slugger but also a natural heavyweight for his time and throughout the 20th century. Marciano would have been a very short cruiserweight by 1979 standards (he would have been a tall middleweight at best) whereas Layne wouldn’t have been considered eligible for this category until 2003. Marciano’s record was 35-0 and Layne’s was 34-1-2.

Round 1 – From the beginning Marciano pressured Layne, driving straight into him and posting his head.  On each break, Layne threw his best punch: a straight right to the head. Marciano just continued to charge. Layne pushed him into the ropes and tried to pummel at his mid-section but Marciano just continued his own onslaught, shoulder bumping and throwing a rear uppercut/left hook combination. Apparently Goldman had been developing Marciano’s left hook. Also part of his plan was to go for Layne’s body too, which looked like it was carrying a bit of timber.

Round 3 – Marciano began to unleash a lead uppercut and his infamous Sweet Suzie-Q. This powerful overhand right was once estimated to be the equivalent of lifting one ton a foot off the ground. Once at a distance, Marciano adopted his hallmark deeply crouching stance and advanced on Layne to swarm again.

Round 4 – Far more out-boxing was demonstrated by the two fighters in this round. However, Marciano still didn’t waste much time in gobbling up the distance. A clinch saw Layne upended but the referee seemed to rule it as a slip. Marciano threw the odd the jab to close the distance but he was mainly hacking his way forward with left and right hooks. Marciano landed a few head shots and slipped Layne’s jabs. Layne seemed to be spending most of his time trying to keep Marciano away but his opponent was relentless.

Round 5 – This round was probably Layne’s best in terms of control of the fight. Marciano still won it, but it appeared that Layne had woken up to the swarming tactics. He or his corner had realised that matters weren’t going to work out great if Layne tried to play Rocky at his own game, where the Brockton Blockbuster was pummelling away at the Larruper’s midriff and anything else he could hit once he was in range. Layne needed to use his size, height and reach to plant his big punches. The problem was Marciano wasn’t going to let the bigger man score with his jab. Instead he walked him down with non-stop chopping punches from all angles.

Round 6 – The round began in a similar fashion to earlier rounds with Marciano swarming into the clinch. They clinch was broken and Marciano attempted a type of gazelle punch. It missed and they clinched again, were separated and then began a short stand-off. This time Marciano was commanding the long-range to mid-range and no clinch was made. He shifted in with a series of jabs that Layne slipped. Marciano spotted his tired opponent’s low guard and, without ceremony, let loose Suzie-Q. The short overhand right hit home and Layne demonstrated a delayed reaction. He reeled off the blow and then leaned forward as if to clinch but instead slid down Marciano face first before collapsing onto his side. The referee began counting him out. Then he and his corner would turn him over as he lay prostrate on the canvas.

Rex Layne would next fight Ezzard Charles next and lose on a TKO. He would never get an opportunity to fight for a world title and although there is a definite decline in his career after the Marciano and Charles defeats, he would finish his career of 70 bouts in 1956 with 50-17-3 (34 KO). Amongst his 1952 victories he would avenge his loss to Charles by outpointing him after the former champion had lost his title to Walcott. Charles would get the deciding bout, however, when he beat Layne on a unanimous decision the following year.

 

Sugar Ray Robinson versus Randolph Turpin World Middleweight Championship 12.09.1951

Robinson’s upset by Randolph Turpin had been a momentous event. Up to this point Robinson had seemed indestructible and unstoppable. Yet his first defence of the middleweight belt had resulted in his second career defeat and his first defeat in the middleweight division. It’s fair to say that Robinson did not take Turpin seriously and was completely perplexed by his elevator style plus he had trouble dealing with a stronger opponent with a longer reach. However, there was no taking anything away from Turpin’s win. He soundly dominated the early and final rounds with Robinson’s late rally and attempts to adapt coming too late in the middle rounds.

A lot rested on Robinson winning the title back from this new opponent. A fighter had seemingly come out of nowhere at the end of his European tour and won the title back for the UK for the first time in 60 years.

The story was that Robinson had ditched his crazy lifestyle for the build up to the rematch having spent the rest of his time in camp focused on his training.

The rematch was set just two months after Turpin’s victory and held at the Polo Grounds, New York. Over 61,000 people were crammed into the audience to watch the bout. Celebrities in attendance included Joe Louis, Gene Tunney, Marlene Dietrich and General MacArthur.

Robinson went into the bout with clear more assertion and a better understanding of Turpin’s elevator style. This time the body shots were not mere distractions.

Round 1 – Robinson got inside Turpin’s hook repeatedly and went straight to the body. He immediately began matching Turpin’s drops rather than the token effort he gave in the previous fight too late on.

Round 2 –Robinson visibly hurt Turpin with right hands.

Round 3 – Again, Robinson’s right hands found their mark.

Round 4 – Robinson scored with some sharp uppercuts and began to show he had an answer for Turpin’s crouching style. He also continued to pummel away at the body every time Turpin began to clinch and bully.

Round 5 – We began see signs of Robinson tiring as with the previous round and he began to miss with his punches. A left hook hurt Robinson and Turpin began to demonstrate footwork of his own.

Round 6 – Robinson’s punches continued to miss and Turpin was showing all-round good manoeuvrability.  Turpin was strong and knew the bullying in the clinch had sapped his opponent beforehand. He began to embark on a similar strategy. However, he also backed off a lot when he would have normally pressured Robinson.

Round 7 – This was a fairly even round with Robinson showing more signs of tiring but Turpin making a few mistakes.

Round 8 – Surprisingly Turpin did not press forward at the beginning of this round, allowing Robinson to regroup a little. He eventually he began to move into clinches where could resume the roughing up, where the main damage had been done to Robinson in the previous fight and where it would begin to happen again. By the end of the round Robinson’s exhaustion was beginning to show. He was clearly gasping for air.

Round 9 – Robinson was ahead on points but the momentum of the fight had shifted again. Turpin still seemed as fresh as had been in the previous encounter. He began ragging the tired ex-champion around and pressed the advantage. Turpin was clearly beginning to take charge.

Round 10 – The old gash that Turpin had opened over Robinson’s left eye in the previous fight had now been reopened due to a clash of heads. Robinson later called this his “Do or Die” moment, knowing he was never going to outlast the stronger and better enduring champion, he had to gamble everything on his abilities as a puncher rather than boxer. He opened up with some big shots, and an overhand right to the jaw turned Turpin’s legs to jelly. The champion tried to clinch and the referee separated them. Turpin immediately went onto the back foot to get out of trouble and was hunted down on the ropes. He clinched again and looked like was trying to return to the outmuscling strategy, but Robinson was knew he was on a timer and locked up tight for the referee to force a separation. It happened again. Then as on the third attempt, Turpin looked sloppy and Robinson was ready. He caught him with a left collar tie and hacked in with a bolo punch that found its target. Again, Turpin stumbled and lefts and rights went in care of Robinson. The referee moved in between them and this time Robinson was waiting with a jab setup for a blistering right hook that put Turpin down.

The champion made it to his knee as the referee counted four before he got to his feet. He backed off as Robinson sprung forward with a feint the body and an overhand to the jaw. Turpin valiantly absorbed the telling blow and tried to bob and weave out of the way as the challenger unleashed a two-fisted assault to the head. They moved to the ropes and Turpin desperately tried to roll out of the way of Robinson’s right hand setups. Unanswered punch after unanswered punch was landed as Turpin tried to evade and block. Eventually the referee stepped in and waved off the fight just eight seconds before the end of the round. Sugar Ray Robinson was once again the World Middleweight Champion.

Turpin would complain that his head was clearing and he was rolling with the punches. However, by remaining on the ropes and not answering the punches that were landing he had left the referee little choice. There would be no deciding match between the two.

 

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