After his second round knockout rematch with Gino Buovino Rocky Marciano knocked out Bernie Reynolds in round three and Harry Matthews in round two. Jersey Joe Walcott’s unanimous decision against Ezzard Charles was his first title defence before facing Marciano. Both these fighters had had careers of being the underdogs, but now it was accepted they were best two boxers to fight for the heavyweight crown and proven themselves against all opposition. Marciano was only just ahead with the bookies. Some saw Marciano’s youth and power being more than a match for the 38 year old, ring-worn Walcott whereas a fair few thought that Walcott had the experience to handle the swarmer. When asked by reporters, Walcott said, “Write this down. He can’t fight. If I don’t lick him, take my name out of the record books.”
The fight was shown on closed circuit TV in 50 theatres in 31 cities coast to coast. 50 thousand people attended Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium to watch the fight.
Walcott entered the fight at 196 lbs and Marciano at 185 lbs.
Round 1: Marciano swarmed into the fight in his familiar style but Walcott was ready for him. He tied him up and began landing more of the punches in the clinch, especially his right hand. This became a repeated pattern with Marciano failing to land his punches in the clinch. Then Walcott saw his moment and floored Marciano with his left hook in similar fashion to the way he had knocked out Ezzard Charles. This was the first time in his 43-fight professional career that Marciano had been knocked down. He rose at the count of four. Walcott continued to dominate, spoiling his opponent’s in-fighting tactics using the same methods he employed at the beginning of the round. He tried and failed to land with a left hook again. Marciano got a bit busier towards the end of the round, but he didn’t land anything telling. Walcott won the first round with confidence.
Round 2: Walcott moved onto the back foot as Marciano came forward. The champion matched the challenger’s dips and level changes, handling the entries to the clinches. He kept working all the way in and out of the clinch. This round saw comparatively more out-boxing with Walcott taking advantage of his longer reach. Marciano, like Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles, leaned a lot to his right. His crouching stance proved to be pretty effective against Walcott’s overhand rights. Again, Walcott dominated.
Round 3: Walcott was setting the pace again, generally beating the Brockton Blockbuster to the punch. They clinched and Walcott continued to work as before, however, this time Marciano began pumping his punches inside. The challenger definitely became more energised at this point and started moving more efficiently. He won an exchange with Walcott and even did well to evade him at one point. The fight ended in stand-off exchange and it felt like Marciano was beginning to get his eye in.
Round 4: Marciano now began picking up the pace. He began bulling his way in and upped the aggression in the exchanges. Fighting in the pocket was where Marciano was most comfortable and he pushed Walcott to the ropes.
Round 6: One of Marciano’s aggressive exchanges led to a clash of heads. The champion took a slice to his left eye and Marciano took a cut to his scalp.
Round 7: At the end of this round, Marciano told his corner he couldn’t see. It would appear that one of the coagulants or solutions used on either of the two fighters had got into his eyes. He would fight for the next three rounds with impaired vision.
Round 8: With Marciano now having trouble seeing his targets, Walcott easily dodged the punches and began opening up cuts on his opponent’s face.
Round 10: Marciano had a visibly swollen left eye.
Round 13: Walcott was ahead on all three official scorecards as round 13 began. Referee Charley Daggert scored the match 4-7 to Walcott. Judge Zach Clayton scored it 4-8 to Walcott. Judge Pete Tomasco had it 5-7 to Walcott. Marciano knew he could only win on a stoppage. He had been here several times before, but this was his hardest ever battle having taking most of the punishment. His left hook drove Walcott back
At the 43 second mark Walcott backed up to the ropes and began to launch a right hand, but Marciano beat him to it and put him down for the count with a right to the jaw. The 13th round was named The Ring Round of the Year.
The fight was named The Ring Fight of the Year.
The fight was named the 16th Greatest Title Fight of All-Time by The Ring in 1996.
Swarmer versus Boxer-Puncher and understanding your opponent
- Both Marciano and Walcott favoured powerful left hooks and overhand rights. However, they were quite different in execution. Marciano’s left was more text-book. He had been taught by his coach into his professional career. Walcott’s was an upward angled hook. Marciano’s overhand, “Suzi Q”, was short. Walcott’s had a more pronounced downward arc. When it came to the moment of truth, Marciano’s was faster because he happened to be in closer. There was also an added distraction. Marciano had been threatening with his left hook and this is what Walcott was defending against when he threw his own right.
- Much like Sugar Ray Robinson’s handling of Randy Turpin in their rematch, Walcott did well to match Marciano’s level changing.
- Marciano’s crouching stance served him well against Walcott’s overhands.
- Rhythm is everything in fighting. Walcott’s quirky yet masterful manoeuvring had a rhythm all of his own that, for the most part did well to curb Marciano’s assaults. However, once Marciano set his own simplistic yet very fast rhythm danger for the champion was never going to be far away.
- Walcott did well to handle Marciano at the challenger’s strongest range by using grappling. He controlled with his left and threw hooks and uppercuts with his right.
- Likewise, Marciano’s victory came from employing a counter-punching technique. This was usually Walcott’s forte.