The Rock & The Mongoose (diary entry)

moore marcianoRocky Marciano versus Archie Moore Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship 21.09.1955

According to Archie Moore, he had been chasing Rocky Marciano for two years to take this fight. This was not new to him. Ever articulate, Moore had mounted an aggressive letter writing campaign to sports magazines and journals to secure him a shot at Joey Maxim’s Light Heavyweight title. Indeed, he had been the number one contender for that particular title for an astounding six years. Now, knowing time was against him, he went a stage further with campaign to get Heavyweight champion in the ring. In a retrospective article for Ring magazine, Lee Groves said, “According to Sullivan’s biography of Marciano, Moore and his team initially mailed 427 letters and telegrams to sports editors pumping up a potential Marciano-Moore fight, then expanded their mailing list to more than 500. They commissioned a poll of sportswriters and the results revealed that 992 of the 1,134 respondents wanted to see the match (though 787 picked Marciano to win). They enlisted Toledo Blade cartoonist Walt Buchanan, who, free of charge, drew caricatures of Marciano. Moore even reached out directly to the champion; one year-end greeting suggested that Marciano resolve to grant Moore a fight in 1955.” This campaign also included a poster Moore commissioned reading: “Wanted: Reward for Capture and Delivery of Rocky Marciano to Any Ring in the World for the Purpose of Defending His Heavyweight Championship Against the LOGICAL contender ARCHIE MOORE. Reward: the Boxing Public Will See a Great Fight and Witness the Crowning of a New Champion. Advise (Sheriff) Archie Moore.”

Marciano’s manager, Al Weill, was eventually convinced by the colour Moore brought to his campaign. He created a credible opponent, not only by his ring record and recent performances yo-yoing up and down the weight divisions but by the contrast he brought to Marciano. Rocky epitomised the everyman image that was proving popular in the 1950s. Everything about his life in and outside the ring was about hard work and resilience. He won his fights by becoming a bulldozer who threw everything he could at his opponents, never coasting and always coming forward. Outside the ring he was very open and straightforward, always coming across as the blue collar worker next door. Marciano was very relatable and unsophisticated. Moore put over an aura of mystery. His philosophy on “escapism” and, a word he coined, “relaxism” added to his sage-like quality. Whereas Rocky was the Brockton Blockbuster, a crowd-pleasing term did what it said on the tin, Archie was the Old Mongoose, which elicited ideas of mysticism. His remarkable ability to shed weight yet not lose energy and pack on muscle fast was put down to his “secret” diet he had learned from Australian aborigines when he had toured their earlier in his professional career. The diet appears to be a peculiar mixture of Victorian style Fletcherism (where mastication is taken to extreme lengths), juicing and what we would now call a Paleo diet. Moore had created businesses on his way up and often had a range of side-line interests, which probably added to his salesman-like qualities.

Again quoting from the same Ring Magazine article, columnist, Red Smith is quoted as describing Moore as follows: “He’s an actor by preference, a spellbinding spieler… He even makes up like a Shakespearean ham, with his Mephistophelean moustache and chin whiskers. All his life he’s been playing summer stock in converted barns. Now, for the first time, he’s hit Broadway. He has an audience worthy of his immeasurable art. It must be a great comfort to him.” Moore was attempting to break the so-called light-heavyweight jinx. Jack Root, Georges Carpentier, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, Tommy Loughran, John Henry Lewis, Billy Conn, Gus Lesnevich, Freddie Mills and Joey Maxim were all world light-heavyweight champions who had then failed to win the heavyweight crown. The only light-heavies who had won the crown were those who had never won the light-heavyweight crown, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott. Bob Fitzsimmons was a peculiar outlier. He won the World Middleweight title before later winning the World Heavyweight title from Jim Corbett. After losing the title, he became the second man to win the World Light Heavyweight title in 1903, but he would never regain the heavyweight title. Unlike those other light heavyweight title holders before him, Moore looked and behaved like a legitimate heavyweight. He had more power than Loughran, Conn and Maxim as well as obvious size advantages.

The fight was postponed for 24 hours due warnings of Hurricane Lone. 61,574 spectators filled Yankee Stadium, New York producing a gross sum of $948,117.95, the ninth highest gate in boxing history at that point. According to BoxRec, “Theatre Network Television drew an estimated $1,125,000 from some 320,000 fans in 129 locations in 92 cities. The radio receipts were $35,000. Marciano received $482,374 and Moore got $241,187.”

Marciano was the 4-1 favourite. He was younger by seven years and had never been defeated in his professional career. However, Moore had far more experience, was taller and had a better reach advantage. Moore was a boxer-puncher. In fact, he is so highly regarded because he could pretty much do everything that was required in boxing and always fought intelligently. Marciano is mainly praised for his tenacity and relentless style. He had the rock chin, ferocity and consistent firepower of a swarmer whilst also possessing undeniable knockout power in his left hook and right Suzi Q short overhand. Moore weighed in at 188 lbs and Marciano was at 188 1/2 lbs.

Referee Harry Kessler described some rather peculiar rules to the two fighters. “If a man goes down, the man standing up goes to the farthest neutral corner and stays there until I wave him back… He doesn’t have to wait for eight seconds, and when a man gets up and I get his gloves brushed, well, you come back.” This would prove to be quite significant on the night. There would also be no three knockdown rule, which was unusual for New York fights.

marciano-moore-530x317Round 1 – This was a relatively tame round with both boxers feeling each other out. Their distinctive styles were very obvious. Marciano went early to the body whilst Moore jabbed from his cross-arm guard.

Round 2 – Moore sent Marciano to the canvas for the second time in his professional career with a sharp right to the chin early on in this round. The champion had landed a left hook to the jaw of the challenger and then over-reached with Suzi Q, sending him off-balanced. Moore was quick not to miss an opportunity and landed his own bomb. Rocky was up at two and, according to Moore, the challenger’s seconds were screaming for him to finish the champion. However, according to Moore, Kessler decided to give Marciano a mandatory eight count which did not apply in championship bouts. Moore claimed the referee took his time wiping off Marciano’s gloves allowing the fight to resume. Kessler’s memoires recount a contradictory story: “I didn’t bother to wipe Marciano’s gloves on my shirt before I waved them back to combat; that early in the drama, there was no resin on the canvas.” The footage seems to support Kessler’s view and the voice over counts to four before Marciano is back on his feet and Moore has moved towards him.  Kessler also said that “Archie hesitated a couple of seconds before he came in.” The footage does not reveal excessive wiping of the gloves and the commentator counts four when Kessler stops counting. However, to me it looked like Moore did not waste time once he was allowed back in and it looked like Marciano might lose the title in this very round. For the remainder of the round he pretty much battered the champion around the ring. However, Marciano weathered another hard right, did well to weave out of some fight-finishing uppercuts and even winded Moore. The champion returned to his corner with a bleeding nose as well as a cut and puffiness under his left eye.

Round 3 – Marciano began to bounce back from the beginning of the round. He caught the challenger with his lethal left hook and went to the body again. Moore retaliated by rolling out of trouble and delivered a sharp right uppercut. Marciano, usually the straight fighter, even used a feint to deliver a hook to Moore’s forehead.

Round 4 – Marciano drove Moore into the ropes. There are contentions here that Moore did not use a prototype rope-a-dope in this fight, but I think there is a fair argument he did tactically use the rope to absorb punishment coupled with his cross-arm defence. Marciano caught the challenger with a right hook to the head followed by an onslaught of punches that Moore deftly blocked and avoided. Like a refined version of the Cockell fight, Moore found himself having to deal out one punch for the multiples Marciano was throwing. Unlike Cockell, Moore was showing great upper body mobility to deflect, avoid and block them but this seldom worried Marciano. The odd right got in and he caught the champion with a good left hook and sharp right prior to the bell but Marciano didn’t show any signs of stopping. Another right amused Marciano when it caught him in the throat after the bell.

Round 5 – After Marciano seemingly turning matters back to his way in the previous round, Moore took charge of the round early. He began by controlling the distance and picked shots off at long range. Marciano’s effective defence allowed him to continue to make progress and he eventually covered his ground. However, this time Moore wasn’t going to allow him to just resume wearing him down against the ropes. Instead the Old Mongoose took advantage of the gaps in Marciano’s defence, adeptly using his cross-arm guard counter-rights to win the round.

Round 6 – At this point it looked like Moore was steering the fight and giving Marciano a boxing lesson. He out-boxed the swarmer for the first minute before getting caught by Marciano’s right hook -a punch that seemed to have Moore’s name on it tonight. Moore went down. He was up at three and Marciano was taking no prisoners with this one. His swarming style saw punch after punch heading to the challenger who did well to defend most but also took some heavy shots. Moore somehow regained enough composure to fight back, connecting with a right cross/left hook combination. However, this only seem to spur Marciano on further who sprung back with combinations of his best two punches: left hook/overhand right. Moore did his best to deflect and avoid, but he was slower now and true to Rocky’s theme one heavy shot got in. It was what Ring Magazine described as a “corkscrew right” that caught the Old Mongoose in the temple and sent him down for the second time. He went to one knee and rose at eight to the next torrent from Marciano. It was calculated the champion threw an average of one punch per 1.25 second. Although cleary dazed his defensive skills were stretched to slip these eight power punches before the bell rang.

Like the spectre of defeat we have seen drift over Marciano’s fights, the ring physician arrived in Moore’s corner. However, the man who sprung up from the stool in round 7 seemed far removed from any of those who risen from round three onwards. The Associated Press would declare that Moore had “dipped into his fountain of youth”.

Round 7 – Moore took the outside, schooling Marciano with sharp combinations to the head. Marciano doggedly stuck to his relentless pursuit. The round was mainly the challenger’s until two thirds in it looked like Marciano’s right hook had found its mark and downed Moore for a third time. Despite being ruled a slip, it broke Moore’s rhythm. Having to get up wears on the body, regardless of the fall’s legitimacy. Marciano now barrelled into his opponent and caught him with Suzi Q. The stunned Moore found himself up against the ropes again as the burrowing champion was back on familiar ground. Moore returned to his corner with his right eye almost swollen shut.

Round 8 – With a conscious effort to stay on the outside and time Marciano’s shots, Moore worked his jab and set his rights. However, for those who had seen Marciano fight before there was no mistaking what was happening now. It never mattered to him that his punches were missing, some were getting in and when they got in they caused damage. The right caught Moore’s ear again and the bell saved the Old Mongoose from being knocked out.

The ring doctor asked Moore if he wanted the fight to be stopped. Moore refused him and said he wanted to be counted out in the ring.

Round 9 – Marciano moved in for the kill. A flurry of his familiar swinging punches sent Moore down after the first minute, although the Brockton Blockbuster took an uppercut to the jaw for his troubles. Moore tried to rise but his corner entered the ring to hold him down.

Moore’s resentment towards Harry Kessler’s behaviour in round 2 only grew over time. In an interview he gave in 1970 he said, “(Kessler) had no business refereeing that match because he was too excitable. He didn’t know what to do…He grabbed Marciano’s gloves and began to wipe Marciano’s gloves and look over his shoulder…I’ll never forget it. It cost me the heavyweight title.” Moore had issues with Kessler since he had refereed his first fight with Maxim, giving Archie the narrowest of decisions at 76-74 compared to the judges. He had even fallen out with his manager, Charley Johnson, for not stopping Kessler from being the referee of the match.

By stark contrast, Kessler’s own memoires heap praise on Moore:

“Archie had exuded a stalwart confidence from his training camp…” “Archie Moore had more punches in his arsenal than Robin Hood and all his Merry Men had arrows in their quivers…” “Archie Moore was probably as sure a fighter as ever set foot in the ring…” “No one ever questioned Archie Moore’s courage…”

He also said that Moore seemed very much at ease after the fight, knocking back suggestions that he might retire now and even sat on a bass fiddle until 5 a.m. Indeed, it would not be more who would retire after the bout but the man who beat him.

After his fight with Moore, it was expected that Marciano would be another Joe Louis and would defend his title in ’56. However, during the time he took off he put on 50 lbs in the space of six months. Marciano considered giving Don Cockell a rematch. He didn’t like rewatching their bout, despite commentating on it years later during his TV show, and wanted to put on a better performance in his 50th victory. However, after just one month of returning to his gruelling training regime he hastily called a press conference at the Hotel Shelton, New York City on 27th April 1956.  He announced his retirement citing the standard celebrity reasons: he wanted to spend more time with his family. Although Marciano’s  monk-like training camps kept him away from his family for long stretches, his life after boxing did not reflect that of a family man. Marciano liked his own company and frequently travelled on his own. His autobiography and biographies reveal his problems with his manager, Al Weil, who was taking as much as 50% from Marciano’s fight profits. There were also other issues connected to his training. Clearly the fight with Cockell had made a bad impression on him. He didn’t like how he had looked that night. Prior to facing Moore, Marciano said he had lost his love for training and was beginning to hate it, recalling how the smell of the liniment in a gym now made him feel sick. There are even reports that Marciano did not train as hard as usual for his fight with Moore.

Rocky had also reported worsening back problems, which quite possibly might have stemmed from his strong use of bobby and weaving tactics. It will be a problem we will witness in the career of another great swarmer, Floyd Patterson. Rocky’s entire approach to boxing was intensive in the extreme. His victories, which were often wars, took everything he had and everything he had worked for to achieve. The swarmer’s career is typically the shortest of all the styles. He takes far more punishment and requires more intensity. The out-boxer can escape out of range more frequently and the slugger will always be able to rely on that big punch. However, the swarmer gets where he wants to go by pressuring in the trenches. Archie Moore had put on a master class of boxing in his attempt to beat Rocky. Despite losing, his fight with Marciano is considered one of the best in a career that saw him beat over three times more opponents than his vanquisher. With the exception of Marciano’s first fight with Jersey Joe Walcott, this fight probably saw the Brockton Blockbuster take more solid punches and miss more than in any other contest in his career. He may have been known to trail on points only to pull out a stoppage in the mid and late rounds, but during this bout he really looked like he was going to lose and lose early. In his recollections, Marciano more than implied that he wanted to go out on top and not make mistakes like Joe Louis did in overstaying his time in the ring.

He is the only heavyweight champion in history to retire without having never lost or drawn as a professional. 43 of his wins were stoppages. His first fight with Roland La Starza was the only split decision on his record. Ezzard Charles was the only man to last the full 15 rounds of a championship fight. He would knock both these men out in rematches. He was only knocked down twice in his career, once by Jersey Joe Walcott in their first fight, and the second time by Archie Moore. His knockout of Walcott was voted the greatest knockout in boxing history by ESPN. That bout was also awarded Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year in 1952. His rematch and title defence against Roland La Starza in 1953 also won Fight of the Year, as did his second fight and title defence against Ezzard Charles in 1954. Marciano also won Ring Magazine’s fighter of the in 1952, 1954 and 1955. He and the first gloved world heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan, were the second shortest men to hold the title. Despite these achievements, his impeccable record and a huge fan base that continues to this day, Marciano rarely if ever makes the number one slot in any list of greatest heavyweights of all time. This was even the case at the time of his retirement. Contemporary experts and historians support this view by stating he didn’t face particularly great competition.  Unlike many other greats, he stayed retired although he considered training for the title again in 1959 but decided against it after a month of training.

He embarked on a career in television in 1961, including a successful weekly TV show where he narrated over many classic fights, including his own, and hosted fellow fighters and other celebrities. He also played an active role in the Papa Luigi Spaghetti Dens San Francisco franchise where he was made vice president. The custom home he built in the ’60s still stands in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Marciano staged a fight with Muhammad Ali in 1969. This consisted of 75 x 1 minute rounds that were filmed to be edited together into two possible outcomes. The bout was supposed to have been determined by a formula developed by a computer after survey information had been inputted from 250 boxing experts. This entire bout had been triggered by a fantasy radio play tournament staged following the same process and had seen Marciano as the victor against past great heavyweights, for which he had been awarded a $10,000 gold and diamond belt. Marciano never saw the final film as he was killed in plane crash three weeks after filming was complete. He was on a private plan accompanying Frank Farrell, the son of deceased Iowa mob boss, Lew Farrell. Marciano was booked to give a speech in support of Frank. He was also hoping to surprise his wife on his 46th birthday. A surprise party had also been scheduled for Marciano.

In 2012 the World Boxing Council erected a bronze statue of Rocky Marciano in his hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. Another statue of Rocky was erected in Ripa Teatina, Italy, the birthplace of Marciano’s father.

Moore would continue to fight heavyweights with eyes set on another opportunity to take the crown. However, he would not surrender his light heavyweight belt either and would return to that division in 1956.