“I will beat Joe Louis and I will beat any fighter I ever fight”: a satisfying biography of the iconic boxer, the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated.
Born Rocco Marchegiano (1923-1969) to Italian immigrants in Massachusetts, Rocky Marciano wasn’t a pretty fighter. As Stanton (Journalism/Univ. of Connecticut; The Prince of Providence: The True Story of Buddy Cianci, America’s Most Notorious Mayor, Some Wiseguys, and the Feds, 2003) writes, he had “short, stubby arms, clumsy feet, and a bulldozer style that opened him up to fierce punishment.” He had a high-pitched voice and a gentle way outside the ring, but within it, he was lethal; his style may have lacked elegance, but he pounded his way through to 49 victories and zero defeats. Marciano also steered clear of the usual temptations of the ring—and of the mobsters that dominated the pro boxing business in those days. The author writes admiringly but not uncritically of Marciano, who, on leaving the sport, traded on his celebrity to snag free meals and hotel rooms and insisted on fat fees for showing up to events until his death in a plane crash. Stanton writes with knowing accuracy of the ins and outs of both boxing and Marciano’s storied career, including the development of what has forever since been known as the “Suzie-Q” punch and his work with Jewish trainers who, having worked the circuit themselves, appreciated Marciano’s ability to take a pounding and emerge the victor. As the author notes, many other fighters have held Marciano up as a model: Floyd Mayweather, a welterweight, waited for his 50th win before retiring undefeated, just to beat Marciano’s 49-win record, and Muhammad Ali reckoned that Marciano was the only fighter from the past who would have given him trouble in the ring. Famously, of course, Sylvester Stallone took big chunks of his screenplay for Rocky from Marciano’s life, which, overall, seems every bit as admirable as Rocky Balboa’s.
A sturdy contribution to the literature of the sweet science, reminding readers of a bygone era of fighting.