Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott
September 23, 1952 - Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia, PA
With one deep-dish beauty of a right hand at 43 seconds of the thirteenth round, Rocky Marciano almost tore the head off defending champion Jersey Joe Walcott, knocking his crown off in the process -- a crown he had worn securely for the previous 12 rounds.
It was a right hand that had traveled no more than six inches and yet it reached back 70 years, to the first modern heavyweight champion,"The Boston Strongboy," John L. Sullivan. And with it Marciano became not only the first heavyweight champion to come from the same New England area as Sullivan, but the first man to ascend to the heavyweight throne with a perfect record since Sullivan had accomplished the same feat seven decades before.
For 12 rounds the so-called "Brockton Blockbuster" had hardly seemed like the world-beater the betting fraternity had thought he was when they made him a 9-5 favorite. The same firepower that had ended the career of Joe Louis, stopped Harry "Kid" Matthews, and sent Carmen Vingo to the hospital was totally ineffective in stopping Jersey Joe.
Right from the opening bell, Walcott made a liar out of the naysayers who said that he was too old and no match for "The Rock." Throwing his powerful left hook -- the same left hook that had taken out Ezzard Charles the previous year and decked Joe Louis -- Walcott floored Marciano early in the first round, the first time in his 43-fight professional career that Rocky had ever been down. Up at the count of four ("I got up fast because I was more mad at myself than hurt," Marciano was to say later), Marciano looked hurt. Eschewing his patented shuffle, the 198-pound Walcott went right back to the attack, swarming all over the 184-pound challenger who tried to swap punches with his adversary.
The second round was more of the same with Walcott on the attack, even planting a left hook somewhere south of the border of Marciano's belt line, adding to the challenger's discomfiture.
Rocky, trying to stem the tide of battle and turn around the momentum, came out for Round 3 in a deep crouch as his manager, Al Weill, substituting in his corner for trainer Whitey Bimstein, kept up a staccato of "Keep down low... keep down low." But again Walcott found his way through the challenger's defense, landing another clean left to the chin. But despite repeating meetings of his chin with the champion's punches, Marciano showed that even though he lacked polish and finesse, he possessed a chin of granite and a heart to match as he came back to exchange shots with Walcott after the bell ending the third.
By Round 6 "The Rock" had taken the battle to Walcott and made him fight his kind of fight, backing the champion to the ropes and unloading with both hands. Marciano suffered a deep gash on his head and Walcott a cut eyelid during one of their impromptu, but more than occasional clashing of heads, and as the bell rang, blood was flowing freely from Walcott's damaged left eye and the end looked imminent for the oldest champion ever to defend his crown.
But somehow, someway, the solution used to stem the flow of blood -- and here the story gets beclouded as to whether it was the solution used on Marciano's head or on Walcott's eye -- got into Marciano's eyes. By the end of Round 7 Marciano came back to his corner hollering, "I have trouble with my eyes... I can't see..."
For the next three rounds the semi-blind Marciano continued to come forward, but unable to see his foe clearly missed the blurred form in front of him and Walcott repeatedly countered with his own lefts and rights, cutting Marciano between the eyes and on the forehead.
By the end of the twelfth Walcott was in total control. Ahead on all three scorecards (7-4-1, 7-5, and 8-4), all he had to do was last another nine minutes. He fell short by eight minutes and 17 seconds.
With just 30 seconds gone in the thirteenth round and with no punches thrown in the round thus far, Walcott unexplainably back away from Marciano into the ropes, where he began to launch a right hand of his own. However, at that exact moment Marciano launched his own, a short punch that traveled no more than 12 inches, as hard a punch as ever seen, catching Walcott flush on the jaw as he caromed off the ropes. As a grazing follow-up left, thrown for good measure, almost as a "thank-you-m'aam" punch, went over the head of the soon-to-be-ex-champion, Walcott slowly slipped to the canvas, one arm hooked over the middle ring rope in a grotesque imitation of a religious fanatic in prayer. Referee Charley Daggert counted ten over the prostrate form; he could have counted to 100, it would have made no difference.
Back in his dressing room, where there was more back-slapping going on than could be found at a Shriner's convention, the thoroughly exhausted Marciano greeted his well-wishers while over in one corner his father, Peter Marchegiano, wept. "I'm proud... I'm proud," he said, over and over again.
So too were Marciano's many other fans who couldn't make it into his dressing room, but stayed in the ring, hooting and hollering. They had all won. Everyone that is except Marciano, who had lost a pair of trousers in the bedlam to some souvenir hunter and had to leave Municipal Stadium in a bathrobe thrown over him. For though he now wore the crown, he wasn't wearing any pants.
Boxing historian Bert Sugar is host of ESPN Classic's "Ringside" and a contributor to ESPN.com.