Marciano Considered Coming Back To Fight
Ingemar Johansson in 1959
Was He Serious?
By Bobby Franklin
On September 22, 1955 Rocky Marciano stepped into the ring to defend his title in Yankee Stadium against the great Archie Moore. It was a bruising fight with Moore dropping the Champion in the second round, but Rocky eventually wore down his cagey opponent and stopped him in the 9th round. While the fight was one sided in the scoring up until the stoppage, it was by no means an easy fight for the Rock. Moore was a great boxer and a powerful puncher, and he landed punches on Marciano that would have flattened other mortals. But Marciano was no mortal when he was in the heat of battle. He seemed to get stronger when he got hit, and his drive and determination were too much for the 49 men he met and defeated in the ring.
This would be Marciano’s last fight, seven months later he would retire citing his desire to spend more time with his wife and daughter. He did leave a slight window open for a return to the ring when he said “No man can say what he will do in the future, but barring poverty, the ring has seen the last of me.”
It is reported that Rocky told those close to him that the real reason for his retirement was his displeasure with his manager Al Weill and the way his money was being handled. Rocky believed he was being taking advantage of and wanted out.
I was speaking with Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing, and we both agreed that while both of these reasons are legitimate we felt that Marciano may have finally tired of the grind of training and the pain he had to go through in each of his fights. Again, while the Moore bout may have seemed one sided in the scoring, Rocky took some terrible blows in the fight and had to be feeling the effects for days afterwards. The Champ was not a stupid man and may have figured it was best to get out while he still had his faculties, a decision, sadly, too few fighters make, and one that he should be admired for.
Rocky went on to enjoy retired life, and with only a bit of a tease when he pretended to consider a comeback when made an offer by promoter Jim Norris about a year after the his retirement, he looked to be permanently out of the ring.
Recently, I got to view some photos of Marciano that were taken in 1959. They show a healthy but bit pudgy former champ hitting a heavy bag under the watchful eye of his trainer Charley Goldman. Was this some type of a publicity stunt? I called the expert, my friend Dan Cuoco of IBRO to ask what he knew about this. He told me that Rocky had indeed contemplated a comeback in 1959. It was to be a one bout deal for in excess of a million dollars, and he would challenge Ingemar Johansson for the title. So, what happened?
There hasn’t been a lot written about this subject, but it does appear the former champion trained for about a month in Florida and that these sessions did receive coverage. Dan sent me a copy of an item that appeared in the Boston Traveler on January 16, 1960. In the short piece penned by Bill Liston, he states that he has heard that Marciano is training for a comeback but hopes it doesn’t happen. Though he believes Rocky would have no problem dispatching the new Champion he thinks Rocky should leave well enough alone. He also theorizes that Marciano was doing this to enhance his marketability for public appearances and refereeing.
Others have said he was serious about fighting Johansson and only gave up on it when his back, a life long problem he had, started giving him trouble. Mike Silver told me Rocky had met the Swede and felt he would have no problem taking him. I can see how tempting the thought must have been to Marciano. Here he would stand to make over a million dollars, hit the magic 50 and 0 mark on his record, and be on top of the world again. However, Ingo lost the title back to Floyd Patterson and that would lead to a third match between the two, and another year gone by before a bout with Marciano could be negotiated, another good reason not to keep at it.
I think the real reason is a combination of the two theories. There had to be no doubt in Rocky’s mind that he could beat Johansson and he had to have thought seriously, even if just briefly, about taking him on. He also saw how this enhanced his image as so many great athletes are forgotten not long after they leave the spotlight. By doing this, Rocky was able to keep his legend alive and his name in the news. he would go on to host a popular television show and continue to be in demand for public appearances. In a second item sent to me by Mr. Cuoco, an AP story dated January 15, 1961, once again Marciano teased the public a bit about a possible comeback. When asked about how he would do against Liston or Patterson Rocky states “ I’m not the boasting type, I don’t want to say I could whip them. But then I don’t want to lie about it either.” He seemed to be enjoying tantalizing his fans with the thought they could see him in the ring again.
Rocky would eventually return to the ring in a futuristic and bit eerie way. The Rock and Muhammad Ali sparred a number of rounds together and the footage of that sparring was pieced together to make a computer created match that was shown in theatres across the country. The sparring was filmed in 1969, just a few months before Rocky’s untimely death in a plane crash. It was shown in 1970. It is strange that Marciano’s comeback, such as it was, would happen after his death. The computer had the Rock winning by knock out in the 13th round.
This article first appeared in the Boston Post Gazette on March 20, 2015 in slightly different form.