It Has Been Sixty-Four Years Since Rocky’s Last Fight
His Battle Against Archie Moore May Have Influenced His Decision To Hang Up The Gloves
By Bobby Franklin
This past September 21st marked the 64th anniversary of Rocky Marciano’s last fight, his winning defense of the title against Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore. The following April at the age of 32 Marciano announced his retirement from the ring stating: “I am retiring because of my wife and baby. No man can say what he will do in the future, but barring poverty, the ring has seen the last of me. I am comfortably fixed, and I am not afraid of the future.”
At the time of his retirement Rocky had a perfect record of 49 and 0 and would be the only heavyweight champion to retire with an undefeated record, a feat that still stands to this day.
Most boxing fans expected the champion to go for the 50th win and were surprised when he didn’t. So, is it true he retired to spend more time with his family, or was there more to it?
The Marciano vs Moore fight drew a crowd 61,574 to Yankee stadium with a gate grossing $948,117.95. Rocky’s share was $482,374.00. That is the equivalent of $4,289,456.00 in today’s dollars. Even deducting for his manager Al Weill taking a huge cut, that was still a very healthy sum of money. Combine it with the Rock’s previous earnings and it would appear he was very comfortable financially.
It has been said that Marciano no longer wanted to fight because he believed Al Weill was taking too much of his money. While that is most likely true, it seems that some other financial arrangement could have been worked out.
As far as spending time with his family, after retirement Rocky continued to travel, mostly without his wife, and enjoyed being on his own. I don’t buy the retirement was for family reasons.
I think the key to figuring out why Marciano stopped at 49 is to look at the Moore fight. While Rocky stopped the Old Mongoose in the 9th round, it was a grueling fight in which the champion took some terrible shots. Could it be that he felt he was starting to decline and did what hardly any fighter does, get out while on top?
I asked noted boxing historian Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing what he thought. Mike replied:
“Next to his title winning effort against Walcott this was Marciano’s toughest contest. Moore landed some humongous punches to Rocky’s chin. During the course of the fight Marciano absorbed some of the hardest punches he had ever taken. He had to throw more punches per round than in any other fight in order to overwhelm Moore’s superior skill and experience. In a great fight it was Rocky’s chin, conditioning, relentless punching and almost superhuman durability that won it for him, but I wonder if the punishment he took in that fight helped convince him to retire while he still had his health?”
After hearing what Mike had to say I watched a tape of the fight and it was indeed a very tough fight for Rocky. After a somewhat tame first round Moore came out and dropped Marciano at the beginning of the second with a right hand flush on the chin. Rocky was up at the count of four but was dazed. He took a lot of punishment for the rest of the round. Moore was using shoulder feints and landing very well with his left jab. It looked like Marciano was in serious danger of losing the title. By the end of the round the champion was bleeding from the nose and was cut and puffy under his left eye.
In round three Marciano came out very aggressively throwing a lot of punches. Moore, ever the master boxer, was avoiding most of them by blocking, slipping, and rolling with the shots.
In the third round Moore fought mostly off the ropes. Mike Silver points out that this was no Rope-a-Dope strategy. Instead, Archie was slipping and countering Rocky’s shots. Marciano threw a much larger number of punches but Moore had the more effective shots. Rocky won the round with his aggression but he paid a high price for it.
The fifth round was Moore’s best. He was very accurate with his jab and landed a number of solid rights while taking short steps to the side. Marciano appeared to be slowing down and was missing a lot. It now appeared the tide was turning in Moore’s favor.
Marciano must have been sensing the same thing as he came out on fire in the sixth round. He dropped Moore for a count of four at the beginning of the round and then pursued him relentlessly. Rocky was still missing with many of his punches, but the pressure and huge number of punches he was throwing was wearing Archie down. Rocky was like a freight train as he dropped Moore once again, this time for a nine count.
Between rounds the doctor checked on Moore and it appeared the fight was close to being stopped. But the old warrior was not through yet.
Moore actually looked refreshed as he came out for the seventh round and won the round with a strong jab. Perhaps Rocky had punched himself out in the previous round and the tide was again shifting.
In the eighth round Moore’s legs were tiring. He spent most of the round fighting off of the ropes and was still very effective in making the champion miss. Watching Moore in this fight is like seeing a master class on how to roll with punches and pick spots for counters. Moore was definitely starting to fade by the end of the round. It was Rocky’s relentless pressure that was taking the toll. A Marciano right at the end of the round dropped Moore and he was up at the count of six as the bell rang. Moore’s right eye was now closing and he looked like a beaten man. Could he summon up another rally?
In the fatal ninth round Moore once again came out strong, but the end was near. Rocky attacked with a fury. Moore still got in a few good shots, but nothing was going to stop Rocky now. He pummeled Moore to the canvas where Archie took the ten count at 1:19 of the round.
Moore did everything right in this fight. He boxed and punched beautifully. He seemed the superior fighter in so many ways, but Marciano would not be stopped. His incredible conditioning, heart, and brutal punching were all too much for Archie. Marciano defined what the heart of a champion is in this fight.
Mike Silver asks if it was the punishment Rocky took in this fight that convinced him to retire? I believe that was a major reason for his hanging up the gloves, and I do not mean this as a knock on Marciano. Quite the contrary, I believe it shows how smart he was.
Marciano was a tremendously physical fighter. While his boxing abilities are often underrated, he was also almost superhuman when in the ring. The Moore fight is an example of how he would actually get stronger as a fight progressed. It seemed as though the rougher things got the more strength he would gain. Rocky trained very hard for each fight. The training grind and the brutality of the fights he was in would eventually take a toll. At this point in his career he was also experiencing back pain.
It is not unusual for an athlete that continually pushes himself to the brink to eventually start to break down physically. It is very possible the Moore fight was Rocky’s last great fight. If he had continued, his body may have begun to fail him. I think he may have sensed that, perhaps subconsciously. Moore hurt him. Moore extended him. Moore did everything possible to beat him, but Rocky was relentless. He broke Archie down that night.
Marciano had been fighting professionally since 1947. He was now 32 years old, not terribly old for a fighter. But when you consider how many tough fights he had and how many times he had tortured his body in training camp you have to wonder if at some point he would start to break down.
In the Moore fight he pushed himself unbelievably. I don’t think Archie could have stopped him if he had a bazooka in his arsenal. Rocky fought many very tough fights. His two goes against Ezzard Charles and he first fight with Walcott were both brutal affairs. It’s very possible he still had a couple more great fights in him, but at some point he would have broken down; all great athletes do.
Rocky Marciano had an amazing career, made a lot of money, and now was walking away with his brains still in tact. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest Heavyweight Champions of all time. Knowing when to retire is a lesson that too few fighters have learned. Rocky was wise enough to get out in time, and that adds to his greatness.