I recently read the book Rocky Marciano The Rock Of His Times by Russell Sullivan. This is a great story about a great champion and
person. It was especially interesting to me because it brought back a few personal experiences . Rocky and his friends used to hang
out on the corner where I worked as a pharmacist. That corner had its greatest period the night of the Walcott fight and the day after.
Rocky was a personable guy. I remember when I used to go to DW Field Park in Brockton to study because it was usually pretty hectic
at home with all my brothers and sisters. I was in college and preparing for my state board exams for a pharmacy license. Rocky and
his trainer Vinnie Colombo liked to run in the park. They would always say hello and sometimes they would stop and talk and run in
place for a few minutes. It was two years before he would knock out Jersey Joe Walcott for the title.
I was working as a pharmacist
in Reardon's Drug Store which was on the corner of Winthrop and Main , one block from Rocky's family home on Dover Street. Rocky was
a regular customer who liked frappes , especially if someone else was buying. The day after his first LaStarza fight , I couldn't
help notice the marks on his face. They were very thin healed cuts like one would have after cutting himself with a blade. I thought....tough
way to make a living. For Rocky, anything was better than following in his father's footsteps and working in the shoe factories.
hype for the fight , especially in Brockton, was intense. Rocky Marciano, a guy from the city was going to fight in Philadelphia for
the World Heavyweight Crown. His opponent was to be Jersey Joe Walcott , a veteran , with an impressive record and the distinction
of having gone the distance with Joe Louis in a fight even Louis thought Walcottt won. He could punch and box. Rocky could punch and
take a punch, period. He couldn't box and he had problems avoiding punches. His reach was about six inches shorter than Walcott's.
The fight was to be on closed circuit TV and there was only one championship belt, the same one that Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey and
Joe Louis held.
Just thinking about the fight for weeks before the event would cause most people I knew to get woozy feelings of anxiety
in their stomachs. Here's a guy we all know and he is going to be in a ring with the whole country watching or listening. In 1952,
Main Street was always busy with shoppers and visitors, parking was a problem and the traffic heavy at times. I heard later that the
street was empty of people and cars from just before the fight until just after. Not so, within a few minutes... people came from
everywhere to celebrate. Horns were blasting all over the city. Crowds were trying to make their way to the spontaneous celebration.
( Gloria and I were in a second floor apartment with Gloria's sister and her husband listening to the fight on the radio.We were about
three blocks from downtown but we could hear the noise.)
Here are some excerpts from the book:
One minute into the first round Walcott
connected with a left hook to the jaw that sent Rocky to the canvas. Now, flat on the canvas of Municipal Stadium and with the fans
roaring in shock and excitement, Marciano was finally awake. Somewhat incredibly, it was the first time he had been knocked down in
his career. " I'd often wondered what it would be like," he said after the fight. "I found out." He wasn't hurt, he wasn't even dazed,
he was enraged. He didn't stay down to the count of eight to clear his head." I got up at four , I was too mad and too surprised to
stay down any longer."Shortly therafter, the fight began to swing in Marciano's favor. It was becoming a typical Marciano brawl ,
complete with punches after the bell and other sort of roughhouse tactics.Late in the sixth round, the two fighters accidentally bumped
heads. Marciano, coming out of a crouch, banged the top of his head on Walcott's forehead. Almost immediately, blood began spurting
from both fighters.Marciano was bleeding from the crown of his forehead and suddenly Rocky Marciano coudn't see.
Marciano was clearly
in trouble. For the greater part of the sixth, seventh , eighth and ninth rounds , he had great difficulty seeing Walcott, blinking
furiously and grimacing at times. Weill, Rocky's manager, is screaming, "you gotta knock him out." Freddie Brown, his cut man , stepped
in front of Weill and his trainer Goldman and spoke very quietly to Rocky. "Now listen, you don't have to see. Don't worry about it.
Just get your hands on the guy's body so you know where he is and then F.....G pound. " During the ninth round, Marciano's eyes started
to clear . He regained the momentum in the tenth, one of the most action packed of an action packed fight. In the eleventh , Walcott
hit Marciano with a ferocious right under the heart that bent the challenger over, made him visibly wince and sounded an audible thud
around ringside. It was more of the same in the twelfth, with Walcott pounding Marciano and in complete command. By the end of the
twelfth, Walcott appeared to be the stronger and fresher fighter. He was clearly thinking knockout.
With three rounds left, and Walcott
comfortably ahead, Marciano had no real chance of capturing a decision, particularly against the reigning champion in Philadelphia,
practically his hometown. To win the fight __and the title__he absolutely , positively needed to knock Walcott out.
what he proceeded to do. As the thirteenth round opened , nothing much was happening .Marciano backed Walcott toward the ropes. They
both drew back rights and fired. Walcott's only made it a few inches because the faster-firing Marciano stopped him dead in his tracks
with a straight right to the chin. " Marciano beat Walcott to the punch" wrote Jesse Abrahamson" it was as simple as that". Marciano's
punch was short, travelling only a foot, give or take a few inches. To A.J. Leibling, "it was a model of pugilistic concision." To
ringsiders, the sound of the punch was frightening, It wasn't the smack of gloves against flesh. It was a crack. Rocky had hit something
solid..the jawbone, according to old-timers , about as hard as anybody ever hit anybody."
The Next Day
I went to work at the pharmacy
the day after the fight and found it difficult to get my car through the crowd around the store. The store was on the corner of Winthrop
and Main. On the other corner was Picas Funeral Home. Picas had a large lawn in front of the home where a crowd gathered. I asked
if they were waiting for Rocky and someone said .." We are waiting for Ackerman." Ackerman was the leading bookie in the city. A number
of people from Brockton bet on all of Rocky's fights and since he went 49 and O , they made a lot of money. When it came to the championship
fight, some people who never bet a dime in the numbers game, mortgaged their houses to place a bet on the fight. How does one place
a bet of such amount ?He doesn't want to take the money from his neighbors but he would love to take it from big city guys who thought
Walcott could beat Marciano, a hick from Brockton. So, Ackerman takes all the bet money from the city and travels to the big apple
to get the best odds he can. ( Those who knew him, were sure he would make out no matter who won.) The crowd was getting nervous.
Ackerman didn't show at the designated time. Policemen were present to keep the traffic moving and the crowd orderly.
down when someone was observed bringing a table and chair on to the lawn. Ackerman shows. He sits on the chair, places some notebooks
and brief cases on the table. The people line up and , it's payday in Brockton.
Some Excerpts From earlier Fights:
The Rex Layne Fight:
After he connected with a hard right to Layne's jaw, Marciano admitted " I didn't know what to do. He was gone. I didn't take any
swing at him after that right to the head. I knew I didn't have to but I didn't know what was going to happen." What happened next
was stunning. Everything seemed to stop. Then after two or three seconds of suspended animation , with delayed-action effect , slowly
at first and then much more rapidly, the falling Layne looked " like an elephant collapsing from a rifle shot, " or a ship sinking
into the sea."
The Bernie Reynolds Fight: " Reynolds actually floated through the air in a horizontal position and his shoulder blades
and the back of his heels hit the deck simultaneously."
A Trip To The Polo Grounds And A Heavyweight Championship Fight
It was September
24, 1953 and four of us set out in a 1950 Mercury for New York and the Polo Grounds.We were on our way to see a Heavyweight Championship
Fight, which in the fifties was better than going to the seventh game of the World Series or the Superbowl.Route 95 didn't exist so
we had to go by way of the Merit Parkway.We didn't have Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds so we had to take along thermos's and lunches.It
was a memorable day.
We arrived at the Polo Grounds with tickets.There was no Ticketron or Internet to buy them in advance, but we
got them from someone who went to New York.At first, the ring looked a long way off but when the preliminary fight started the view
was good. We could easily make out all the action.
This was to be Rocky's first defense of his title and his opponent was Roland LaStarza,
a boxer who went the distance against him in 1950.In fact, some ringsiders thought LaStarza won.
To hype the fight, LaStarza made remarks
about Rocky getting punchy.This was a big mistake.I remember Rocky hitting LaStarza with crushing blows to the head and body.Eventually
in the eleventh round he connected with his right and down went the challenger.In the book, the author quotes Rocky's brother Peter
as saying, Rocky didn't want to knock him out , he wanted to punish him for his remarks.Later, after the fight, Rocky felt bad about
what he did. Rocky was the kind of guy who would apologize if he bumped you in a crowd, but in the ring he was a killer. In fact,
he almost killed Carmine Vingo, who was in a coma for a few days. Rocky had a tough time with that. He was so happy when he recovered,
he invited him to his wedding.
What I Was Told About Rocky And His Frugality
Sam Catrambone, Gloria's father was a member of the Bocce
Club in Brockton.This is a place where all the sporty Italian types would hang out. One of his friends was Joe Spadea. who was a leading
builder in the city. Sam told me something he says Joe told him.
Joe was given the contract to build Rocky's new house. It was to have
a brick front and it would be built on a lot in the West Side owned by Joe S. They contracted for a house at $35,000. The average
price for an average house in those days was under $10,000.During construction, Rocky would approach Joe with slight modifications
and additions that were not part of the original agreement. One such addition he wanted was a playroom in the basement. When Joe added
the costs to the $35,000 , there was a disagreement about the amount Rocky would pay. Somehow, word got to the Mayor and he intervened
to get Joe Spadea to agree to Rocky's terms. He told Sam he had to or he felt he wouldn't get any more permits to build in the city.
At the time, there was speculation that Rocky, as a national figure, would move from Brockton and live out his retirement in Florida.
The city fathers wanted Rocky at home where he could help promote the city. So, to keep Rocky happy, Joe had to eat a good sum. So
the story goes.
Story Number Two.
George Reardon, the owner of the pharmacy where I worked was a regular at most of the city's social
functions.One of his favorite places was a restaurant in Pembroke called the Hobomauk.He told me that when he approached Rocky at
the restaurant and asked him what he was drinking, he said Rocky replied, " I don't drink but I'll take a steak." He said it like
he meant it , so George bought him a steak, which he said wasn't the only one he had that night.
A Final Vignette
Gloria's family ,
the Catrambones , lived near the Marchegianos (Marcianos) at one time. Her older brother Sal and Rocky were boyhood chums. One day
they had an argument and a fist-fight ensued. As the story goes, Sal was the winner. During Rocky's career , Sal was occasionally
kidded about that day.
When I was dating Gloria , her family had an eleven o'clock curfew and it was up to Sal to enforce it. When
I heard the story of his fight with Rocky , you can bet everything with the bookie Ackerman that Gloria came home on time.
Camera stops sweat knocked from Walcott's head