Well before Rocky Marciano took the heavyweight championship in 1952, Hollywood had already worked and reworked the film cliché of the tough young boxer with the heart of gold. But only with Marciano did the boxing public get a champion who made it all seem real. "The Brockton Blockbuster' was tough but not mean — a hard-hitter, with a devastating right-hand punch he called his "Susie 0," who fought to win but not to humiliate.
Marciano's power and his compassion first stirred the fans when he put an end to Joe Louis's comeback hopes. The two fighters played out the classic struggle between young scrapper and aging pro until Louis hit the canvas with such finality that the referee did not bother to count him out. Marciano called it "the saddest punch of my life, How else could I feel seeing ... one of the finest sportsmen that ever lived lying there on the canvas?" Louis believed him. "When he defeated me," he later said, "I think it hurt him more than it hurt me."
But none of Marciano's opponents ever made the mistake of thinking that he was soft. A mauler in the Sullivan-Dempsey tradition, he put one fighter, Carmine Vingo, into the hospital unconscious, and gave Jersey Joe Walcott the fight of his life on the championship night in Philadelphia, September 23, 1952. Marciano was so good that he was knocked down — but never out — only two times in his career. Walcott administered the first reminder that the Brockton, Massachusetts fighter could be mortal early in the championship bout but, two rounds later, Marciano finally connected — as he always did — Walcott went down. The new champion had never lost a professional fight up to that point — and he never would.
Of the five challengers Rocky took on during his reign of terror as champion, only Ezzard Charles was able to stay upright the full fifteen rounds. And even Charles dropped in a rematch three months later Marciano might have gone on forever, but he decided to call it quits, undefeated, after he had proven himself equal to the elegant jabs of the finest scientific fighter of his day, Archie Moore, holder of the light heavyweight title.
Boxing commentators marveled at Marciano's willingness to retire his prime, despite his potential to make millions more in the ring. the fighter, who had already earned more than $1,400,000, left limelight for the sake of his family, living out to the last his reputation as a boxer with perspective. Victor of all forty-nine of his professia fights, forty-five by knockout, he was shrewd enough never to atter a comeback in the thirteen years left to him before he died in an plane crash in 1969.