Rocky Marciano had no business being in the ring. He was small for a heavyweight. He was short and had the shortest reach of any heavyweight. He wasn’t athletically gifted–he wasn’t quick or agile. He was downright clumsy. Rocky was not in any sense a natural when it came to boxing. The first trainers to see him spar laughed out loud at his awkward, clumsy boxing style…until he knocked out his sparring partner. Despite lacking all of the physical attributes one needs to be a successful boxer, Marciano retired as an unbeaten heavyweight champion at 49-0, with an 87% knockout rate.
The purpose of this article is to answer a perplexing question: How did Rocky Marciano, with so few natural gifts, overcome his limitations not just to survive in the ring, but to become a titan of boxing?
In Marciano’s first amateur fight he was disqualified because he was out of shape, a heavy smoker, and a poor eater who resorted to a knee to try to back up his opponent. The crowd booed him. After that disastrous fight, Rocky vowed to be in shape for every fight: he was in shape, and then some. Rocky ran 5-6 miles a day, every day, including Christmas day, in hilly terrain. The closer he got to the fight, he upped his running until he was doing as many as 15 miles a day. He would do an hour on the heavy bag, throwing heavy punch after heavy punch. When everyone else was eating holiday food, Rocky stuck to his diet. He is regarded by some as the best conditioned heavyweight ever.
"You throw a lot of punches, kid. Maybe you’ll have to pace yourself. You could get plenty tired in a ten rounder." Charlie Goldman to Rocky when he was training for his fight with Johnny Pretzie.
"Don’t worry about that," Rocky told him. "I’m in better condition than any of them. I can go as many rounds as I have to."
That is the key quote: "I can go as many rounds as I have to."
The Will to Win
Rocky typically got beaten, and in boxing, getting beaten doesn’t just mean losing points, but enduring physical agony. Jersey Joe Walcott was beating Marciano soundly right up until the very end of the fight. If you look at video of Rocky speaking after the Walcott fight, his face looks like he was thumped with a baseball bat–his face is puffy, both eyes are swollen, with blood in the left eye, and there is a bandage on a cut over his right brow. Ezzard and LaStarza both were better boxers who were beating Marciano.
But if we look at Marciano’s conditioning in the previous section, we see that Rocky consistently threw twice as many punches per round as the typical boxer, who threw 40-45, and Rocky could dial that up to 100 punches per round. So you could hit Rocky, but he’d hit you, and throw another 10 punches, and when you were tired in the later rounds, he didn’t let up. You might outbox Rocky, and sting him repeatedly, but he wasn’t going to quit.
"Despite the critics who claimed he was too slow, clumsy, a brawler unskilled in the finer points of his craft, Marciano’s sheer stamina and overwhelming desire to win more than compensated for any shortcomings in his boxing style." Everett M. Skehan, author of "Rocky Marciano: Biography of a First Son"
Visualize Devastating Power
Marciano trained with a 300-pound heavy bag. No, that is not a typo. Three hundred pounds! I always thought that Bruce Lee was the only fighter to have an oversized punching bag, but Marciano had him beat. In boxing, 100 pounds in a heavy bag, but when are you going to get attacked by someone weighing only a hundred pounds? Marciano realized that he needed to be able to rock a 200 pound opponent, so he figured if he could make a 300-pound bag bounce, he could do the same to his heavyweight counterpart. Once observer said that Marciano’s KO punch of Walcott landed with the force of a "meteor striking the earth."
This is key, not just hitting an opponent, but visualizing yourself annihilating him. Visualize punching through him, and train accordingly.
In my next post I will examine Marciano’s specific techniques.