As a taster to Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez’s arduous looking WBO Super-Featherweight defence against Vasyl Lomachenko on BoxNation this weekend, Glynn Evans identifies five stone-carved ring warriors of yore who could really rock to the (fight) beat!
5) Rocky Castellani
Born Attilio Castellani to Italian migrants in Pennsylvania in 1926, this gifted middleweight might just be the greatest fighter ever to emerge from the Wyoming Valley.
A smooth ‘Rock’, he first took up fist fighting after joining the Marines at 16 – he saw action at the battle of Iwo Jima in WW2.
Initially a manic brawler, young Attilio turned sweet scientist after busting his right hand in an early career melee and, though his 83 fight record shows just 16 stoppage wins, his searing speed and slick skills made him a popular TV fighter during the Golden Age of the 50s.
Despite scalping several world champions, he was edged out on a 15 round split decision in his only world title crack against Bobo Olsen in 1955 – though he did stick the Swede on the floor.
Perhaps his finest hour came the following year when he dumped the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson in round six but appeared cheated by a ‘long count’ and dropped a contentious 10 round split.
In retirement, Castellani ran ‘Rocky’s’ bar in the fight town of Atlantic City and also served as a ringside judge before passing away aged 82.
4) Rocky Kansas
This sawn off southpaw waged war with the cream of the world featherweight and lightweight crop during the 1910s and 20s and briefly reigned on the global 135lb throne.
Born Rocco Tozzo in Italy, Kansas immigrated to Buffalo, upstate New York as an infant. Just 5ft 2in tall on his tiptoes, ‘Little Hercules’ was punching for pay at 15 and capitalised on his bullish strength and industrial toughness to maraud to world contention.
His initial two cracks at world glory were doused by super slick Jew Benny Leonard but, after 14 years slugging, the pocket-sized pug finally reached the Holy Grail by mauling Jimmy Goodrich to a 15 round defeat in December 1925.
Kansas’ tenure as champ lasted just seven months and his luck completely deserted when he lost his $200,000 ring fortune in the 1929 Wall St crash. Posthumous election to the sport’s Hall of Fame in Canastota in 2010, hopefully brightened his spirit.
3) Rocky Graziano
Born Thomas Barbella in New York’s infamous Lower East Side, middleweight champ Graziano was renowned as one of the most heavy-handed and best loved pugs to ever lace up.
In and out of reformatories as a teenage delinquent, and dishonourably discharged from the military for cold-cocking his commanding officer, this home-run hitter won the second leg of a lawless, free-swinging trilogy with Tony Zale to claim the world title in 1947.
After being starched in six in Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year the previous September, the hooking hoodlum reversed the result nine months after – another Fight of the Year – and proclaimed ‘The bad boy done good!’ Alas, Zale wiped him out in three in their decider.
Four years on, Graziano lost a fourth world title fight to Sugar Ray Robinson but both were on the carpet in round three and the sweet one conceded after: ‘No one hit me harder.’
In retirement, ‘The Rock’s endearing ‘dose ‘n’ dese’ diction brought great success and wealth playing himself in films and commercials. His autobiography, ‘Someone Up There Likes Me’ was turned into an Oscar winning movie starring Paul Newman.
2) Rocky Marciano
Being just 5ft 10in tall and never weighing close to 14st, couldn’t stop Rocco Marchegiano from compiling a perfect, record setting 49-0 slate or making history as the only world heavyweight ruler to bow out as undefeated champion.
Eldest of six kids from Massachusetts, ‘The Brockton Blockbuster’ had a trial as a catcher for the Chicago Cubs before embracing the Noble Art in the military, to avert ‘less desirable duties’.
In truth, Marciano was never very noble. However, he was rough and rugged to the power ten and his ‘Suzi Q’ (as he dubbed his mighty right hand) was laced with Mogodon. Though inhibited with the shortest reach (68in) of all the division’s champions, forty-three of his victims failed to finish.
He captured the title with one of the all-time great knockouts, coming from behind to ice Jersey Joe Walcott in round 13 at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium in 1952. Marciano then successfully retained half a dozen times – with only future champ Ezzard Charles making it home – before packing up to count his coins.
Sadly, he was unable to fully enjoy his bounty, dying on a plane crash in Iowa, the day before his 46th birthday.
1) Rocky Balbao!
Forget Johnson, Louis, Ali or Tyson, ‘The Italian Stallion’ was the greatest ever heavyweight champion by some distance.
Born Robert Balboa in the great fight city of Philadelphia, this rock rose from the rank and file to secure ‘The Greatest Prize in Sports’ at the second attempt, avenging Apollo Creed on Thanksgiving 1976. In an astonishing 15th round double knockdown, only Balbao beat the count...albeit at 9 ¾! Trivia buffs list him as the blue riband division’s first southpaw champion.
An anvil chinned, serial blood letter, blessed with a heart bigger than a dustbin lid and firepower that mysteriously morphed come round 15, the squat Italian-American successfully retained 10 times before losing ‘The Eye of the Tiger’ and capsizing in two against Clubber Lang.
After a style make-over from ex foe Creed, the newly slick stallion exacted brutal revenge, before bringing a harmonious end to the Cold War with a ridiculously valiant victory over distant Klitschko ancestor Ivan Drago in Moscow on Christmas Day 1985.
Pugilista dementia forced his retirement but when protégé Tommy Gunn deserted and ascended to the throne under different management, Balbao smashed the granny out of him on the cobbles.
Licence restored at 60, Balbao dropped a contentious 10 round split decision in an exhibition with current champ Mason Dixon in 2006 before being belatedly inducted into the sport’s Hall of Fame five years after.
You just couldn’t make it up......could ya?!
Image credit: IBHOF, HeavyweightsTitan