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Best of A Century:

Fight of The Decade: 1940-1949

Tony Zale Vs. Rocky Graziano 1 Sept. 27, 1946

By: Monte Cox

ImageIt was Rock vs. Steel. The fiery, aggressive Rocky Graziano with the devastating right hand against Tony Zale, the "Man of Steel", with the Iron chin and will to match.

Rocky Graziano, the popular slugger from Manhattan's Lower East Side, was a big favorite to take the Middleweight Championship from the older, rustier, Tony Zale.

After all Zale had not fought in five years due to a stint in the Navy during the 2nd World War. Zale had won the NBA Middlweight title by kayoing Al Hostak in 13 rounds in 1940. He unified the title by decisioning George Abrams, the NY title claimant, the following year. Then came Pearl Harbor and a long period of inactivity. Meanwhile, the 9 years young challenger had been a busy fighter with recent kayo's over Al "Bummy" Davis, Freddie Cochrane, and Marty Servo.

A throng of some 40,000 screaming fans came into Yankee Stadium expecting a new champion to be crowned.  Instead they were proud witnesses to one of the greatest fights of all time.  Zale demonstrated early that he was a champion who came to win. A classical left hook landed flush and dropped Rocky for a four count in the first round. One of the most brutal slugfests in history was on.

Rocky came storming back with the whirlwind rage of  a mighty thunderstorm. Rocky pressed the attack, firing a volley of lefts and rights that had the champion reeling around the ring by the end of the first exciting round.

Graziano caught Zale in the 2nd with a flurry of power punches that had Tony on the brink of defeat. Zale's lip was spit, his face badly swollen. In the third, a series of puninshing right hands drove Zale into the ropes. He was literally pounded into the canvas by Rocky's piston-like right hand blows. He was hammered like a piece of steel being forged at one of the steel mills from Zale's hometown of Gary, IN.  Zale, amazingly pulled himself up at three. He was in serious trouble and had to be dragged to the corner by his seconds as the bell ended the third round.

It takes fire to make steel. Graziano had the fire and Zale was molded into a "man of steel" that night. The two warriors continued to pound away in the fourth and fifth. At the end of five rounds it looked like Zale was finished. The younger man had finally wore him down.  He was ready to be taken. In fact many of the fans were calling for the fight to be stopped.

Then suddenly in the sixth, Zale, with Iron fists, took the fight right out of Rocky with a killer right to the heart! Graziano went down. He got up but was still hurt. Zale then shot a perfect left hook to the chin that dropped Graziano, well, like a rock. Graziano later wrote in his autobiography, "That jolt shot from my head to my feet. The feeling went out of my feet and I went whang on the canvas like I didn't have any feet at all."  Referee Ruby Goldstein counted him out.

The Ring Magazine International Ratings panel named this fight the fourth greatest fight of all time.

It was the beginning of a great rivalry, for Rocky would come back to win the title in the rematch the following year, in another thriller, that also ended in 6 rounds.  Then Zale would regain the title in the rubbermatch in 1948.

Honorable Mentions:

Joe Louis Vs. Billy Conn, June 18, 1941.  Louis behind on the scorecards and outfoxed for much of the fight ends the fight suddenly with a devastating flurry in the 13th round.

Tony Zale Vs. Rocky Graziano 2, July 16, 1947.  Rocky bleeding profusely and in serious trouble reverses the outcome of their previous classic battle with his magnificent right hand bombs to become champion.