Skill-Asset of Greatness

by Nat Fleischer (Dec 1955 Ring Magazine)

Stamina, endurance, ceaseless firing, a powerful sock and determination.

Those words have appeared in almost every story in praise of Rocky Marciano’s knockout victory over Archie Moore.

They describe the qualities possessed by the world heavyweight king by many of Rocky’s followers who have condemned the attitude of the majority of sports writers who, according to these critics, fail to criticize Marciano as a great fighting machine.

What’s wrong they ask?

What must a champion accomplish to win public acclaim?

How much longer must an undefeated heavyweight king who has taken the measure of every opponent he has faced, play second fiddle to his whipped adversary in the reports of the contests to which he engages? Those queries have repeatedly been asked since Rocky’s latest triumph.

Apparently there are two schools of thought on what constitutes greatness- those who regard hitting power as the chief asset and those who figure greatness rests in all around ability.

What are the qualifications for greatness? Definitely Marciano possesses a measure of greatness if we are to ignore cleverness, accuracy of delivery, and base our verdict on the few assets the Brockton Blockbuster does possess.

Overall, if one is a student of boxing, he realizes that Marciano lacks many essentials that are necessary before one can be classed in the category of greatness. Analyze his fighting qualities with those of such masters as Benny Leonard, Jack Johnson, Joe Gans among many others, and one soon realizes why the heavyweight king fails to receive the acclaim his followers believe is due him.

Rocky has been the central figure in three thrilling contests-the Walcott bout in Philadelphia, the first Charles battle and the Moore affair.

He has proved he is one of the most powerful punchers of all time. He is unceasing in his offense. He has won 49 fights in a row, 43 of them by knockout. He can down a man in one blow as he did in Philadelphia.

Yet the post bout applause has always been for the man he whipped. That it seems, is what irks his supporters judging by the basketful of letters received by “The Ring” following his kayo of Moore, all of which centered on the above points.

Ring savvy, defensive skill, excellent countering, beautiful blocking, they argue are wonderful assets. But have these prevented the crude, wild swinging, awkward, heavy missing Marciano from reaching his goal?

They have something there. The win and loss column are what count most in summoning up success in boxing and so far there are none in the latter in Rocky’s career. He was knocked down by Jersey Joe Walcott and again by Moore, but he got up and eventually mowed down his opponent.

Hence it is obvious that Rocky’s backers rest their claim primarily on Rocky’s tremendous power in his fists, his durability and the will to win.

Those who believe that he lacks the necessary qualifications for gaining a niche in the fistic hall of fame as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time wont argue that as a puncher, he takes his place alongside such greats as Fitzsimmons, Jeffries, Louis and Dempsey. They limit his qualifications for greatness to the category of “hitting power”, strength and durability all of which Rocky possesses to a high degree but which are insufficient to gain for him a place among the greats of the past.

In his case, they have proved ample fighting qualities to enable him to win the crown and to successfully defend it 6 times. But what about cleverness, the art of feinting, sidestepping, blocking, counter attacking and measuring an opponent? They certainly are not part of his make-up. Without those how can one place him among the masters.

No one belittles the fighting ability of Marciano. What the scribes have done, is to tear apart the argument of his ardent supporters that he is the greatest or close to it, of all the heavyweights who proceeded him because he has won every bout since turning pro. They fail to consider his many shortcomings.

Granted that he finally clouts his adversary into submission, do they take into account the fact that in the bout with Moore, for example, he missed almost two-thirds of the fifty odd punches he tossed when he had Archie against the ropes, a perfect target for the kill?

One must consider that, plus the ease with which he can be hit, in attempting to rank the Brockton Blockbuster.

He’s a charming fellow. He has sincerity and humility. He never stops trying. When downed, he gets up and fights with more viciousness. That’s all in his favor.

Despite his crudeness, he can move about the ring at a pretty fast gate and can toss more punches than any heavyweight of recent years. But misses more frequently than any champion I’ve ever seen.

He’s a rough, tough awkward fighter who gets there eventually and because of that, his supporters ask, isn’t a pugilist of that type equal in greatness to then polished fighter who outpoints his opponent and reaches his goal without the aid of TNT blows?

There you have both sides of the argument take your choice. If greatness, an attribute every pugilist aims to acquire, is measured by what Rocky Marciano possesses, then he must be classed as a great fighter. But if the true qualities of greatness are considered, he is outranked by many of his predecessors. What are such qualities?

  1. Ability to outbox boxers, to outpunch punchers.
  2. Ring generalship
  3. Durabilitiy.

Marciano cannot outbox anyone. He must rely entirely on durability to outlast smaller and frailer opponents. He’s too easy to hit, too easy to cut. His arms are too short for him to be a boxer. He knows nothing about the art of feinting and counterpunching, assets possessed to a high degree by such masters as Jack Johnson, Gene Tunney, and Tommy Loughran.

He has faced very few real punchers during his career. The two best, Walcott and Moore- both thirty-eight at the time-had Rocky on the canvas. Joe Louis is not included since when he met Rocky, the Brown Bomber had long since lost his once devastating punch.

The caliber of opponents is most important in evaluating greatness.

A Billy Graham or a Lulu Constantino looked great against lesser opponents but pitted against the top men of their class, their short-comings in other assets were shown up and their boxing ability alone was offset by the attributes of other, better opponents of theirs possessed.

Is Rocky Marciano a great fighter who can take his place as one of the ten ranking heavyweights of all time?

Based on the above analysis, the answer is no. He’s one of the greatest since Corbett beat Sullivan in hitting only. Beyond that he lacks the essential that add up to greatness.