By Joe Queijo: A hoodlum turned world champion turned successful TV star, Rocky Graziano was one of the most popular and charismatic fighters of all-time – so popular his life story was turned into a film starring Paul Newman (pictured). A petty thief in his formative years, Rocky was in and out of various juvenile prisons and once knocked a corporal out cold before absconding.
After a brief amateur career he turned pro in 1942. His aggressive style coupled with his thunderous right hand made him an instant hit with the fans. Rocky’s style made him very dangerous but his lack of defence made him relatively easy to outbox from range. After three years fighting in various clubs, he was given his first big fight against the rated Harold Green.
Graziano had a 35-4-5 (27) ledger when he faced the smooth boxing Green and came away with another loss as “the Rock” was easily outpointed. Rocky was not satisfied and demanded a rematch a month later. Green triumphed again but not before being floored in the tenth and saved by the bell at the count of six.
The boxing press put the Green knockdown as a lucky punch and were all writing that Graziano was finished in the big time. For this reason Rocky was offered a fight with big hitting prospect Billy “Kid dynamite” Arnold. Rocky´s managers did not want the fight thinking it would be better to get some more wins under his belt before trying for another big bout.
Yet Graziano was tired of small purses and wanted to see if he had it to become a legitimate world class fighter. It was a real make or break fight for Graziano as Arnold had a 31-1 record with 28 stoppages - 14 in the first - and was being talked of as the new Joe Louis. As history recalls - Rocky astounded the critics with an action packed three round kayo which put him in the big league.
Two further wins followed before a match with welterweight Freddie “Red” Cochrane. Cochrane outboxed Graziano for the first nine rounds but Rocky exploded in the tenth and last round to flatten Cochrane for the full count. A quick rematch followed with Graziano amazingly coming from behind again to score another last round kayo. The legend has begun.
Old nemesis Harold Green was next and was surprisingly easily kayoed in three rounds. After Graziano´s death, Green claim he threw the bout to get a title shot but his subsequent loses afterwards suggest to me that Graziano won far and square.
After Green, Graziano faced reigning welterweight champ Marty Servo. Servo was a quality fighter who had gone the distance twice with a young Sugar Ray Robinson before taking the welter crown with a four round kayo of Cochrane. The fight was nearly cancelled because of rumours that Graziano had been paid to through the fight, Rocky gave his word that he had not and proceeded to hammer Servo in two rounds smashing his nose to such a extend that Servo was forced to retire from the ring.
Rocky then signed for a title tilt against undisputed middleweight champ Tony Zale. Zale, who would be Rocky’s nemesis, won one of the most exciting fights ever by vicious sixth round kayo. Rocky scored two kayos before a much-anticipated rematch with Zale. In another tremendous bout Rocky finally realised his dream as he pummelled Zale for a sixth round kayo to take the title.
A year later they fought again with Zale dominating for a one sided third round kayo. Graziano then went 21 bout without a loss (20-0-1 with KO´s) to earn a shot at the incredible Sugar Ray Robinson. Graziano floored the Sugarman in the third but Robinson recovered quickly to kayo Rocky in the same round.
Rocky´s final bout saw him easily outpointed by then undefeated welterweight sensation Chuck Davey.
Graziano then wrote the best selling autobiography “Somebody up there likes me”, possibly the best boxing autobiography I have ever read, which was turned into a successful film starring Paul Newman. After his retirement Rocky starred on US television hit show “Martha Raye” and made numerous commercials. One of boxing most colourful characters died on 21 May 1990.
A walk in slugger, no defence to speak off but one of the biggest hearts ever and possibly the hardest right hand in the history of the middleweight division. Rocky fired his looping right with bad intentions every time and could kayo someone be in the first as in the last.
Most spectacular kayo
W rsf 2 Billy Arnold (March 9, 1945)
Graziano rips across the ring looking to win quickly. Surprises Arnold with some vicious digs to the body as he easily takes the round.
Rocky comes out flying for the second but is caught coming in by a thunderous left hook which badly staggers him. Billy Arnold let’s loose with a barrage of fearsome blows which has Graziano floundering around the ring. The bell saves the shaken Rocky whose corner almost pulls him out.
Graziano comes out angrily for the third and is caught by another left but replies with a cracking right hand bomb which freezes Arnold to the spot. Rocky unloads another right which sends Billy out of the ring. He somehow climbs back in but is floored by another swinging right. Again he rises but Graziano let’s loose a terrific right hand smash which sends Arnold down for the full count. Billy Arnold never recovered from this brutal defeat and never featured in another mayor bout again.
Fights against other big punchers
L rsf 6 Tony Zale (September 27, 1946)
Middleweight champ Zale floors Graziano early in the first with a short left hook. Rocky gets up and stuns the champion with a roundhouse right. Graziano dominates the second with his power punching before flooring Zale with a crushing right at the rounds end.
Zale takes a bad beating in the third as Graziano lands at will with his haymakers but the champion refuses to go down. Zale survives and rallies to take the fourth with some wicked body punches.
Graziano takes a big fifth as he again lands his fearsome right which shakes Zale to his boots. The champion takes a withering barrage of blows at the end of the round which nearly topples him.
Rocky comes out firing on all cylinders to finish the champion but is caught by a wicked left hook to the ribs which floors the challenger. He barely gets up when Zale explodes a terrific left to the jaw which knocks Rocky out for the first time in his career.
W rsf 6 Tony Zale (July 16, 1947)
Zale comes out confidently and dominates the first behind his stiff left hand and venomous body punches. Graziano is cut badly over his right eye. Zale keeps it up in the second as he makes Graziano miss with his vaunted right hand and punishes him with wicked lefts to both head and body.
The champion floors Rocky in the third with a strong right of his own and closes Rocky right eye. Rocky takes a real beating as he rocked by Zale´s two-handed attack. The referee nearly stops the contest but gives Rocky one chance to continue though he tells Graziano that he will stop the contest if he takes another series of punches.
Graziano comes out like an enraged animal and tears into Zale with manic fury. The surprised champ sees his power punching ignored by Rocky who swings his right with abandonment. Graziano stuns the champ with a cracking right in the fifth and starts to unleash power punch after power punch on the defenceless champion who barely survives the session.
The half blind Rocky unleashes another wicked right at the start of the sixth which sends Zale reeling on rubbery legs. Zale is pinned against the ropes as Graziano lets his powerful bombs go forcing the referee to stop the now one-sided contest.
Neither fighter was really the same after this brutal contest. Zale showed his skill as he kayoed Graziano in three one sided rounds a year later but was brutally kayoed