Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rocky Graziano: Hey, Ma, your bad boy did good!

By Peter Silkov

Rocky Graziano’s life story is the classic tale of a bad boy who makes good through boxing. Born Rocco Barbella in New York, on January 1, 1922, Graziano was a tearaway as a youngster and in constant trouble with the Police. He seemingly was on the road to a life of crime and jail, until he discovered that his inner anger and fire could be used successfully inside a boxing ring. After a short amateur career, Graziano turned professional in 1942. There was nothing subtle about Graziano’s fighting style, he was an embodiment of what any fighter named ‘Rocky’ is expected be; a crude and savage brawler with a huge heart and a knockout punch in each fist.

Graziano quickly became a huge favourite with the fans in the mid-1940s. When the World middleweight champion Tony Zale returned from duty in WW2, a contest between him and the division’s newest sensation, Graziano, was a natural. 
In all, the two men fought three times in what has been celebrated as one of boxing’s greatest ever rivalries. The first two fights between Graziano and Zale are considered two of the greatest and most savage title contests of modern times. In their first meeting on September 27, 1946,  Graziano rose from a 1st round knockdown, to floor Zale in the 2nd, and then savagely pummel him over the next few round before being overwhelmed in the 6th round by a vicious right to the body, and left hook to the jaw. 

The rematch took place ten months later on July 16, 1947, this time, it was Zale who had the upper hand early on, flooring Graziano in the 3rd, and looking at times to be only a punch or two from victory, only to be overcome by a desperate fight back from Graziano.  Despite being badly punished by Zale, with a bloody left eye, and a closing right eye, Graziano threw everything that he had left at Zale in the 5th and 6th rounds, in an astonishingly brutal and relentless attack, that ended with Zale draped exhausted and battered, through the middle ropes in the 6th round. At that point, the referee waved the fight off and declared Rocky Graziano the new World middleweight champion.  Graziano’s first words after his spectacular victory were ‘Mama, the bad boy done it!’

Rocky made the first defence of his Middleweight world championship 11 months later, on June 10, 1948, in what was his 3rd and last fight with Tony Zale. This time, it was more straightforward, as Zale overwhelmed Graziano from the start, flooring him in the first and then again in the third, before finally knocking out Rocky in the 3rd round, and regaining the middleweight crown from Graziano.

After losing his world title, Rocky came back with a string of twenty wins and one draw over the next four years, including exciting victories over Charlie Fusari, Gene Burton, and two wins and a draw over fellow crowd favourite Tony Janiro.  On April 16, 1952, Graziano tried to regain the World middleweight title against the great Sugar Ray Robinson, but after scoring a brief knockdown of Robinson, Graziano was then put down fro the full count in the 3rd round.

Rocky had one more fight after this, being out-pointed by the clever, but light fisted Chuck Davey. Graziano retired in 1952 with a final record of 67(52koes)-10-6.
In his retirement Graziano became a popular TV personality, actor, and his life story was made into a film starring Paul Newman.  As he often liked to say… somebody up there liked him. 

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