It was the first day of September 1923 and a 12 pound son was born to poor Italian immigrants, Pierino Marchegiano, a cobbler and his wife, Pasqualina Picciuto in Brockton, Massachusetts. Young Rocco Francis Marchegiano was eighteen months old when he contracted pneumonia, a condition that rendered him temporarily weakened, however, his doctor claimed he possessed a remarkably strong constitution. Rocco, who would later become known as the Brockton Bomber, enjoyed his mother’s Italian cooking, thus he became a rather stocky little boy whose build was emphasised by his relatively short but muscular arms and legs. He spent much of his time playing baseball in the James Edgar Playground with his siblings and began to display a unique physical ability.
His early teen years were spent habitually exercising. After spending eternal hours playing baseball, he would return home to perform countless chin-ups and lift home made weights until his body ached with exhaustion. Mid evenings he would spend pummelling a stuffed mail sack suspended from an old oak tree in the back garden. Growing up and mixing in a multi-ethnic working class neighbourhood involved a few minor territorial altercations. However, Rocky was also known to take part in encounters beyond his home turf thus, his reputation for being a really tough Italian kidwas not lost on the Irish sector named The Bushin the Brockton outskirts.
Baseball was his number one passion and at 14 he was known as a slugger. At 15, he displayed his athletic artistry to its peak when he sent a towering home run over the left field at James Edgar Playground. The ball was received on the veranda of an astonished and slightly irate neighbour. Nonetheless, when Rocky entered high school, although he was interested in Manual Training, he won the position of centre on the Varsity Football team and intercepted a pass as a substitute linebacker. He ran 60 yards and scored a touchdown. Brockton’s arch-rival New Bedford was not happy.
His passion would ultimately end his schooling, although, a chain of unprecedented events also prevented him from playing further on the field. He was later cut from the Varsity team which sent him into a personal turmoil. He spent the following summer hanging around pool halls and movie theatres with old friends and realised once the fall arrived, he wasn’t going to return to school. Yet, another realisation brought him face to face with the fact he had nothing to offer an employer. With few skills, he was still determined to find work in order that he could assist his financially strapped family. He landed a job with the Brockton Ice and Coal company as a “chute man” on a delivery truck and despised every moment.
With lungs lined with soot and coal dust, he finally joined his father at the shoe factory. World War II had given the shoe industry a temporary but much needed reprieve. Rocky was bringing home double what he had been paid at the Ice and Coal works, and whilst ensconced in the company of Italian shoe workers, he treasured the opportunity to work side by side with his father.
At age 20, Rocky was inducted into the Army and shipped to England. Eight months later after the war on the European front began to diminish, he was sent back to the States and assigned to Ft. Lewis. It would induce boredom until he urged his fellow soldiers to join him in a series of amateur fights. His sparring partners became short in supply and Rocky knew he was doing something right. It was April 15 in 1946 when he met former Golden Gloves champion Henry Lester in the ring. The prize was $30. An utterly unfit Rocky was experiencing the effects of his two packs of Camels per day, smoking habit. Exhausted by the third round, under a barrage of Lester’s punches, Rocky reverted to an old style of fighting and kneed Lester in the groin. He was granted the only disqualification he would ever receive throughout his entire boxing life.
Having given up smoking and beer, his workouts intensified and he became skilful at throwing fast, accurate punches. With either hand.
Eventually, with 37 fights all won by knock-outs, including the significant victory over Joe Louis, Rocky was ready. Trimmed to a fine specimen, it was clear that he would someday become the champion of the world. By now, he had won 49 fights, 43 of which had been knock-outs. During an interview after defending his title for the sixth time, he was asked if the memories of coal dust and shoe leather were the precedence of his tenacity and determination that had him winning his fights. He replied, “My mother and father faced hardship throughout their lives. If I didn’t overcome the challenge at hand, both they and I would never have another chance to escape poverty and oblivion.”
Rocky Marciano was killed in a plane crash on August 31, 1969. He was 46.