By Boxing Bob Newman
Photos: Boxing Bob Newman
Sixty years is a lifetime for many. It’s longer than Rocco Francis Marchegiano lived- in the mortal sense anyway. Sixty years ago today, Marchegiano, better known as the legendary Rocky Marciano, made headlines by famously stopping Jersey Joe Walcott in the thirteenth round in Philadelphia to bring the heavyweight title back to Brockton, MA. Today, Brockton brought it’s favorite son home for good, in the form of a colossal statue at the aptly named Rocky Marciano Stadium.
In the aptly named Champion’s Park, section of the stadium, Marciano’s likeness, created by Mexican sculptors Mario Rendon and Victor Gutierrez, was unveiled for several thousand fans to see. It seemed as if all of Brockton was there to be a part o the occasion. This city, nearly 100,000 strong, has become known as “The City of Champions,” largely due to it’s hometown Hero Marciano, as well as transplanted Newark, NJ native Marvelous Marvin Hagler, former middleweight champion of the world and multiple sporting championships won by Brockton High School teams over the years.
Today almost didn’t happen though, at least not in Brockton. Nearby Boston, the famous Beantown almost unwittingly nabbed the statue for itself. World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman had the idea of Boston becoming the home for the statue due to it’s international status and drawing power for visitors from around the globe. Wanting to get involved with the project some five years ago, Sulaiman’s idea, as far as Boston being the final home for Rocky, was nixed through a letter writing campaign undertaken by The Enterprise, Brockton’s local newspaper. Several thousand voices were heard, and Sulaiman felt the power of Rocky, and his home as if he had been decked by “the Rock” himself. “I couldn’t believe it,” Sulaiman said at Friday night’s dinner reception at the Massasoit Conference Center. “The people of Brockton had spoken. The love and pride they have for their champion could not be denied! This is Rocky’s home, this is where he belongs!”
The dinner reception saw a who’s who of family members, politicians and the boxing fraternity on hand to play witness to the path this homecoming has taken. Massachusetts Senator Todd Brown said, “I feel like a kid in a candy store, being part of this, the pride felt throughout the community. It doesn’t get any better than this.” Statue committee chair Lawrence Siskind related the Rocky-esque efforts undertaken by so many- from the WBC financing the construction and shipping of the colossus (in six parts from Mexico), to the organization and will power and tenacity demonstrated by the local planning committee. “The WBC had the money, but we had the muscle, Siskind proudly chimed.
Peter Marciano, Rocky’s younger brother, and Rocky Marciano Jr. also spoke. “This is for all of you, Brockton. You did this, and now Rocky is home where he belongs,” Peter proudly said. Rocky Jr. spoke of the pride he always felt as the son of “The champ.” “Growing up as Rocky Marciano Jr., I always had people telling me what a great father I had, how special my dad was. I’ve always felt that, but this really shows it- the love and effort shown by so many people to make this happen. To President Sulaiman, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!”
While many introductions were made- between local fighters, family members, and countless others somehow linked to the Marciano movement, one introduction emotionally stood out. Victor and William Cream were called upon to stand and be recognized. Who are the Cream bothers you might ask? Hard core boxing fans might guess that they are the grandsons of Arnold Cream- AKA Jersey Joe Walcott, the man from whom Marciano separated both his senses and his heavyweight crown that lifetime of sixty years ago in Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium. Those gathered showed their appreciation that these two men, whose grandfather is forever linked in boxing lore, to the “Brockton Blockbuster” Marciano. Walcott took his ring name from the “Barbados Demon,” the original Joe Walcott, one of ream’s boyhood boxing idols.
Fast forward to Saturday, that sixty year anniversary. The rains came over night, and left in its aftermath, blue sunny skies. A better day couldn’t have been hoped for with blue skies opened wide over this blue collar city. Larry Holmes also paid tribute, somewhat humbly, to the man of whom he once sniped, “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap,” after famously losing in his bid to tie Rocky’s 49-0 mark as heavyweight champion. Holmes was 48-0, when reigning and undisputed light heavyweight king Michael Spinks upset the apple cart, and brought joy, if not a collective gasp of relief, to Brocktonians everywhere, lifting the heavyweight crown from Holmes head, and lowering his record to 48-1. Holmes embraced Rocky’s younger brother Peter, perhaps burying that verbal hatchet from 27 years ago. And the crowd of 3000 strong, cheered in forgiveness and acceptance of the “Easton Assassin.” Larry remarked at the lectern, “This is my first time back here in many years. I always feel at home here. I think I might buy a house here tomorrow!” More cheers…
Never at a loss for something to say, promoter Don King praised Rocky, for his lasting legacy and for being fair and impartial not only outside the ring, but inside it as well. “Rocky treated everybody as equals…he knocked out blacks as well as whites!”
Once again Rocky Marciano Jr. expressed both family pride and heartfelt appreciation for the commitment shown by the city of Brockton, the Rocky Marciano Statue committee and the generosity of the WBC and its president Jose Sulaiman. The younger Rocky cousin, Robert Langway, shared stories from his mother Concetta about how “big brother Rocky” would write home while in the U.S. Army, or even hours before a big fight at Madison Square Garden, concerned for all his younger siblings and parents, “Pretty caring for a so-called tough guy,” praised Langway.
And with that, some ninety minutes and numerous speeches later, the moment everyone gathered for had arrived. The return of the prodigal son was upon all of Brockton, “The Home of Champions.” As the Brockton High School marching band warmed up the crowd on the football field, those gathered in the stands as well as those gathered on the lawn of “Champions Park,” trained their eyes on the hulking, tarp covered monument. Brockton fire department, ladder #1 poised itself, then lifted the cloak of secrecy. There was Rocky Marciano, all twenty two and a half feet of him, throwing the straight right hand that leveled Walcott sixty years ago on this hallowed day. Increasingly deafening cheers filled the air, almost as if it was taking the throng a bit of time for the moment to sink in. Touted as the largest sporting statue in the world, Brockton could care less if that boast is true or not. To them Rocky is larger than life itself. Sixty years is a lifetime alright. Sixty years to the day, “The Brockton Blockbuster” has begun another lifetime, crowned champion once again.