Could Larry Holmes Take Out Rocky Marciano?

December 5, 2023
7 months

Press conferences are hard for the losing side. Losing is bad enough, but to then be hit with piercing questions about why can make the moment difficult. Larry Holmes came one win away from matching Rocky Marciano’s perfect 49-0 record.

But life in boxing can be difficult once fights go to the scorecards. After being upset by Michael Spinks in 1985, Holmes asked for perspective on his career and said, “Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap.” In a sport where the past is so revered, the comment drew some pushback. But Holmes wasn’t necessarily wrong.

Judging contenders based on different eras is always difficult. Holmes came along during a Golden Age of heavyweights in the 1970s. Online boxing news shows that Marciano was the first great heavyweight champion outside of the World War II era. With Holmes’ confidence, this would have been a fantastic matchup.

Marciano’s Legacy Followed Future Heavyweights

Rocky Marciano is the only heavyweight boxer to never lose as a professional. During Marciano’s career, he did face some accusations of fighting low-level opponents, but many still regard him as a top-10 heavyweight.

Marciano was born Rocco Marchegiano in Brockton, Mass., on Sept. 1, 1923. He was a fighter who employed an aggressive fighting style and had the power to back him up. But most important of all his traits was likely his strong chin.

Marciano would finish his career with 43 knockouts. He captured the heavyweight championship on Sept. 23, 1952, and defended the belt six times, winning five of those by KO. He would retire after beating Archie Moore by KO on Sept. 21, 1955, at Yankee Stadium.

Marciano would change his name early in his career from Marchegiano when a public address announcer had a difficult time saying it. Boxing news sites show that Marciano was quickly able to curry favor with fans because of his exciting style. Things were tough in the post-WWII era for boxers as many of them had their careers shortened after having to spend time away during the war.

Marciano Teamed Up with Ali for Unique Event

Radio producer Murray Woroner came up with an idea for a fictional tournament that would crown the greatest heavyweight of all time in 1967. The 16-man tournament would have all of the boxer’s records entered into a computer, which would crown a fictional winner.

The fights were recorded for radio and broadcast around the world. The computer determined that the final of the tournament would be Marciano and Jack Dempsey. This upset Muhammad Ali, who was outraged he lost to Jim Jeffries in the second round.

Ali planned to sue Woroner for $1 million for defamation, but Woroner offered a counterproposal. He would pay Ali $10,000 and a cut of the profits of a filmed fantasy fight between Ali and Marciano. Both men agreed to the bout.

It was filmed in 1969, and the fighters sparred between 70 and 75 rounds for the final product. A version of each man winning was recorded and shown in movie theaters around the world. This fight would go on to inspire the story for “Rocky Balboa,” the 2005 boxing movie.

Marciano didn’t get to enjoy the success of The Superfight: Ali vs Marciano, as he died in a plane crash on Aug. 31, 1969. Marciano was in a small plane flown by an inexperienced pilot who tried to land the plane short of the runway due to bad weather.

Holmes Battled Through Difficult Childhood

Holmes overcame a tough upbringing in Easton, Pa. He was one of 12 children and spent much of his early life living on welfare. Holmes didn’t finish school as he needed to work to help pay the bills.

Initially, he started at a car wash but would go on to drive a dump truck and work in a quarry. Holmes picked up boxing at age 18 and attempted to qualify for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Holmes was knocked out in the semifinals against Nick Wells.

He would compete in a box-off in a selection committee but wouldn’t be chosen for the U.S. team after being disqualified for excessive holding. Holmes would end up taking 22 amateur fights before going pro in 1973.

Holmes Stays Active and Grabs Title

Holmes didn’t shy away from taking action in the ring. During the early part of his career, Holmes would string together 27 consecutive victories in five years. In 1978, Holmes took advantage of the experience he accrued by beating Ken Norton in a split decision to claim the WBC heavyweight title.

The win over Norton would improve his record to 28-0. It would kick off a long run of title victories. Holmes would carry the WBC through 15 title defenses before being stripped of the championship in 1983 for signing to box Marvis Frazier in November 1983. The WBC refused to sanction the fight against an unranked boxer.

Holmes’ loss to Spinks in 1985 halted his winning streak at 48 matches. While Holmes would get five more title shots — a rematch against Spinks along with fights against Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Oliver McCall, and Brian Nielsen — Holmes would never again hold a world championship, according to boxing updates tonight.

Who Would Win?

Both Holmes and Marciano faced criticism for not having the toughest competition. Yes, Holmes fought Ali and Norton, but Ali was past his prime, and the decision against Norton was debatable. Holmes never gave Norton a rematch, either.

But still, with Holmes’ speed and left jab, it would be hard to see the smaller Marciano being able to handle the power. Marciano was known for having a good chin but may struggle with the power of the Easton Assassin. Holmes was an angry fighter who never forgot how tough things were for him coming up.

This fight would likely be competitive early, but Holmes should be able to outclass his undersized foe.

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