1. Rocky Marciano KO 13 Jersey Joe Walcott I – Sept. 23, 1952, Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia, Pa.
Jersey Joe Walcott’s reign as heavyweight champion could best be summarized by the phrase “live by the sword and die by the sword.” It began with a massive left uppercut to the jaw that chloroformed Ezzard Charles and it ended with perhaps the single most famous right hand ever thrown. Rocky Marciano’s “Suzy Q” was short, crisp and concussive and in those precious few inches the “Brockton Blockbuster” bridged the gap between possibility and immortality.
Coming into the fight Marciano was 42-for-42 with 37 knockouts to his credit, including an eighth-round stoppage over the legendary but badly faded Joe Louis. That knockout, combined with Walcott’s age of 38, prompted bettors to make Marciano a 9-to-5 favorite – only the fifth time that a challenger was favored over the defending heavyweight champion.
The slick Walcott shocked everyone by springing out of the corner and initiating a slugfest with Marciano. A second surprise came in the form of a gorgeous left hook that floored Marciano for the first time in his career. Walcott kept up the pressure in rounds two and three, nailing the crouching Marciano with stunning regularity. The tough Italian-American weathered the storm as best as he could while getting in his share of blows when the openings allowed.
By the sixth Marciano managed to maneuver Walcott to the ropes and forced a vicious battle in the trenches. But sometime during the round the cut medicine from either Walcott’s eye or Marciano’s scalp got into the challenger’s eyes, forcing Marciano to fight almost blind for the next three rounds. Walcott showed no mercy to his young challenger as he continually strafed him with blows and through 12 rounds his hard work had produced a sizeable lead on the scorecards (8-4, 7-4-1, 7-5 in rounds).
Just 30 seconds into the 13th, Walcott retreated toward the ropes and prepared to catch Marciano coming in with a right hand. But as Walcott wound up Marciano stepped in and beat him to the punch with a hair-trigger right that separated fighter from consciousness and champion from crown. Walcott slowly slumped to the canvas with one arm draped over the rope before coming to rest, the top of his head touching the canvas. Referee Charley Daggert could have counted to 500 much less 10, for the damage that punch wrought was that severe and was that complete.
Nearly 60 years have passed since Marciano’s life-changing punch and in that time the final right hand has been the subject of paintings, statues, highlight reels and YouTube hits. It’s a punch that demands a second, third or fourth look every time one chooses to see it, not only because of what it did but also because of what it meant. The search for that charismatic heavyweight to lead boxing through the post-Louis era had been found and his emergence onto the biggest stage couldn’t have been announced in a more powerful way.
The one-punch knockout has always been boxing’s calling card and for many fans the chase to witness the next one is just one of many reasons why they continue to love it.
Honorable mentions: Mike Weaver KO 15 John Tate, Manny Pacquiao KO 2 Ricky Hatton, Sergio Martinez KO 2 Paul Williams II, Lennox Lewis KO 4 Hasim Rahman II, Roy Jones KO 4 Virgil Hill, Bob Foster KO 4 Dick Tiger, Vince Pettway KO 6 Simon Brown, Wilfred Benitez KO 12 Maurice Hope, Glen Johnson KO 9 Roy Jones Jr., Julian Jackson KO 4 Herol Graham, Tommy Morrison KO 6 Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, Prudencio Cardona KO 1 Antonio Avelar, Frankie Liles KO 3 Tim Littles II, Juan “Kid” Meza KO 1 Jaime Garza, Danny Lopez KO 2 Juan Malvarez, Derrick Jefferson KO 6 Maurice Harris.
Photos / Al Bello-Getty Images, Herb Scharfman-Sports-Getty Images, Jed jacobson-Getty Images, John Gurzinski-AFP, THE RING-Getty Images
Lee Groves, a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va., can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won seven writing awards, including a first-place for News Story in 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.