Marciano vs Ali: The Greatest Fight Of All-Time
Every now and again, I am going to “stage” a fantasy fight as if it had actually happened. About two months ago, I wrote my fantasy version of what might have happened had Marvelous Marvin Hagler fought the great Argentine, Carlos Monzon. I had Hagler by stoppage in the 11th stanza.
But, the “Big Daddy” of all these ‘What if?’ scenarios has always been Marciano vs Ali. So, here’s how I envision this epic would have played out, had it been able to take place. A few comments before we begin this journey together. This is a fantasy involving perhaps the two greatest heavyweights who ever strapped on a pair of gloves. I’m not going to give you the spoiler alert and tell you now who I have winning but I will tell you that I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my ending may not have been how it went. I suspect that had they fought 20 times, it would have ended 10 apiece. So, if your guy doesn’t win in this one, wait. There might be a re-match, lol!
Also, because the two men fought in different eras, I had to choose one in which to stage the fight. As most of the fans of these two men are older fight fans, I’ve chosen to set it in the time of Marciano. To make this work, the reader has to allow me the liberty of some poetic license. Out of respect for the great Muhammad Ali, I have chosen to call him by his chosen name, “Ali.” I am not going to get into the religious politics of it and no mention of the Nation of Islam is made.
Nor is their mention of Rocky Marciano’s beloved Catholic Church. The point is “the fight.” That is where I want my readers’ attention. So, please, let your imagination go, and transport yourself back into Rocky Marciano’s time. I am using the 22-year-old Ali who defeated Cleveland Williams at the Houston Astrodome in November of 1966 and the Marciano who so savagely knocked out the great Ezzard Charles in the 8th round of their second bout in September, 1954. Rocky Marciano – The Brockton Blockbuster was 30-years-old for that fight, and at his absolute best; and believe me, he had to be. I’ve staged it at the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden. Okay, are you ready? Let the journey begin.
Saturday night, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY. The place is packed. The Garden is awash in flags – as many Italian as there are The Stars and Stripes. People seem to be hanging off the rafters. The highly partisan communities of both fighters have turned out in droves for what everyone in the world knows they are about to see; the best and most important fight in the history of boxing and perhaps into the future of the sport, as well. Italian-Americans and African-Americans see this as much more than just a title fight. It is a clash of cultures.
But there is also a current of understanding between the two communities as both have endured greatly since arriving on the shores of the USA. That the world has stopped for this fight is a feather in the caps for both communities for on this one night, an Italian-American boxer and an African-American boxer are the two most important men on the planet.
The undercard has paid proper homage to what is about to happen. Fans have already seen a hard fought win by the British fighter, Randolph Turpin and have witnessed a young heavyweight named Sonny Liston, score a devastating knockout of a brave but over-matched, Marty Marshall. The tension in the arena is palpable as the A-list celebrities are ushered to their ringside seats. There’s Sammy Davis Jr. And isn’t that the incomparable Grace Kelly?
At last, the lights dim. The three judges have taken their positions around the 20′ ring and highly respected referee, Ruby Goldstein, has stepped between the ropes. Whisps of Charlie Parker’s “Live Bird” can be heard in the stadium. Ali is on his way from the dressing room! Ali’s fans are beside themselves as the tall, handsome, young boxer comes into view. There is something very special about this young fighter, and the whole world knows it. He is charismatic, brash, and talented beyond belief.
As Ali gets to the ring apron, there is a rising crescendo of noise starting from the back of the arena, near the dressing rooms. The noise grows louder and louder, The chants of “Ali!” “Ali!” “Ali!” that had echoed through this hallowed palace of sport just a few moments ago were now being displaced by the leather lunged supporters of Marciano. “Rocky!” “Rocky!” “Rocky!” The fans have a sense of being in another dimension now as the fight draws near.
Marciano and Ali are both in the ring now. Tonight’s anthem singer, Frank Sinatra, steps in and sings the National anthem as only he can. The ring announcer, Johnny Adle. motions to the judges’ table and the bell sounds. It’s time for the introductions. He begins with Ali who comes out of the blue corner at a fit and ready 218 lbs. Ali is 6’ 3” tall. As he slips off his robe, he shows a physique that screams athleticism. He seems to be in perfect symmetry, an ideal mix of muscle and length. He is, as one observer commented, beautiful.
Marciano, in the red corner, is next. He’s much shorter than Ali, but has the physique of an oak tree. There isn’t the same fine definition as Ali, but there is something menacing in just how hard he looks. He seems to have muscle and sinew piled upon more muscle and sinew – and there isn’t so much as a spare ounce of fat on him. He’s only a little over 5’ 10” and his announced weight is 188 lbs, but he looks much bigger.
Goldstein motions the combatants to the center of the ring. Ali is his usual brash self and tries to intimidate Marciano with his clowning, but Marciano seems completely unaffected by any of it. They stand toe to toe on either side of Goldstein. There is no fear, but there is a sense of mutual respect – and in the crowd, it’s hard to describe…call it anxiety, foreboding, perhaps fear. Nothing could have prepared them though for the brutality they were about to witness. The pleasantries are complete. The fighters return to their corners, the lights in the arena go up. The time has come. The bell sounds.
Ali comes out on his toes. He is so swift and so light on his feet! Marciano, always a slow starter, looks like he’s carrying lead in both shoes as Ali circles, then comes in and out. Marciano throws a pawing jab but misses badly. Ali still isn’t throwing any punches. Instead, he seems more intent on establishing distance, while sending a message to Marciano; “You can never touch me, Rocky!” A minute into the round and Ali begins to flick out his long, beautiful left jab. He cannot miss, it seems. He is hitting Marciano at will with it. It’s not hurting Rocky, but it’s annoying him. This kid is making him look bad! Marciano tries to cut off the ring, but Ali is just way too fast. Ali feints with the left, and lands a clean straight to the top of the much shorter Marciano’s head. Rocky swings again, but there’s no-one home. The bell sounds.
Ali: 10 – 9
Ali comes out for the second round on his bicycle again. His piston-like jab seems radar-guided. He isn’t missing any of them. It’s only the second round and already Marciano’s face is starting to look a little red. There’s marking around his left eye from Ali’s rapier-like jab. Ali continues to circle to Marciano’s left, making it very difficult for the Rock to land his cannon of a right hook. He keeps trying but it consistently falls well short. Ali switches up and shows the “Ali shuffle” for the first time. It seems to mesmerize Marciano for just a moment and he eats a hard right from Ali off his ear. Ali doesn’t have one-punch knockout power but he has concussive power from the accumulation of shots he lands. Ali’s work rate is incredible. He has thrown nearly 120 punches in 2 rounds…a lot for a heavyweight. The bell rings and Round 2 is in the books.
Ali: 10 – 9
Marciano comes out for the 3rd. with a different look on his face. He has no intention of letting this young lion embarrass him. Marciano has the most rudimentary footwork imaginable. He subscribes to the law of geometry that dictates the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. He realizes that he cannot possible outspeed this man so he has resigned himself to absorb some punishment to get inside. Marciano essentially bull rushes Ali. Muhammad throws a blistering 5-punch combination; landing every one of them but Marciano seems undeterred. Marciano crosses his gloves in front of his face in an effort to parry away what he can, crouches low and lands a huge body shot to Ali’s liver. That got Muhammad’s attention! The crowd gasps as the sound of the punch reaches those seated as far back as the 10th row. Two things become instantly clear; Marciano can really hit and Ali can really take a punch! Ali backs away for the first time in the fight but is quickly back on his bicycle, circling ever so tantalizingly just out of reach. Marciano attempts to rush Ali again, but the “Louisville Lip” is ready for him this time and catches Rocky coming in with a tremendous right hook. Rocky isn’t hurt but the punch has him off-balance. Ali throws three more jabs, landing all. There’s a clinch just as the round come to its end.
Ali: 10 – 9
The pattern of the fight is now clear. Marciano is the bull and Ali is the matador. Rocky’s “horns” are his sledgehammer fists; Ali’s “swords” are his blindingly fast jabs. Rocky’s basic problem is this: he’s just too slow – especially his footwork. But Rocky isn’t undefeated for nothing. He can think in there and he seems to be trying something a bit different now. Marciano isn’t following Ali around the ring anymore. Instead, he’s standing close to the ropes, enticing Ali to come at him. Ali obliges but now he’s a little confused. All the built-in advantages of his movement and speed become redundant if his target isn’t moving. Ali doesn’t fight as well flat-footed but Marciano hasn’t left him much choice.
Ali gets off the balls of his feet and starts to sit down on his punches. Now he’s fighting Rocky’s fight. He’s standing right in front of him and is throwing “one-two’s” at will. But this is where Ali’s lack of true heavyweight power becomes problematic for him. He’s hitting Marciano almost at will, but his punches aren’t having much effect. From Rocky’s point of view, this is perfect! He’s only landing one shot to Muhammad’s three, but his shots are so much more telling. Marciano’s head should look like a bobble-head doll, but it doesn’t. His neck and traps strength are such that Ali’s jabs barely move it.
Marciano absorbs a 3-punch combination before unloading a right hook to Ali’s jaw. Ali rolls with the punch but that means he takes his eyes off Marciano for a moment. Rocky explodes a hard left to the middle of Ali’s chest in that moment. Ali is breathless, winded, by the punch. He’s never been hit that hard! Ali backs away trying to catch his breath. Marciano plods forward, but the bell rings. 4th stanza is over. Great round!
Marciano: 10 – 9
(Between rounds, Ali’s corner is all over their fighter. His head trainer, Angelo Dundee is pleading with him. “Muhammad, do NOT trade punches with this guy. He will take your head clean off. Stay away. Don’t fight his fight. You can jab him to death all night long and walk away with the decision.” Ali is hearing the advice, but he’s not so sure he’s going to heed it. His fighter’s pride is getting in the way.)
Emboldened by his success in the 4th, Marciano comes out with renewed determination. Ali seems to have slowed ever so slightly and this isn’t lost on Rocky. He presses his advantage and surprises Ali with a jolting body shot to open up the frame. Rocky follows up with a light left to the chest again and then another powerful right to Ali’s chin. The punch doesn’t catch the evasive Ali cleanly though. Ali pivots to his left and straightens up the ever-crouching Marciano with a hard right uppercut. Marciano shrugs it off, only to get caught by another Ali “one-two” combination.
Marciano ducks under an Ali left and plants his head in the middle of Ali’s chest. He uses his enormous leg and trunk strength to force Muhammad back into the ropes. Ali can’t free his arms to create any space to punch, so he uses his height advantage to push down on the back of Rocky’s neck. Referee Goldstein brushes Ali’s gloves off Marciano’s back and warns Ali not to hold. Ali ties up Marciano and, as only an elite level boxer can, pivots his opponent back into the ropes. Now he pushes Rocky off of him hard and unloads what seems to be a 10 or 12 punch combination. His hand speed is incredible! The fans roar at what they are seeing. He may be a heavyweight, but Muhammad Ali seems to have the hand speed of a flyweight. The bell rings. Ali seems to have re-established some control in that round.
Ali: 10 – 9
(Now it is Marciano’s corner that is talking to their fighter. His chief trainer, the legendary Charley Goldman, is imploring Rocky to bully Ali more. “Rock, you can’t win fighting this way. You have to take away his space. Keep your nose on his chest and he can’t punch and his speed and footwork don’t matter so much.” Marciano is listening, but he’s looking around the back of Goldman, directly at this 22-year-old phenom across the ring from him. Marciano is developing a grudging respect for the kid.)
Ali practically charges out of his corner for the start of the 6th. He feels that he is starting to overwhelm the champion with his speed and ring smarts. Ali hits Marciano with a straight right to get things started. Marciano again shrugs it off and tries to go straight at Ali, while working from his now exaggerated crouch. Marciano is betting that he can take away some of Ali’s effectiveness by staying so low that Ali’s punches sweep harmlessly over his head. The tactic is effective in helping him dodge punches but puts him in an awkward position to throw them – unless he leaves his feet and lunges/jumps at Ali. It’s a dangerous tactic because if he misses, he’s going to leave himself wide open for another of Ali’s dazzling combinations.
Still, Rocky cannot get away from Ali’s jabs and “one-two’s” and Rocky knows that Ali is really starting to pile up the points now, so he feels he has to try. He eats three more left jabs from Ali and then launches himself upwards at Ali with a right hook. The punch explodes off of the surprised Ali’s jaw. Ali drops as if he’s been shot! He’s down! He’s down! Muhammad Ali is down! Marciano raises his hands above his head as he turns his back on his fallen opponent and heads to the neutral corner. To Rocky’s mind, there’s no getting up from that shot. The fight is over! But wait…what? Ali is up at the count of “4”.
Marciano turns around in the neutral corner expecting to see the referee Goldstein signaling the bout is over but instead sees the young fighter on his feet and ready to go on. Marciano is incredulous. He looks down at his own gloves, perhaps wondering if something is wrong with them. “That’s impossible!” he thinks to himself. For his part, Ali is dazed but his recuperative powers are unlike any other’s. The ref wipes Ali’s gloves and signals for the combatants to resume. Marciano charges at Ali thinking his man has to be ready to go. But Muhammad Ali is very special. Instead of finding a fighter ready to call it a night, Rocky encounters an Ali who is back on his toes and flicking that long jab out furiously now. If anything, Ali seems even faster than before. Ali lands a 3-punch combination, followed by 2 more jabs. Just before the bell rings, Ali sticks his tongue out at Marciano; “You can’t hurt me! You can’t hurt me!”, he yells at Rocky. The bell rings. What a round!
Marciano: 10 – 8
(Marciano looks at his corner, almost as if searching for an explanation. Charley Goldman is honestly as surprised as Rocky is, but he can’t show his fighter that. Instead, this Hall of Fame trainer says exactly the right thing. “Rock, you didn’t catch him as clean as you think you did. He rolled at the very last second. Don’t worry about it. Keep throwing the right. If you land it clean, he’s out of there!”
Marciano doesn’t look completely convinced but Goldman has never steered him wrong. “Maybe it didn’t land as clean as I thought,” Rocky muses to himself. Over in Ali’s corner, Muhammad is getting the stink eye from Dundee.
“Muhammad, I don’t wanna say I told you so, but I told you so! If you do that again, he’s going to knock you out cold! Do NOT stand in front of him! And for the love of God, do NOT stop moving! You cannot trade with this guy!” Ali is listening intently. Truth is that he is dazed like he’s never been before. Things are happening in slow motion. Ali isn’t “right” as the bell rings to start the 7th.)
As the round starts, it’s obvious that things are different. Both men now know that what everyone had predicted would happen, has. They are in the fight of their lives. Marciano still can’t quite believe that Ali got up from that punch…never mind at only “4”. For his part, Ali is looking at Rocky in a new light. Ali has been hit hard before, but nothing that even came close to what just happened to him. Still, he has a new air of confidence about him. He feels that he has absorbed Marciano’s very best shot and survived. Rocky has to be demoralized. Ali chooses to ignore Dundee’s advice and decides to send a message to Marciano.
He’s going to “mix it up” this round. Ali starts by landing a clean straight right to Marciano’s nose. Rocky’s face erupts into a crimson mask. Ali has broken his nose and there is blood everywhere! Ali gets an adrenalin rush at the sight of Marciano’s blood all over his face. He sets his sights on that nose and begins to torture it mercilessly with the pinpoint accuracy of both his hands. Marciano backs away but Ali won’t be deterred.
Muhammad parries away a Rocky left, leans away from the following right, then explodes his rarely used left hook off of the Rock’s right eyebrow. More blood! Now Marciano is cut above the right eye! Ref Goldstein steps in and has a look. He calls a timeout and escorts Rocky over to the neutral corner for examination by the ring doctor. The arena grows silent with anxiety and anticipation.
Ali’s fans think this might be stopped; Rocky’s fans fear the same thing. The doctor examines the eye and signals to the ref that the fight can go on. Goldstein signals “time in” and the festivities continue. Rocky is starting to look a little desperate. He can feel the blood pouring into his eye and his vision is being affected. He couldn’t get out of the way of the Ali jab when he could see them. Now he’s half-blind! Marciano, for maybe the first time in his career, is in real trouble and is backing away from his tormentor. The bell sounds – and not a moment too soon!
Ali: 10 – 9
(Marciano’s cut man, Freddie Brown, is reassuring his fighter. “It’s just a scratch, Rocky. I’ve got this.” But it’s no scratch and everyone in the corner knows it. Brown works furiously to stem the bleeding. He is pressing as hard as he possibly can on the gash. Over in Ali’s corner, Ali has refused the stool. He is staring intently at Marciano. Ali is sending a clear message. “I’m younger than you, fitter than you, tougher than you.”)
As the round begins, it’s obvious to all that something has to change for Marciano to get back into this fight. Rocky has seemingly hit Ali with his best and Ali has survived – better than survived – Ali has come back to take control of the fight and was on the verge of a stoppage win in the last round because of the cut to Marciano’s eye.
But Marciano is every bit as special as the also undefeated Ali. Marciano has no quit in him and he is as determined to win now, as he was before the fight began. Rocky realizes that he cannot “out-talent” Ali. The young man is the most skilled fighter in the history of the division and maybe of all divisions. Marciano realizes he has only one chance, “War!” Rocky believes that he is unstoppable so he goes straight at Ali again. He can’t sit back and wait for Ali to come after him because Ali is well ahead on the scorecards.
The difference in approach this time is that Marciano is suddenly employing his left hand as well. It’s a two-fisted bludgeoning of the man in front of him. Marciano doesn’t care what he hits; gloves, forearms, shoulders, torso; doesn’t matter. He is hitting whatever Ali give him to hit. He lands a paralyzing shot to Ali’s shoulder that makes Muhammad wince. Marciano digs 3 straight right hooks into Ali’s left side.
He hits as much elbow and arm as he does body, but he doesn’t care at this point. Ali holds on again. Referee Goldstein again brushes Ali’s gloves off of the back of Marciano’s neck. “Stop holding!”, he admonishes. But Ali isn’t listening. He’s always held on when under attack and he’s always gotten away with it. Marciano continues to dig at Ali and Ali, out of sheer frustration at his inability to keep this perpetual motion machine off of him, literally wraps both his long arms around Marciano and spins him into the ropes.
Goldstein is having none of it. “Time!” he yells. “Muhammad, keep holding and I’m going to take a point.” He motions them back together. Marciano again rushes Ali. Ali has slowed slightly and isn’t getting away as easily as he did earlier. Marciano’s constant pressure tactics are slowly wearing his younger opponent down ever so slightly. It’s Ali’s turn to look overwhelmed. He’s thrown virtually no punches in the round. Instead, he’s had to resort to holding and pushing down on the back of Marciano’s neck to stop the onslaught – or at least slow it down. The bell rings.
Marciano: 10 – 9
There was a real sense of urgency in Ali’s corner between rounds. Ali has never been knocked out. He’s never been seriously hurt. And he’s never looked tired. Most of all though, he’s never looked confused. For the first time in his career, Ali is looking for answers.
He has outlanded Marciano at a 4 to 1 clip for 8 rounds. But Marciano just keeps coming. As the round begins, Ali is back on his horse, moving to Marciano’s right, keeping as much distance as he can. In an effort to throw off Marciano’s timed rushes at him, Ali is moving in and out, bobbing and weaving. Ali isn’t really throwing punches. He’s more intent on disrupting Rocky’s timing. It’s working too.
Marciano rushes at Ali but Muhammad is prepared for this one and steps to his left. As Marciano’s missed lunge causes him to stumble ever so slightly, Ali peppers the exposed right side of his head with jabs as Rocky lumbers by. Marciano roars with frustration. It’s the first real sign of emotion from the Rock. Marciano recovers and turns to face Ali, only to be caught by an unexpected left hand to his right ear.
Marciano is off balance and falls. He is down. It’s a knockdown, true enough, but there is no damage and he’s up before the ref can pick up the count. Rocky’s eye is bleeding again, but Brown has done a masterful job of stopping the majority of the bleeding. The broken nose is more of a problem. He is swallowing a lot of blood and is having trouble breathing. Ali presses his advantage.
He is now moving in and out rather than circling and is landing both hands at will again. Marciano spits out his mouthguard so he can catch his breath. The ref sees it and halts the bout for a moment. A veteran move, the delay of getting the mouthguard rinsed off and put back in his mouth gives him a few precious seconds to rest and catch his breath. “Don’t do that again, Rocky!” Goldstein tells him. Ding! Round 9 is over.
Ali: 10 – 9
First real signs of fatigue from Marciano; he’s still on his stool as the bell signals the start of the stanza. He’s breathing heavily through his mouth now and it’s apparent that age 30, while not old, isn’t 22. Truth be told, Marciano looks gassed. Still, Rocky is in great shape. He comes out and again heads straight for Ali. For his part, Ali is now fighting like a boxer who knows he has the fight won. He’s not really pressing the action but is more on cruise control. He continues to circle away from Marciano’s lethal right hand. Ali has no intention of being the subject of the greatest knockout photo of all time.
Marciano continues to press forward. His tree trunk legs are still strong and he still has explosive power. Like all living beings, Rocky is at his most dangerous when wounded. Rocky times Ali’s circling and sticks out his massive left forearm to slow down the pirouetting Ali. Ali is amazed by the strength of this man. He finds his progress not stopped but slowed by Rocky’s extended forearm. Ali punches down at the crouching Marciano but misses. Ali leans away from a right hand and ducks under a left.
Before Ali can counterpunch, Marciano throws the exact same combination again. Muhammad is surprised by this and gets caught by Rocky’s right hand. It’s solid shot and reminds Ali that Marciano is still very dangerous and is still very much in the fight. Ali tries an uppercut to the face of the hunkered down Marciano but only manages to hit his gloves. Marciano throws his first uppercut of the fight. It catches the bent over Muhammad in the solar plexus.
For the second time in the fight, Ali finds himself winded. Ali quickly backs away but Marciano stays with him this time. Ali feints left but moves right. Rocky cuts off the ring by trapping Muhammad between the ref and the ring post. Rocky digs in another hard body shot. Ali isn’t enjoying these at all. His body goes numb every time Rocky lands a punch. Marciano’s power is out of this world. The bell sounds. Round 10 is history.
Marciano: 10 – 9
It’s difficult to explain the atmosphere in the arena as the 11th begins. Everyone, including the most ardent of Rocky’s fans, realize that Ali is well ahead on the scorecards but it still doesn’t feel like he’s in control of the fight. In fact, it doesn’t feel like there’s any real way to gain control of Marciano. Ali comes to the middle of the ring and again starts throwing his rapid hands at the crouching Marciano.
Ali’s not a big puncher though and his shots seems to be having even less damaging effect on Rocky than they did earlier in the fight. Still, Ali is piling up the points and Marciano needs to find some way to change the narrative of this fight. Marciano advances at Ali and again leaps at him with a right hand. He misses and is off-balance. Ali pounces and lands a hard, hard right hand. Marciano is down! The crowd gasps! Unlike the first knockdown, Rocky is clearly hurt by this one.
It’s a combination of fatigue and the cumulative effect of the hundreds of punches Ali has landed. With a deep sigh and a glance to his corner, Rocky gets to his feet, Did I just see Marciano wink at his cornermen? The audacity! Ali senses something here. He feels that Marciano may be ready to go. Ali goes straight for Marciano this time.
No more bicycle; Ali is really sitting down on his punches now. He is going for the knockout. He lands another blistering combination, bouncing shot after shot off of Marciano’s head. Ali throws caution to the wind. What a mistake! Marciano is Marciano! There’s never been a fighter like him either. Rocky absorbs the punishment and bides his time. As Ali drops his guard just for an instant to deliver his coup de grace, Marciano uncoils from his famous crouch. Ringside seat holders would later say it was like watching a cobra or tiger unwind itself for the killer strike. Rocky explodes that famous right hand off of Ali’s jaw.
His mouthguard flies in an arc over the ropes, landing in the 4th row of seats. Muhammad crumples to the canvas face-first, his eyes blank, no expression. Marciano heads for the neutral corner but this time never takes his eyes off of Ali. The crowd is eerily silent and the count can be heard even in the worst seats in the venerable building. Ali rolls onto his back at “4”. He’s on his knees between “7” and “8” and like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, is on his feet by “9!” Marciano is stunned!
The crowd is aghast! Even Ruby Goldstein is unsure of what to do. We are all witnessing the impossible. Ali cannot be human! Goldstein stumbles on his words. “Mu..Mu..Muhammad…you ok?” Ali says nothing, but nods his head in the affirmative. The bell sounds.
(Ali stumbles towards the wrong corner. His corner rushes into the ring and half carries him back to his stool. The mysterious Bundini Brown is talking to Ali. Nobody truly understands Brown’s role, but he has been by Muhammad through thick and thin. He seems to function almost as a shaman of sorts. Dundee angrily pushes Brown out of the way. The noise is too much.
We cannot hear what Angelo is saying or asking of Muhammad. Ali shakes his head in the negative, furiously at Dundee. Ali is on his feet answering questions from the referee and the ring doctor. Incredibly, Ali will answer the bell for the 12th round! We are all shocked – perhaps noone moreso than Marciano himself. Marciano is looking to his cornermen for some sort of explanation. For the first time in their relationship, Goldman has no answers. He looks over at Ali, looks at Rocky, and just shrugs. Marciano shakes his head in utter disbelief! The bell rings!)
Marciano comes out of his corner looking genuinely perplexed. He just hit a man with a punch that would have knocked out a horse but here is the same man, standing right in front of him, intent on doing him harm. Marciano is justifiably cautious now as he is wondering if the opponent in front of him is truly human. Ali isn’t on his toes any longer, but he’s still moving well – in, out, in out, circle, repeat.
Ali flicks out a tentative jab. Rocky ducks it easily. The speed has diminished dramatically. Marciano is still careful though. He stays in his crouch…waiting. Rocky pushes out a tentative jab or two that land on Ali’s midriff. Ali whistles a right cross over top of Rocky’s head. There’s a tiny opening and Marciano pounces. Now, had this happened earlier in the fight, he would have undoubtedly missed. But Ali has slowed down now and is still feeling the effects of the knockdown from the previous round.
The Marciano right lands. It’s not as devastating as the shot from the prior round, but Ali is damaged goods now. Ali staggers into the ropes. Marciano lands another punch; this time a left, and Ali goes down again. Once again, the great man rises. He is on his feet at “8”! Referee Goldstein is looking at Ali carefully. Muhammad looks glassy eyed. He hesitates to take a step towards Goldstein. Ruby Goldstein doesn’t hesitate. He waves it off. The fight is over. Rocky Marciano has stopped Muhammad Ali and 1:38 of the 12th round!
The greatest, most important fight in boxing history has ended. It has lived up to its billing. Marciano wraps his arms around his vanquished foe. The mutual respect and admiration is obvious and well-earned. Marciano takes a step back from Ali and raises his gloved hands above his head.
He begins to applaud him. He motions to the crowd to join him and 20,000 people, from every walk of life, give Muhammad Ali a standing ovation. His stature has somehow grown in the loss. As for his part, the win has cemented Rocky Marciano’s legacy as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all-time! This has been the stuff of legends!
Now, please understand; I would never say with any degree of confidence that I’m certain this is how the fight between these two would have turned out. But, I think it’s a plausible scenario. Would a different result have been possible? Definitely! Ali is just as likely to have beaten Marciano.
We are, after all, talking about the two greatest heavyweights of all-time. Still, it’s fun to imagine how it might have gone down. I hope you enjoyed my version of this fantasy fight. Maybe the “re-match” ends differently. Stay tuned to find out…