Classic Fights: Marciano KOs LaStarza

By Robert Ecksel on May 12, 2017
Classic Fights: Marciano KOs LaStarza
“The doctor says something happened to my left arm. But don’t think I’m trying to alibi.”

“He’s a great fighter,” said LaStarza in his dressing room after the fight. “He’s definitely a better fighter than when I fought him before…”

On September 24, 1953, at the Polo Grounds in New York City, Rocky Marciano (49-0, 43 KOs), the “Brockton Blockbuster” from Brockton, Massachusetts, fought Roland LaStarza (57-9, 27 KOs), the ex-collegian from the Bronx, a second time in Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year.

Their first fight was on March 24, 1950, before 13,658 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Both men were undefeated coming in. Marciano was 25-0 and not yet champion. LaStarza was 37-0.

Weighing 183¼ pounds, 25-year-old Marciano dropped 23-year-old LaStarza, weighing 187 pounds, with a looping, overhand right for a count of seven in round four. The bell rang to end the round before referee Jack Watson could finish the count.

Marciano lost a point for a low blow in the eighth. Rocky was as relentless and awkward as ever, while LaStarza, who was cut over both eyes and bleeding from the bridge of his nose, dominated the action on the inside.

The final scores after 10 rounds were 5-5, 5-4, and 4-5. Marciano won by a split decision. LaStarza came close to defeating The Rock.

According to the Associated Press, “Rocky, a short-armed, slope-shouldered battler won the fight with a sensational punching display in the fourth round when he floored LaStarza. A low blow in the eighth round cost the free swinging Rocky a clear-cut triumph. He belted handsome Rollie all over the lot in the frame and hurt him with another one of his vicious rights to the jaw.”

Not everyone was happy, however, with the verdict.

Jessie Abramson of the New York Daily Herald called the decision “paper thin and exceedingly odd.” La Starza agreed. “I won that fight,” he said. “The fact is his manager Al Weill was matchmaker for the Garden. I would say that had a lot to do with the decision.”

Marciano resumed knocking men out. He won the World Heavyweight title by stopping Jersey Joe Walcott on September 23, 1952, at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Walcott was ahead on all three scorecards, 8-4, 7-5 and 7-4, when Marciano ended it with a right hand in the 13th.

Marciano and Walcott fought again a year and half later, on May 15, 1953, at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois. Rocky was a 4 to 1 favorite and wasted no time getting to work. He knocked out Walcott in the first round, setting up a second fight with LaStarza.

In the rematch, at the Polo Grounds in New York City before an “awestruck crowd” of 44,562, LaStarza built an early lead, winning four of the first six rounds. He made Marciano look like a clumsy amateur, but couldn’t keep the champion off him. Marciano was deducted a point for a low blow in the sixth. He caught LaStarza in the seventh and hurt him. A right to the jaw stunned LaStarza early in the ninth. In round 11 a hook and a right followed by a three-punch combination dropped LaStarza to the canvas. Bleeding profusely, he was up at five and took the mandatory eight-count. But with the crowd yelling “stop it, stop it” and Marciano unloading, the referee Ruby Goldstein waved it off.

Marciano had retained his title by TKO.

Life magazine wrote, “Trying to knock the challenger out with one punch, the 29-year-old Marciano was over-eager and awkward. He lunged, butted, hit below the belt, on the break and after the bell. Once, he swung so wildly that he missed and slipped clumsily to the canvas. Outboxing the champion and avoiding his blows, LaStarza managed to win four of the first six rounds. In the seventh, Marciano changed his tactics, started aiming at LaStarza’s body as well as his head in an attempt to wear the challenger down. He succeeded.”

The Associated Press saw the same fight: “Sliced around both eyes and bleeding from a cut on the bridge of his nose, the well-battered LaStarza took a tremendous beating in the last five rounds before Referee Ruby Goldstein wisely stopped the slaughter.”

At the time of the stoppage, Rocky was ahead on all three scorecards.

It was the first time in 57 fights that LaStarza had been stopped.

Rocky said afterward, “I changed my style of fighting in the seventh round. I was behind … So instead of throwing my right so much I concentrated on hooks and combination punches.”

Marciano had upped his game in the three and a half years between the two fights. He was no more graceful, but he was more efficient.

“He may not be a great fighter,” wrote Damon Runyon, “but who licks him?”

LaStarza disagreed. “He’s a great fighter,” said the challenger in his dressing room after the fight. “He hits harder. He hits more often. He has faster combinations. And he’s harder to hit himself. He’s definitely a better fighter than when I fought him before—5,000 percent better.

“The doctor says something happened to my left arm. I know I couldn’t use it. That was in the second round. But please don’t think I’m trying to alibi. He’s a great champion.”

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Classic Fights: Marciano KOs LaStarza

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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:20pm, 05/12/2017

    Looks like Junior got hooked during and after the fight….his comely companions got his Hublot and his day of check for the fight (the next check(s )) will be the ones with all the deductions I’m betting! Wifey says a green eyed Limey was in on it! If that’s the case he’s damn lucky he didn’t get buggered into the bargain!

  2. Alt Knight 02:14pm, 05/12/2017

    Irish…That Moore fight was something. Marciano never stopped throwin’. The guy never seemed to tire.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:59pm, 05/12/2017

    Excellent choice of fights for this series!

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:49pm, 05/12/2017

    @Alt Knight-Never more in evidence than in the Archie Moore fight. By that time Rocky with Goldman’s plan for the fighter as opposed to a plan for the fight and years and years of hard work had perfected his fighting style to dare I say a “sweet science”! Constant never ending upper body movement (defense fuk yea!).....constant never ending hard shots coming from every direction….don’t dare crouch because there’s one coming straight down at your noggin’! Don’t think for a minute that Archie didn’t believe with every fiber of his being that he could beat and even KO Rocky. Rocky had to damn near beat the breath of life out of Moore to disabuse Moore of that belief!

  5. Alt Knight 11:36am, 05/12/2017

    The thing about Marciano is that unlike a lot of the HUGE punchers in the heavyweight division, he had tremendous stamina. Those big punches never stopped coming. Smothering style that never allowed the other fighter any breathing room. He got tons of leverage on his punches and his short arms might have been just as much of an advantage as they were a handicap.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:12am, 05/12/2017

    Years ago I read an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette I believe it was, that referred to Rocky’s punching power having the force of a trip-hammer. That seemed about right at the time and still does!

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:54am, 05/12/2017

    Marciano was at his best when he pulverized a highly motivated Archie….he was improving right up to the end of his career. If any fighter ever made the most of his abilities Rocky was that guy! Baer on the other hand could have been twice the fighter that he was if only…..

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:44am, 05/12/2017

    Marciano not shuffling but rather inching forward with both feet planted to throw hard shot after harder shot (Thank you Charley Goldman!). Unlike Max Baer who actually did the dadgummed two step when coming forward with both feet coming together with each step!

  9. Alt Knight 07:06am, 05/12/2017

    I believe Marciano was miffed about LaStarza claiming in a pre-fight interview, that with Marciano’s style of fighting, he couldn’t help but become “punch drunk.” Read somewhere that LaStarza had some weird thingie about not showering for weeks while training for a fight. Hard to believe that both fighters weighed about the same for the rematch. Marciano looks a good 10lbs heavier with those thick legs and broad back.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpelg 05:38am, 05/12/2017

    These two Italian Wars were everything that the recent Mexican Misfire was supposed to be but wasn’t! They remind of Roy Jones’ line about the brother who fights like a demon inside the house with his own brother(s).

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