ONE OF the most popular fighters of any era, Rocky Graziano was an adored champion until the day he died.
Graziano, whose real name was Thomas Rocco Barbella, was a troubled youth growing up on the gritty Lower East Side of Manhattan. It can be said that boxing saved his life.
A crude puncher, Graziano mauled his opponents with a tireless attack and potent right hand. Another great asset Rocky possessed was the ability to take a punch. His opponents ultimately withered while trying to stop a man who appeared to made of Rock.
Graziano fought between the welterweight and middleweight divisions, but made his mark in 1945 when he knocked out welterweight contenders Billy Arnold and Al "Bummy" Davis. Then he scored consecutive 10th-round stoppages of welter champ Freddie Cochrane in non-title bouts and closed out the year by halting Harold Green in three rounds.
Graziano's three-fight series with middleweight champ Tony Zale defines his career. The three contests lasted a combined 15 rounds and saw seven knockdowns.
In the first fight, at Yankee Stadium in 1946, Zale recovered from a knockdown to stop Graziano in the sixth round. The rematch was in Chicago a year later because Graziano had his license suspended in New York for failing to report a bribe. Bleeding badly, Graziano knocked out Zale in six to win the title.
Zale ended the series and took back the title with a brutal third-round knockout in 1948. Graziano challenged Sugar Ray Robinson for the middleweight title in 1952 and scored a quick knockdown early in the third but Robinson recovered and knocked Graziano out before the round ended.
Born: June 6, 1922
Died: May 22, 1990