Wales claims to have played a formative role in the career of one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, Rocco Francis Marchegiano, better known as Rocky Marciano.
The Brockton Blockbuster is the only heavyweight champion to have retired with a perfect professional record, having won all 49 of his fights (43 by knock-out).
Whilst still a raw amateur he spent time in Wales, serving in the US army during the war when he was based in the Swansea area.
Many stories and legends concern his time in Wales, including Welsh rugby legend Dr Jack Matthews’s claim that he fought a four-round draw with Marciano at RAF St Athan air base in the Vale of Glamorgan in 1943.
There is also a famous story of the Blockbuster’s brawl with an Australian serviceman – or sometimes with Australian servicemen – at the Adelphi Club on Swansea’s Wind Street.
You can learn plenty about Marciano in Russell Sullivan’s informative biography:
Russell Sullivan, Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times(Chicago, 2002)
This is what the book has to say about Rocky’s Welsh connections:
p. 16 – “On March 4, 1943, the drudgery of manual labour ended for Rocco Marchegiano when he was drafted in the US Army. After completing basic training, he was shipped overseas with the 150th Combat Engineers and stationed in Swansea, Wales. He spent much of the time there helping ferry supplies from the United Kingdom to the beaches of France. He was shipped back home in late 1945 and stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, until his discharge in December, 1946.”
p. 17 – “On another occasion after he had been shipped overseas to Wales, Private Marchegiano stood up to a huge Australian in a pub. ‘He insulted us at every opportunity,’ Marciano recalled. ‘Finally he called me that name no red-blooded man can ignore. I objected and asked him to apologise. He roared another worse insult, got off the bench and rushed at us… I had to get him in a hurry or take a beating. I threw a wild haymaker which, lucky for me, landed on his jaw. He went down like a log and stayed on the floor, blood pouring from his mouth.’* Rocco Marchegiano was starting to believe in the power of his fists.”
*Quote attributed to Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, September 29, 1952, p. 33.