Driving around this city, two phrases keep popping up.
One is “City of Champions,” a nickname posted on welcome signs and street light banners everywhere. The other is “Marciano”: Marciano Stadium, Marciano Post Office, Marciano Way. He died more than 40 years ago, but undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano is still alive in Brockton.
Next Sunday, a 22½-foot statue of Marciano will be raised at Brockton High School, right next to the stadium named after him, adding to the many ways Marciano is remembered in his hometown.
The $250,000 statue, which has been in the works since late 2007, was commissioned and paid for by the World Boxing Council. The council’s president, Jose Sulaiman, said the statue was meant to be an “homage to boxing” for the council’s 50th anniversary.
The bronze-colored statue freezes in time Rocky’s famous “Susie Q” knockout punch on Jersey Joe Walcott in the 1952 heavyweight championship fight, exactly 60 years before the statue’s scheduled unveiling.
Two Mexican sculptors, Mario Rendon and Victor Gutierrez, created the more than 2-ton statue. It arrived in Brockton on Thursday, and next weekend, the sculptors, WBC officials, boxing champions, and boxing dignitaries from around the world will attend festivities culminating in the statue’s dedication and unveiling, which is open to the public.
But many of the memorials to Marciano are out of the public eye.
The pictures on the walls of George’s Cafe, a restaurant bar on Belmont Street, are an unofficial biography of the boxer. On a recent morning, Peter Marciano, Rocky’s younger brother, surveyed the black-and-white photos and pointed out himself, a young boy, with Rocky in the center of the picture.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better brother,” said Marciano, who was 29 when his 45-year-old brother died in a plane crash in 1969. “He was a great guy, a great brother, a great son. He was legitimately a great guy.”
But Rocky’s appeal went far beyond his family, Peter Marciano said.
“It was almost a romance between Brockton and Rocky,” he said. “Rocky loved the city and the city loved Rocky.”
A little over a mile away from the cafe is Rocky Marciano Stadium, Brockton High School’s football stadium, where Rocky’s brother-in-law Armond Colombo has coached aspiring athletes for more than 30 years. Colombo’s son Peter took over as head coach recently, and the elder Colombo now volunteers as an assistant coach.
In a week, the team will have the 22½-foot Rocky watching over them at every practice and game.
“We can’t avoid Rocky now,” the younger Colombo joked.
The Colombos, who often refer to Marciano in their pep talks, said they hope the statue will be an inspiration for the team.
Marciano “always respected his opponent, and his work ethic was second to none,” the elder Colombo said. “Anyone who performs on this field . . . if they emulate Rocky, they’re going to achieve success.”
Armond Colombo said that while the teenagers on the team know Rocky’s name, he isn’t sure if they grasp why the man is important, aside from being a boxing champion. He hopes the younger generation can learn what his own generation learned from Rocky about hard work and humility.
As the young athletes gathered on the field for practice on a recent sunny afternoon, several explained why they think keeping the memory of Rocky alive is important.
“It matters if you live in a city without knowing its culture,” said Micah Morel, 17, who grew up in Brockton. “If you don’t know what was before you, how can you set a standard for yourself?”
Morel and his teammates said Marciano is “an example of toughness and work ethic” and that they strive to be like him.
Marciano’s blue-collar success story and personal virtues seem to be what make the memory of him especially meaningful in his hometown, even though it has changed markedly over the years.
Rocco Francis Marchegiano was one of six children born to Italian immigrants in Brockton. His mother and father came to Brockton with a wave of European immigrants seeking jobs in the booming city, which was the largest shoe manufacturer in the world in the early 1900s.
Rocky, the family’s oldest son, dropped out of high school and worked menial jobs to help with family expenses. After a short stint in the Army, where he started boxing competitively, he punched his way to the heavyweight championship in 1952. There, the “Brockton Blockbuster” knocked out Walcott and won the title, which he defended until his retirement in 1956. With a 49-0 record, he is the only heavyweight champion to go undefeated and untied throughout his career.Continued...