It was waiting for a flight to Sydney for the 2019 NRL Grand Final that I stumbled upon Mike Stanton’s Unbeaten – The Triumph and Tragedies of Rocky Marciano. While well versed in the stories of champions like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, the tale of boxing’s only ‘perfect’ heavyweight champion was one embarrassingly foreign to me.
Given Stanton’s day job as head of investigative writing at The Providence Journal, it’s no surprise that this is a thorough look at the life and times of ‘The Brockton Bomber’. Don’t for one second think of this as a negative though, it is in fact a ringing endorsement because once picked up, this book is very difficult to put down.
Without question a story of a different time, Marciano’s rise from the streets of Massachusetts to the World Heavyweight Championship still ring true today with its themes of family, loyalty and community. While the former champ is without question framed as a hero in this piece, Stanton doesn’t pull any punches about the less savory aspects of his life.
Nor does he shy away from shining the spotlight on the murky world of boxing promotion during Marciano’s rise and reign at the top. Tales of fixed fights, fighters exploited by managers and the influence of organised crime are entertainingly entwined between those of fight night stories that almost conjure up the smell of sweat and liniment to the reader.
If family, loyalty and community are themes that ring as true today as they did in the time of The Brockton Bomber, so unfortunately was the spectre of shady and greedy boxing managers. While Marciano didn’t fare as poorly as the likes of Mike Tyson, who saw his fortunes whittled away by his own excess and managers greed, he was by no means untouched. Sued by an early manager and distrusting of Al Weill, the man who oversaw most of his career, the champ would spend much of his life hiding his fortune from others. This didn’t stop him, however, from sinking much of it in more than a few hare brained schemes.
Fight fan or not, Unbeaten – The Triumph and Tragedies of Rocky Marciano, is a book worthy of a place on your bookshelf or kindle. If your like me, the only problem you’ll have with it is putting it down. Kind of fitting for a book on the only man in heavyweight history that couldn’t be stopped.