By Ken Hissner: I’m comparing Rocky Marciano’s 49 fights to Larry Holmes, who was 48-0 when he lost, and Brian Nielsen 49-0 when he lost, and how each got there.
It took Marciano 43 fights to get a title fight. In his 49 fights, he had opponents with 38 winning records, 5 losing, 3 even, and 3 making their debut.
He then had the closest fight of his career against Roland LaStarza, 37-0. Each got a 5-4 vote from the judges and the referee 5-5, but on New York’s supplement scoring system, he won with a 9-6.
They would meet again 3 ½ years later for Marciano’s title, who was 44-0, and LaStarza 53-3, with Marciano scoring an eleventh round stoppage ahead on two cards and even on the other card.
In Marciano’s 49-0 record, his opponents had 38 winning, 5 losing, 3 even, and 3 making their debut. In his first fight with champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott, 49-18-1, he was behind 4-7, 4-8 and 5-7 after 12 rounds. He knocked Walcott out in the thirteenth round.
In the dressing room, the ring physician said, “This man should never fight again (due to a broken bone under his eye) per Marciano’s stablemate Hank Cisco who was in the dressing room after the fight.
The mob controlled Walcott and put him in the rematch anyway, probably having all their money on Marciano, who scored a first round knockout.
Holmes was 27-0 when he defeated Ken Norton, 40-4, for the title. Holmes had beaten Ernie Shavers, 54-6-1, in an eliminator. Norton had defeated Jimmy Young, 22-5-2, in an eliminator.
Holmes was 42-0 when he defeated “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 15-0, by split decision, which was a disputed decision, in my opinion.
Holmes was 47-0 when he defeated Carl “The Truth” Williams, who was 16-0, by 146-139 on two cards and 143-142 on the third. I remember it being a closer fight than the judges had it, if not disputed.
Holmes was 44-0 when he stopped Marvis Frazier, 10-0, in a non-title fight that I thought was against the rules for a heavyweight champion to have. Afterward, he told Marvis, “That’s for the whippings your daddy gave me in the gym!” Why “Smokin” Joe Frazier ever sacrificed his son by putting him into that fight, I have no idea, except for a payday.
Holmes was 48-0 against 38 opponents with winning records, 7 with losing records, 2 even, and 1 against one, making his debut. In his next fight, he lost to light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, 27-0, who was the first light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title. I had it 8-7 Spinks. In the rematch, Spinks won again, and I had it 9-6 for Holmes.
“Super” Brian Nielsen was 48-0 when he stopped Witherspoon, 46-8, who had lost 3 in a row prior to this, and some suspected if the fight was on the up and up. In Nielsen’s next fight, he was stopped by Dickie Ryan, 47-4. Nielsen had 5 opponents with losing records and 1 with an even record through 49 fights.
That’s how Marciano, Holmes, and Nielsen did in 49 fights, with Marciano finishing being unbeaten with 43 knockouts. Holmes ended up 69-6 with 44 knockouts. Nielsen ended up 64-3 with 43 knockouts.