Monday, August 31, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Rocky Marciano, August 31, 1969

Rocky Marciano was 49-0 with 43 knockouts in his career, leaving him as the last undefeated heavyweight boxing champion ever.  
             On August 31, 1969, Marciano was flying at night from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa on a Cessna 172. Weather conditions turned foul.  Pilot Glen Belz had just 231 hours of flying time and 35 hours at night.  He was not IFR-qualified. The aircraft, in stormy weather, with an inexperienced pilot, ran out of gas. Belz’s effort to effect an emergency landing at the airstrip in Newton, Iowa failed as the craft came to earth two miles short of the runway, hitting a tree.   

          The pilot, Marciano, and another passenger were all killed (the other passenger was Frankie Farrell, son of the late, reputed Des Moines crime boss Louis Fratto). The next day would have been Marciano’s 46th birthday.
            Marciano won the heavyweight championship on September 23, 1952, when he beat 38-year-old champ Jersey Joe Walcott in a thirteenth-round knockout.  Walcott had dropped Marciano in the first round and was leading on points when Marciano connected.  Marciano successfully defended his title five times before retiring with a 49-0 record in 1956.  His best-remembered fight is probably his October 1951 bout with Joe Louis.  This fight took place a year before Marciano became champion, and it ended the comeback bid of 37-year-old Joe Louis with an eighth-round knockout.
            Marciano’s last ring “appearance” was in 1970, a year after his death.  In the month before his fatal plane crash, Marciano had filmed footage of him sparring that was edited into a simulated fight with former heavyweight champ Muhammed Ali, titled “The Superfight: Marciano v. Ali.” In this simulation, Marciano dropped Ali with a 13th-round knockout.