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Rocky Graziano, born Thomas Rocco Barbella in New York Citymarker (1 January 1919 – May 22, 1990), was an outstanding Americanmarker boxer. Graziano was considered one of the greatest knockout artists in boxing history, often displaying the capacity to take his opponent out with a single punch. He was ranked 23rd on Ring Magazine's list of the greatest punchers of all time.

He was the son of a boxer, known as 'Fighting Nick Bob', and was born in Brooklynmarker. He later moved to Little Italy in New York's Lower East Sidemarker. He grew up as a street fighter and learned to look after himself before he could read or write. He spent years in reform school, jail, and Catholic protectories.

Early life

Starting at the age of three, Rocco's father would make him and his brother Joe (who was three years older) fight almost every night in boxing gloves. All the washed-up boxers from around the neighborhood would go to the Barbellas' house to drink and watch the two brothers fight. The fights usually ended badly for Rocco. As he would get hit more and more, he would get angrier and angrier. Usually he would fall asleep from getting punched or sheer tiredness. The only person in Rocco's life to feel any sort of sympathy for him was his mother. She believed Rocco was her lucky child, as he was born on the first day of the New Year. However, Rocky was in trouble for much of his childhood.

Instead of going to school, he would skip out and run around the city stealing money, food, and other items. Usually he would hide in the shadows of stoops or doorways around the areas of Italian bakeries. When the kids came out with their Italian bread dipped in olive oil, he would punch them, steal their bread and then send them home crying to their mothers. He often found himself in Children's Court with his mother by his side always bailing him out of trouble.

At the age of eight, Rocco went to live with his grandparents on Second Avenue near Houston Street. There, he met his first friend, Sam Villa, nicknamed "Houdini" for his ability to "disappear when there's work or trouble around." Houdini introduced Rocky to the pool hall and other East Side games such as stick-ball, football, and handball. Around this time, Rocky saw kids on the street riding scooters. He went up to a kid and told him to give him the scooter, but the other kid wouldn't. Enraged, Rocky went a couple blocks up, found another kid, punched him in the face, and came back to where the other kids were. He sped down the street and attempted to do a spinning stop. However, he was hit by a car, breaking his leg and spending two months in the hospital.

When Rocky got out of the hospital, he met up with his old crony and continued his mischievous ways. One of Rocky's biggest money-makers was robbing gum machines in the subways. They would visit different stations to avoid suspicion and being caught. One day, Rocky forgot to check a utility closet and was caught when a detective burst out of the door. Rocky was sentenced to probation by Children's Court. Houdini however, was able to cry his way out of Children's Court.

One morning, he woke up early and stole fifty cents from his grandfather. His grandfather confronted him, advancing on Rocky with a shaving block. Rocky jumped out the window and ran down the fire escape, then continued to run to Brooklyn to his old house. He told his father what had happened and was beaten anyway since he didn't let his grandfather do it.

He spent the next couple of days at his old house. He saw his brother playing in the street one day and stole a bicycle to give to his brother . His brother unknowingly rode the bicycle toward where Rocco had stolen it. His brother was arrested and confessed to police that Rocky had stolen it.

Rocky attended a court meeting and his old record of not going to school and probation records caught up with him. He was sent to a Catholic protectory, one of three terms spent there.

Amateur career

Eddie Coco is the main reason Rocky started amateur boxing. Rocky heard from a couple of his friends about a tournament going on with a gold medal for the winner. Rocky entered under the name of "Joe Giuliani". He fought four matches and ended up winning the New York Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Union Boxing competition (1939). He sold the gold medal for $15 and decided that boxing was a good way to make cash.

But he also thought that stealing and ripping apart houses was a better idea, although trainers who saw him fight thought he could make a real mark on boxing. A couple of weeks into amateur fighting, he was picked up for stealing from a school. He went to Coxsackie Correctional Facilitymarker, where he spent three weeks, with boyhood friend Jake LaMotta, and then he went on to the New York City Reformatory where he spent five months.

After Rocky got out of the Reformatory, he headed back to the gym to make money. There he met Eddie Cocco, who started his professional career. He entered the ring under the name of Robert Barber. A couple of weeks later, when he was making good money, he lent out a car to friends who robbed a couple of bookies and shot them in the chest. Rocky was charged with a probation violation and sent back to reform school. There, he was charged for starting a minor riot between the "East Side Gang" and the "Blacks". He was sent to Rikers Islandmarker.

When Rocky got out of jail, he was approached by the military and told that he had to join. Rocky went A.W.O.L in the military after punching a captain. He escaped from Fort Dixmarker in New Jersey and started his real boxing career under the name of "Rocky Graziano". He won his first couple of bouts. After gaining popularity under the name of Graziano, he was found by the military. After Graziano's fourth bout, he was called in to manager's office to speak with a couple of military personal. Expecting to be prosecuted and sent back to the military or jail, Graziano fled. He then returned to the military a week later. He turned himself in, but instead of being punished he was pardoned and given the opportunity to fight under the army's aegis.

Professional career

Graziano was world boxing champion, and he fought Tony Zale in one of boxing's most storied rivalries. He also fought Sugar Ray Robinson, losing by early knockout in three rounds.

He is most famous for his three title bouts with Tony Zale, all for the middleweight title. Zale knocked out Graziano in six rounds in September 1946. Graziano stopped Zale in six rounds and became world middleweight champion in July 1947. The referee almost stopped the second fight in the third round because of a severe cut over Graziano's left eye, which would have awarded the victory to Zale, but Graziano's cutman, Morris ("Whitey") Bimstein, was able to stop the bleeding to let the fight continue. Graziano lost the second rematch with Zale on a third-round knockout in June 1948.Berger, Phil. - "Rocky Graziano, Ex-Ring Champion, Dead at 71". - New York Times. - May 23, 1990.

His last attempt at the middleweight title came in April 1952, when Sugar Ray Robinson knocked him out in three rounds. He retired after losing his very next fight, a 10-round decision to Chuck Davey.

Career trouble

In 1946, Graziano was suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) for failure to report an alleged bribe attempt.

In 1948, Abe Green, the National Boxing Association President, announced that they were indefinitely suspending Graziano in all parts of the world under NBA supervision, following similar action by the California State Athletic Commission. This was due to Graziano's "running out" on a scheduled Dec. 1 bout with Fred Apostoli. The suspension covered all of the American States, Great Britain, the European Boxing Federation, Cuba, Mexico, and Canada. Boxing promoter Ralph Tribuani got Graziano a license in Delaware, where the allegations were perceived as ridiculous. This led to the reinstatement of Graziano by both the NBA and NYSAC and Rocky's return to prosperity.

In 1950, he ended the career of the boxer Pete Mead, a native of Arkansasmarker, with victory in the third round.

Post-boxing career

After his retirement from boxing, he became a well-known television comedian, co-hosting a short-lived series titled The Henny and Rocky Show with famous comedian Henny Youngman. He was also a semi-regular on the Martha Raye Show, portraying Martha's "boyfriend". He portrayed Packy, an ex-boxer, in the 1967 Frank Sinatra film Tony Rome.

In his retirement, Graziano dabbled in painting and developed an admiration for the work of Pablo Picasso.

Paul Newman portrayed him in the 1956 film Somebody Up There Likes Me as having an abusive childhood and criminal background, using boxing as an outlet for his violent behavior.

Personal life

  • Graziano was the son of Fighting Nick Bob, who had a brief boxing career.
  • Bert Sugar wrote in his book "The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time": "Graziano was raised on the lower East Side where both sides of the tracks were wrong." He overcame coming from a disadvantaged background, to rise to the top of the ring and entertainment world.
  • He died from cardiopulmonary failure on May 22, 1990 in New York Citymarker.


Accolades

Popular culture

  • The 1976 film Rocky was loosely based on Graziano: Graziano was Italian, so was Rocky; Graziano's name, Rocco Barbella, became Rocky Balboa in the film; and Graziano's fight against Sugar Ray Robinson no doubt inspired Rocky's fight against Apollo Creed


Notes

  1. Many alternative birth dates appear in the literature. However, his grave says he was born 1 January 1919 and his widow has confirmed this was the correct date.


External links




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