Who would win a fight between a prime Muhammad Ali and a prime Rocky Marciano?
In 1969, radio producer Murray Woroner attempted to answer this question by filming a fictional boxing match. The bout, dubbed The Super Fight, featured the two heavyweight superstars 'spar' around 75 one-minute mock rounds. The footage was then edited together in order to portray a genuine boxing match.
At the time of filming, Muhammad Ali was still serving his three-year suspension from boxing, and Rocky Marciano had long since retired from the sport, his last fight having been in 1955.
Supposedly backed by computerized data and intricate formulas that took the fighters’ styles into account, the film portrayed Marciano knocking out Muhammad Ali out in the 13th round in one scenario. This outcome was the one shown to American audiences upon the film’s release.
Another scenario showed Ali defeating Rocky Marciano due to cuts. This outcome was saved for European audiences.
As clumsy and flimsy as The Super Fight might be regarded today, it does deserve credit. Fight fans, even then, enjoyed diving deep into boxing fantasy by pitting contemporary champions against those that came before, and The Super Fight was the first true attempt to try and answer an epic hypothetical sports contest.
With what we know now about Muhammad Ali's complete career, let's try and dig deeper into this fantasy clash.
Muhammad Ali has the far superior resume, but does that mean 'The Greatest' could have withstood the 'The Brockton Blockbuster'?
Rocky Marciano is famously known for having retired with an undefeated record of 49-0, with 43 of those wins coming by way of knockout. 'The Rock from Brockton' was a fighter with Herculean stamina and incredible knockout power. Marciano's chin was made of steel and no matter how many of his punches missed or how many shots he had to take, he would always be moving forward, swarming his opponent.
As impressive of a fighter as Marciano was, however, many fans and boxing historians have always been reluctant to rank 'The Rock from Brockton' alongside other heavyweight greats.
The Massachusetts-born boxer fought professionally from 1947 to 1955 and the most notable wins on his record include American legend Joe Louis and boxing greats Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, and Archie Moore. However, all of these men, with maybe the exception of Charles, were long past their primes when they battled Marciano. Louis was 37, Walcott 38, Charles 33, and Moore 38.
Muhammad Ali — commonly known as 'The Greatest' — is highly regarded as the best heavyweight boxer to have ever lived, and with good reason.
'The Greatest' fought during the 1960s, '70s and early '80s. His career was nothing less than legendary as he stepped into the ring with countless champions and scored victories over an exhaustive list of amazing fighters.
Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, first became champion in 1964 after he beat the hard-hitting and terrifying gladiator known as Sonny Liston. Liston was supposed to wipe the floor with the young upstart, but as history taught us, Muhammad Ali's greatness was not to be denied.
During his iconic career, Ali produced arguably the greatest resume in heavyweight boxing history, defeating the likes of Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell, Jerry Quarry, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, and George Foreman. Marciano and Ali's best wins are simply incomparable.
'The Greatest' possessed a far more polished and complete career and defeated a larger pool of phenomenal fighters.
With all this being said, does this mean that Muhammad Ali would have triumphed over Rocky Marciano? The answer is most likely yes, but fans should be aware of some interesting variables.
Muhammad Ali — as legendary and spectacular as his career was — was not totally invincible between the ropes. Early in his career, prior to his bout with Sonny Liston and when he was still known as Cassius Clay, Ali traveled to England to fight Henry Cooper.
The Englishman wasn't seen as much of a threat to the heavyweight division's fastest rising star. Ali himself predicted an easy win. However, it was anything but.
Towards the end of the fourth round, the British underdog knocked his American opponent down with a devastating left hook. Although he managed to get up quickly, Ali was clearly hurt while walking back to his corner. The future world champion bounced back quickly, however, and would end the fight in the very next round after opening up a serious cut under Cooper's eye.
This would not be the last time Ali was knocked down by a left hook. Shortly after returning to the sport, 'The Greatest' fought Smokin' Joe Frazier in what would be the first bout of their famous trilogy. In front of a frenzied Madison Square Garden crowd, Frazier knocked his rival down in the 15th round, sealing his victory. The punch that put Ali down? A left hook.
It's clear that 'The Greatest' did sometimes show weakness against the left hook. Despite his two defeats to Muhammad Ali later in their trilogy, Frazier was still able to find success with his signature punch, especially in their third and final bout, The Thrilla in Manilla.
If fighters like Joe Frazier and Henry Cooper could hurt Ali to such an extent, does this mean Rocky Marciano could have as well? It's entirely possible. After all, the Brockton-born champion was a relentless pressure fighter that never tired and Ali, as seen in the first and third fights against Frazier, was shown to fatigue against swarmers as the rounds went by.
Marciano had a serious left hook as well, as seen in his rematch against Roland La Starza and in his fight against Archie Moore. However, his signature punch was his overhand right, dubbed the 'Suzie Q'. Had Rocky been able to pressure Muhammad Ali into the corners or against the ropes, and hide his lethal right behind a series of left hands or body attacks, 'The Brockton Bomber' might have found great success.
However, against a prime Ali, Marciano would have had numerous disadvantages stacked against him. For starters, 'The Greatest' fought in an era when heavyweights were much bigger than the champions Marciano fought. Rocky usually entered the ring at 188lbs. In his early 20s, Ali fought at around 214lbs, while as he got older, he could weigh as much as 236lbs.
'The Greatest' also stood at 6'3" while Marciano only stood at 5'10". On top of that, Ali possessed a 78in reach compared to Marciano's 67.
All these natural advantages for 'The Greatest', compounded with his superior speed and precision, would have been an absolute nightmare for Rocky. It's also important to note that, as powerful as Marciano's punches were, Ali had an iron chin, as proven by his hard-fought battles with George Foreman and Joe Frazier.
A Muhammad Ali versus Rocky Marciano matchup would rightfully favor 'The Greatest'. Ali proved himself with far more career-defining wins than 'The Brockton Bomber' and is equipped with far more natural advantages.
However, Marciano's unlimited stamina, punching power, and constant pressure would have made it a serious affair. In conclusion, a Muhammad Ali versus Rocky Marciano fight would have been an epic clash and an immense joy for fight fans around the globe.