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Rocky Graziano: Somebody Up There Liked Him
By Vito Trabucco (May 19, 2004) 
Rocky Graziano
“A masterpiece in violence” is all The Fight Doctor Ferdie Pacheco could say when asked about the Graziano/Zale Trilogy. How did this lower East Side kid from New York who started out with nothing grow up to become one of the most exciting Middleweight Champions ever? He would also become a television personality, and even had Paul Newman play him in a movie. The answer is simple. When you hear the name Rocky, try not to think about Sylvester Stallone. This is a tribute to the one and only Rocky who’s life was truly a million to one shot.

Rocky Graziano was born Rocco Barbella on January 1st 1919 in New York. His father, Nick Bob, who was a third rate fighter himself sent Rocky to live with his grandparents at an early age because he was too unmanageable.

Rocky came back to live with his father and started running around the streets of New York. At 12, Rocky was sent, for the first of many times, to reform school. As his longtime childhood friend Jake LaMotta put it, "We were the first juvenile delinquents."

In 1939, Rocky ended up at Stillman’s Gym in New York to see if he could turn his childhood aggression to good use. He eventually won the Metropolitan AAU Welterweight title. Rocky later said, "I got a medal which I hocked for $15 and thought this can't be too bad a racket." A true New York fighter was born.

Rocky was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942. After going AWOL several times and punching out a Captain, he spent seven months in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, and then was discharged dishonorably on April 29, 1943. While in the Army, Rocky had become a professional fighter, taking the last name of his sister's boyfriend, Graziano, in order to avoid detection by the Army. He went 35-6-5 with 25 KO’s from 1942-44.

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In 1945, his career took off when he knocked out top-rated middleweight Billy Arnold in the third round after being beaten during the first two stances. He followed that with more impressive victories including knocking out Welterweight Champ Marty Servo in the second round in a nontitle bout on March 29, 1946, sending Servo into retirement. It was time for Rocky Graziano to make his bid toward greatness.

Sept. 27, 1946. Rocky Graziano was to face Tony Zale at Yankee Stadium in the first of their three fights. After being floored in the first round, Graziano fought relentlessly dominating Zale. But as soon as the 6th round came, it only took Zale one paralyzing right hook to floor Graziano. Referee Ruby Goldstein reached a ten count. Zale was the victor. Soon after the fight, Graziano was suspended by New York State Athletic Commissioner Edward Egan for allegedly failing to report a $100,000 bribe to throw a bout against Cowboy Ruben Shanks. Graziano, though, was allowed to fight in other states and on July 16, 1947, he had his rematch with Zale in Chicago Stadium.

This time Rocky’s heart led the way. Midway through the sixth, Rocky uncorked a series of rights that knocked down the champion. After Zale got up, Graziano drove him to the ropes with a stinging flurry of punches that caused the ref to stop the fight. The kid from the Lower East Side was the Middleweight Champion of the World.

Zale won the title back on June 10, 1948 with a 3rd round knockout. But hey, this is a story about Rocky, not Tony Zale.

Rocky retired in 1952 with a record of 67-10-6, ( 52 KO’s). He then went on to a successful television career. After Rocky wrote his autobiography, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" in 1956, it was turned into a popular motion picture starring Paul Newman as Rocky and directed by the legendary Robert Wise.

Rocky Graziano suffered a stroke in April 1990 and a month later he died at 71. At his funeral, former middleweight champ Vito Antuofermo said about Rocky, "What a fighter should be. He was tough, could hit like a mule and had all the guts in the world."

I just want to close this column by sending out a message to Rocky as he’s probably starting a fight with Tony Zale up in Heaven as you read this article now. I just wanted to let you know, Rock, somebody down here likes you too.
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