ROUND AFTER ROUND
On September 23rd 1952 Rocky Marciano climbed into the ring to challenge the heavyweight boxing champion, Jersey Joe Walcott. What followed was what many have called the greatest heavyweight championship fight of all time. In the first round, Walcott caught Marciano with a perfect left hook that dropped him for the first time in 43 fights! But The Rock was up at the count of 3. From then on it was a brutal fight, with Walcott using all his ring skills, hitting Marciano with shot after shot. Walcott’s punches would have knocked out most other fighters. But Rocky was relentless, taking tremendous punishment as he bulled his way into close range to land his own hard blows. By the 12th round Walcott was ahead on all scorecards. Rocky's corner told him he needed a knockout to win. In the fateful 13th round Jersey Joe stepped back from Marciano with his back to the ropes and Rocky delivered a right hand punch that would probably have felled any fighter who ever lived. Walcott slumped to the floor, one arm hanging on the lower rope and was counted out. It took several minutes to revive him. Rocky Marciano was the new Heavyweight Champion of the World!
Two weeks later, on October 8th 1952, the Baha’is commemorated the start of a Holy Year. It was the commemoration of the centenary of the rise of the orb of Baha’u’llah’s most sublime Revelation. The launching of a world-embracing spiritual crusade in 1953 was also proclaimed on that same date. I was only eight at the time. I can neither remember this launching nor this famous fight. The fight was not televised, nor was it on radio and so my dad and I were not able to enjoy the fight together. We had to wait until 1953 or 1954. I can’t remember now after all this time what was the first fight we watched together. My father was a boxing enthusiast, although not obsessively so.
That year my mother had just made her first contact with the Baha’i Faith after seeing an ad in the local paper, the Burlington Gazette. I have often felt, looking back to 1953/4 that these Rocky Marciano fights I saw with my father at the start of the Ten Year Crusade were symbolic of the long fight ahead for my father and for me, for my society and the world. Little did I know then, living as we all did on the brink of self-destruction, as a grade four primary school student, as a person who would spend the rest of his life associated with this new world Faith, the nature of the fight, the battle, ahead.
Marciano became a top contender in the heavyweight boxing world following his sixth-round knockout of Rex Layne at Madison Square Garden on 12 July 1951. 1951 was the same year that saw the rise of the Baha’i Administrative Centre in Haifa. This rise, this development, this process, taking place at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa Israel, had been kept in abeyance for thirty years(1921-1951) while the machinery of the national and local Baha’i institutions of this nascent Order was being erected. Boxing experts have considered September 29th 1952 to be Marciano's defining moment. Marciano fought a rematch with Walcott on 15 May 1953 in Chicago Stadium. This time Marciano scored a knockout after just 145 seconds. This was right at the start of the Ten Year Crusade, in the first month of that Crusade.
Marciano had trained extraordinarily hard. The Baha’i community had trained hard and would train hard in the years ahead. Rocky Marciano stood as a symbol right at the start of the first international teaching Plan. On 17 June 1954 Marciano successfully defended his title against the aged former champion Ezzard Charles at Yankee Stadium. Marciano's final defense came on 20 September 1955. He retired in 1956 and was killed in a plane crash in August 1969.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, July 1st 2006.
You were a model in so many ways,
Rocky, little did I know back then
sitting in that little lounge-room at
the start of a Crusade that would take
this Cause to the earth’s far corners.
You were like a rose amongst thorns,
so said Jimmy Cannon in his summary
of your life. I knew so little of your life,
Rocky, until just the other day, occupied
as I have been with a rose in another garden,
a rose-garden of the spirit whose charm
captured my heart these many years while
I carried the fight and walked the walk
in such a different way to you, Rocky.
I tried to plant the rose of love in the garden
of my heart surrounded as I was by a different
set of thorns than the one you battled with.
My battle was so different than yours, Rocky,
spread out over more than 50 years in a ring,
often on the ropes, round after round, waiting
for the bell to toll, in my corner and many other
corners, never taking the title, wanting to retire.
July 1st 2006